57 COO Interview Questions (What To Look For + Red Flags)

57 COO Interview Questions (What To Look For + Red Flags)

Pick from an extensive list of COO interview questions for the perfect COO hire. Also, discover how you can cut the process short by hiring a fractional COO.

Interviewing for a COO position is an important task. A COO is the cornerstone of any thriving business, steering company operations, and strategic vision.

As a hiring manager, you must ensure the potential COO has the skills and strategic vision you’re looking for but also fits your company culture.

In this article, we’ve listed 57 COO interview questions that’ll encourage honest and descriptive answers.

But more than just questions. These questions will help you gauge whether a COO candidate aligns with your business vision and culture.

Additionally, we’ll reveal how you can yield a higher level of expertise without the usual cost and time to interview a full-time COO.

Further Reading:

  • Learn all about the transformational power that a Fractional COO can bring to your business.
  • Looking to turn a new leaf in your marketing strategy? Hire the right Fractional CMO and witness the phenomenal difference.

57 Thought-Provoking COO Interview Questions

During a job interview, it’s important to question your Chief Operating Officer candidate about every aspect of their day-to-day responsibilities.

While you don’t want to make the interview process too long, you can pick and choose the most suitable interview questions from this comprehensive list.

Experience and Background Questions


Understand the breadth and depth of the Chief Operating Officer candidate’s operations experience in their previous role with the help of these interview questions.

1. What inspired or led you to pursue a career in operations management?

Look for: Passion for the field, a clear understanding of the role's impact, and a journey reflecting growth and learning.

Red flags: Vague or non-specific motivations, lack of genuine interest or enthusiasm.

2. Describe your career path in highlights — highs and lows. Take us through the reasons and processes behind each one of your career moves.

Look for: Clear progression in responsibilities, growth in each role, and alignment with the skills you’re looking for.

Red flags: Jumping frequently between jobs without a clear growth trajectory, a mismatch between past roles and your COO responsibilities.

3. Based on your experience so far, would you describe yourself as a specialist or generalist? Explain why.

Look for: The candidate’s ability to view your business holistically, alignment with the COO’s multifaceted responsibilities, and your organization’s strategic goals.

Red flags: Rigid self-identification as either type, mismatch with your company’s needs.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

Look for: Effective problem-solving skills, resilience, and a positive attitude towards challenges.

Red flags: Blaming others for challenges, lack of concrete solutions, or avoidance of responsibility.

5. What do you count as your biggest successes so far and why?

Look for: Achievements that demonstrate relevant skills and impacts and align with your company values.

Red flags: Shallow successes, overemphasis on personal gains, or successes unrelated to a COO role.

6. What is your experience in change management?

Look for: Specific examples describing strategy, execution, and outcome.

Red flags: Vague or no experience in change management.

7. Give us examples of any measures you’ve taken in your past jobs to improve efficiencies, save time, and/or reduce costs.

Look for: Specific initiatives that led to measurable improvements, innovative solutions, and a proactive approach.

Red flags: Minor or irrelevant examples or a lack of impact from their initiatives.

8. Describe situations when you’ve gone beyond the call of duty.

Look for: A specific instance where they proactively addressed challenges or seized opportunities.

Red flags: A lack of concrete examples or instances where additional efforts were actually part of expected responsibilities.

9. Do you have any hiring or team building (training and development) experience?

Look for: Experience in building and nurturing teams, a track record of successful hiring strategies, and a commitment to team development.

Red flags: Lack of experience in team building, high attrition in teams they managed, or ineffective training approaches.

Eric Friedman profile image
Eric Friedman
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Executive Coach
  3. Fractional Family Office
Fractional COO for Funds, Fund of Funds, and other special situations. Executive coach and early-stage investor.

Business Outlook and Strategy Questions


Get to know your Chief Operating Officer candidate’s overall approach to strategy and business viability with these interview questions during the job interview.

1. What is your 30-60-90-day plan?

Look for: A plan that demonstrates the candidate’s ability to hit the ground running, with clear, structured steps and an understanding of immediate​​ needs alongside longer-term objectives.

Red flags: Plans that are either too vague or overly ambitious without practical steps, indicating a lack of preparedness to start in the role effectively.

2. What do you expect from us in your first month here?

Look for: Realistic expectations, a desire for collaboration, and an understanding of organizational support systems.

Red flags: Unrealistic demands, lack of clarity, or focusing solely on what the company can do for them.

3. What are some fundamental best practices that all COOs must follow?

Look for: An emphasis on strategic planning, efficiency, team management, and adaptability.

Red flags: Generic answers, forgetting essential responsibilities, or outdated practices.

4. What common pitfalls would you like to avoid in executing your responsibilities?

Look for: Awareness of potential challenges, strategies to mitigate risks, and learning from past experiences.

Red flags: Overconfidence or a lack of proactive planning.

5. What key metrics do you use to measure operational success?

Look for: Specific metrics such as operational efficiency, cost reduction, revenue growth, etc.

Red flags: An over-reliance on generic indicators or lack of alignment with business objectives.

6. Let’s say senior leadership or the board opposes your suggested approach. How would you resolve the situation?

Look for: Effective communication skills and a willingness to collaborate for consensus-building.

Red flags: Inflexibility, poor conflict resolution skills, or a tendency to bypass opposition without engagement.

7. Predict the three biggest operational risks or challenges and the growth opportunities our company will face soon. How would you overcome and capitalize on each of them?

Look for: Insight into industry trends, understanding of your company's context, practical solutions, and actionable growth plans.

Red flags: Lack of awareness about industry or company-specific challenges or generic, non-actionable responses.

8. How would you conduct and utilize a competitor analysis to inform our business strategy?

Look for: Detailed strategies for assessing competitor strengths and weaknesses, insights on market positioning, and specific ways this analysis influences strategic decision-making.

Red flags: Vague methodologies, inability to connect competitor analysis outcomes to strategic planning, or overlooking the importance of this analysis in shaping business tactics.

Michael Lipton profile image
Michael Lipton
  1. Fractional CEO
  2. Founder
  3. Investor
Startup CEO & COO, 3x founder & investor. Expertise in sales strategy, fundraising, and business operations.

​​Strategic Vision Alignment with Founders

The ability to communicate and work with senior leadership would be foundational to any C-level hire. Use these interview questions to find out whether your COO candidate passes this test.

1. Have you ever worked with founders and CEOs? If yes, in what capacity and what was the relationship like? How did you handle disagreements with them?

Look for: Positive and constructive relationships with leadership, effective communication skills, and professionalism in handling disagreements.

Red flags: Conflicts with leadership, inability to navigate disagreements constructively, or a lack of experience working closely with high-level executives.

2. How do you align your strategy with the company's long-term vision?

Look for: Insights into integrating operational plans with the company's broader objectives using data-driven and adaptable strategies.

Red flags: Misalignment with the company's vision or strategies that focus too narrowly on short-term goals.

3. Can you give an example of a strategic operation or initiative that had a significant impact on the company's direction?

Look for: Specific examples of strategic thinking, successful execution, and measurable impact on the company.

Red flags: Lack of significant strategic initiatives or examples that show little to no positive impact.

4. What methods do you use to communicate and reinforce the company’s strategic vision within the team:

With founders and BOD:

Look for: Effective use of formal communication channels, clarity in conveying operational plans, and alignment with board expectations.

Red flags: Inconsistent or unclear communication or a disconnect between operational strategy and board directives.

With direct reports:

Look for: Regular, transparent communication and engagement strategies that ensure team alignment with the company’s vision.

Red flags: A top-down approach without input from the team or failure to effectively disseminate any strategic objective.

Steven Schwartz profile image
Steven Schwartz
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Data Sales
  3. Health Tech
Seasoned COO with leadership experience in 11 companies from $3M to $350M in revenue.

Operational and Situational Questions


Regardless of their high-level strategic approach, the success of a Chief Operating Officer hinges on how well they navigate the day-to-day. These interview questions shed some light on your candidate’s behavior in this regard.

1. What specific area of operational efficiency (like sales strategy, team building, etc.) do you specialize in, and how have you applied this in a past role?

Look for: Concrete examples demonstrating expertise in a particular area, such as sales strategy or team building, and successful application of this expertise.

Red flags: Inability to identify a specialization or lack of impactful examples.

2. How do you balance efficiency, cost, and human relationships when managing day-to-day operations? Provide examples if possible.

Look for: Examples showing a holistic approach to operations, valuing people and performance, and innovative cost-management strategies.

Red flags: Overemphasis on cost-cutting at the expense of team morale or neglecting efficiency for short-term team satisfaction.

3. Can you discuss your involvement in product development and how you align operational processes with product strategy?

Look for: Insight into integrating operational strategies with product goals and a track record of enhancing product development through operational improvements.

Red flags: Lack of experience in product-focused roles or failure to see the connection between operations and product strategy.

4. Describe a time when you had to overhaul a major operational process. What methodologies did you use (like Lean and Six Sigma), and what were the outcomes?

Look for: Effective use of these methodologies with clear results such as improved efficiency, reduced costs, or enhanced quality.

Red flags: Lack of familiarity with process improvement methodologies or examples without significant positive outcomes.

5. Describe your role in a merger or acquisition. How did you ensure a smooth integration of operations?

Look for: Strategic planning and execution skills in M&As, focusing on seamless operational integration and cultural alignment.

Red flags: No experience with mergers or acquisitions or examples where integration efforts were mismanaged or unsuccessful.

6. Describe a time when customer feedback led you to change an operational process. What was the outcome?

Look for: Responsiveness to customer feedback and successful implementation of changes leading to improved customer service and satisfaction or operational efficiency.

Red flags: Ignoring customer feedback or changes made without considering broader operational impacts.

7. Can you walk us through a business continuity plan you developed or executed?

Look for: A detailed plan that addresses various scenarios, emphasizing risk assessment, stakeholder communication, and recovery processes.

Red flags: Generic plans lacking specific details or a history of being unprepared or ineffective in emergencies.

Elliot Darvick profile image
Elliot Darvick
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Marketplaces
  3. Regional Growth
Team-centric operations leader with entrepreneurial experience and diverse expertise, spanning brand strategy, M&A, and more.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Questions


Evaluate whether your COO candidate’s decision-making style matches your organization’s needs.

1. What types of situations call for quick thinking and ones that require research and consensus? What type of decision-making comes more naturally to you?

Look for: Insight into their decision-making process, ability to adapt to different situations, and self-awareness about their natural decision-making style.

Red flags: Discomfort with either quick or deliberative decisions or an over-reliance on one of them.

2. What planning fundamentals do you rely on to organize your day?

Look for Allotment of time for strategic planning, team management, and operational oversight, reflecting the multifaceted nature of senior leadership roles.

Red flags: No time for strategic initiatives or team development, indicating a potential struggle to balance the comprehensive demands of a COO position.

3. What feedback have you received on your decision-making style? And what’s your own assessment?

Look for: Careful reflection on the feedback, self-awareness, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Red flags: Defensiveness about feedback, inability to self-assess, or evidence of a rigid, inflexible decision-making style.

4. Describe a crisis you managed. What actions did you take and what were the results?

Look for: Specific examples showcasing crisis management skills such as quick thinking, decisive action, and clear communication, along with positive outcomes.

Red flags: Inability to recall a significant crisis, poor handling of the situation, or results that worsened the crisis.

Charlotte Wagner profile image
Charlotte Wagner
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Team Building
  3. Advisor
Fractional COO and VP of Operations focused on optimizing people and processes in engineering and tech organizations.

Financial Management Questions


When betting your top dollar to hire a Chief Operating Officer, it’s essential that your company's bottom line gains the most from that decision.

Use these interview questions to assess your candidate’s approach to finances.

1. How do you approach budgeting and financial planning to support immediate needs and long-term growth?

Look for: A balanced approach that addresses current operational needs while also strategically planning for future growth.

Red flags: Focus solely on short-term gains or overly ambitious long-term plans without a realistic foundation.

2. Can you share an example of your financial strategies significantly benefiting a company’s bottom line?

Look for: A clear impact on company profitability or growth and an understanding of financial metrics.

Red flags: Inability to quantify contributions, overstatement of impact, or a lack of understanding of financial outcomes.

3. Describe how you would work with a finance team to optimize operational expenses in a tech-centric business.

Look for: Strategies that combine financial savvy with an understanding of technology operations, such as leveraging tech solutions for cost efficiency or renegotiating vendor contracts.

Red flags: A lack of familiarity with tech operations or an approach that might stifle innovation or operational effectiveness.

4. What experience do you have in fundraising processes?

Look for: Experience in developing robust financial models that have successfully been used in fundraising, reflecting an ability to communicate the financial narrative of a company.

Red flags: Little to no experience in this area.

5. How do you think about OpEx and financial management for startups?

Look for: An adaptive approach tailored to the unique needs of startups, focusing on sustainable growth, careful resource allocation, and strategic investments.

Red flags: Applying rigid, large-corporation financial strategies to startups that are inappropriate for the flexible and dynamic nature of startup environments.

Erica Wenger profile image
Erica Wenger
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Investor
3x founder turned VC and consultant with expertise in operations, marketing, and community-building.

Risk Management Questions


Figure out how adept your COO candidate is at balancing risk and reward with these revealing questions.

1. Describe your process for identifying potential risks in a new project or venture.

Look for: A structured approach to risk assessment, including market analysis, stakeholder consultation, and scenario planning.

Red flags: A lack of systematic risk identification or overconfidence in tackling projects.

2. Can you provide an example of when you successfully mitigated a significant operational, financial, or reputational risk?

Look for: A clear example where proactive measures averted or minimized risks, highlighting their ability to respond effectively under pressure.

Red flags: No concrete examples or instances where their actions failed to prevent or adequately address risks.

3. How do you develop and implement contingency plans for unforeseen events?

Look for: Strategies that include cross-functional collaboration across different departments, regular scenario testing, and agile response plans, and showing readiness for various challenges.

Red flags: Generic or non-existent contingency plans or a history of being unprepared for unforeseen events.

4. How do you ensure the company stays compliant with industry regulations? Can you give an example of this?

Look for: Robust compliance strategies, such as regular audits, staff training, and staying abreast of regulatory changes, paired with a real-world example of effective compliance management.

Red flags: A casual approach to compliance, lack of direct involvement in managing compliance issues, or examples that reveal a reactive rather than proactive approach.

Shaun Arora profile image
Shaun Arora
  1. Fractional COO
  2. Executive Coach
  3. Head of Strategy
Experienced operator and 4x founder reducing operational friction to unlock scale, helping founders move past seven figures.

Technical Skills Questions


From SaaS to service, no organization can survive without a firm grasp of the latest technological trends. Test your COO candidate’s knowledge in this field with the help of these interview questions.

1. Any recent technological skill you picked up that would be helpful in your role as COO?

Look for: Continuous learning in relevant technologies, demonstrating adaptability and a commitment to staying current in their field.

Red flags: No recent upskilling or learning in new technologies, indicating a potential lack of initiative in professional development.

2. How would you conduct an audit of our current systems to identify operational inefficiencies?

Look for: A systematic approach to auditing, including data analysis, stakeholder interviews, and performance metrics, showing a thorough understanding of operational review.

Red flags: A superficial or non-methodical approach or lack of experience in conducting effective operational audits.

3. What tools would you use to generate:

  • Forecasts
  • Quarterly reports
  • Performance appraisals
  • Budgets

Look for: Utilization of advanced data analytics tools for forecasting (like Power BI or Tableau), financial management software (such as QuickBooks or Xero) for budgeting and reports, performance management systems (like BambooHR or Workday) for appraisals, ensuring a comprehensive and efficient tech stack.

Red flags: Reliance on outdated or basic tools that lack the sophistication needed for these tasks or a mismatch between the tools and the specific requirements of these functions.

4. Describe the three biggest technological trends in our industry today. Where did you learn about them? What do they mean for our business?

Look for: Insight into current technological trends, sources of information, and the implications of these trends for the business, showing strategic foresight.

Red flags: Lack of awareness of major trends, outdated information, or inability to relate trends to business impact.

5. Would you recommend any security protocols to safeguard company data when dealing with external stakeholders?

Look for: Knowledge of current data security best practices, demonstrating a proactive approach to data security.

Red flags: Lack of specific security recommendations or a casual attitude toward data protection.

6. Describe a digital transformation initiative you led. How did it impact the business?

Look for: A detailed account, including planning, execution, and measurable business outcomes.

Red flags: No experience in leading digital transformations or initiatives that had little to no positive impact on the business.

7. How do you leverage data analytics in operational decision-making? Can you provide a specific example?

Look for: Specific examples that led to significant operational improvements or any informed decision on strategy.

Red flags: Lack of concrete examples or reliance on intuition over data even when making a tough decision.

Leadership and People Skills Questions


People management is the face of a Chief Operating Officer’s responsibilities. So check how their leadership style suits your team with these interview questions during the job interview.

1. What’s your preference for giving feedback?

Look for: A structured, constructive, goal-oriented approach tailored to the individual's needs and situation, fostering growth and improvement.

Red flags: A one-size-fits-all approach, overly critical without providing actionable insights or avoiding giving direct feedback.

2. Similarly, how do you prefer receiving feedback?

Look for: Openness to receiving feedback in various forms and focusing on continuous learning.

Red flags: Defensiveness, dismissing feedback, or a preference for only positive reinforcement.

3. What’s your employee retention strategy?

Look for: A comprehensive plan encompassing competitive compensation, career development opportunities, and a positive work culture.

Red flags: Lack of a clear employee retention strategy or overemphasis on financial incentives alone.

4. What types of tasks do you think are fit to be delegated?

Look for: A thoughtful delegation strategy, choosing tasks that align with the strengths and development goals of the employee and clear communication of expectations.

Red flags: Delegating tasks indiscriminately, micromanaging, or reluctance to delegate key responsibilities.

5. How do you deal with low performers on your team?

Look for: A constructive approach involving clear communication, identifying issues, offering support and training, and setting improvement goals.

Red flags: Immediate punitive actions or neglecting to address performance issues constructively.

6. How do you resolve interpersonal conflicts at work? Provide a personal example of such a situation.

Look for: Examples demonstrating effective conflict resolution skills, such as mediation, active listening, and finding mutually beneficial solutions.

Red flags: Conflict avoidance or a lack of experience handling complex interpersonal issues.

7. Describe your approach to mentoring junior executives and developing the next generation of leadership.

Look for: A commitment to mentorship, providing growth opportunities, career advice, regular feedback, and creating a pathway for leadership development.

Red flags: Lack of interest in mentoring or a one-dimensional approach that doesn’t consider individual potential and career aspirations

8. How do you maintain team cohesion, culture, and productivity in a remote or hybrid setting?

Look for: Leveraging remote-friendly tech solutions, maintaining open communication channels, and actively focusing on virtual team building.

Red flags: Overlooking the challenges of remote work or applying traditional office-based methods.

9. How do you measure and maintain work-life balance for remote teams?

Look for: Emphasis on flexible scheduling, respecting boundaries, promoting mental health, and regular assessments of team well-being.

Red flags: Ignoring the signs of burnout or enforcing rigid work hours without considering the flexibility needed in remote settings.

Culture Fit


The initial interview is key to assessing a COO candidate's alignment with your company culture. These are some general examples of questions to ask of your future Chief Operating Officer:

  1. What do you see as the defining characteristics of a good company culture?
  2. What have you learned about our company culture so far? How do you see yourself fit into it?
  3. How can you help create a supportive and innovative work culture?

Look for: Specific observations about your company's culture and a thoughtful explanation of how their values and working style align with it.

Red flags: A mismatch between their values and the present company culture, overemphasizing competitive or high-pressure elements.

Besides this, your human resources team or hiring managers could develop their own parameters to assess the COO candidate’s culture fit.

4 Best Practices For Hiring a Chief Operating Officer


Hiring a qualified COO comes down to following a few best practices:

  • Post on Reputable Portals: Use job search platforms known for attracting experienced professionals. Include a detailed job description to attract the right person.
  • Leverage Your Network: Utilize industry connections and networking events to find a suitable COO through referrals, ensuring a good cultural fit.
  • Test the Waters With a Temp-Hire: Evaluate your candidate's fit and their impact on your company's operations without a long-term commitment. To find a potential candidate, explore Go Fractional’s list of skilled fractional COOs.
  • Collaborate with Professional Hiring Firms: Engage with firms specializing in executive search to access a broader pool of qualified candidates efficiently. Choose a partner who understands C-level hiring challenges and values your perspective.

Of course, you can skip much of the legwork involved in executive search and use Go Fractional, combining these best practices in one platform.

We have a large network of experienced professionals that you can hire part-time to try them out, and having broad experience in C-suite operations, we understand C-level hiring challenges.

Go Fractional: Find Your Way to the Perfect Fractional Chief Operations Officer


Go Fractional gives you access to hundreds of strong candidates experienced in working with fast-growth companies and, often, building their own organizations.

These professionals are ready to hit the ground running and help you achieve the desired results with minimal handholding.

Here’s How Go Fractional Works:

  • Contact Go Fractional to receive exclusive access to a vast pool of exceptional COO candidates, including our private members who are not listed on the website. Not finding your fit? Don’t worry, we’ll scout a fresh fractional COO candidate for you!
  • Next, we will set up a meeting between you and your COO candidates to get to know them better, vet their cultural compatibility, and establish requirements about timelines, targets, etc. If everything works out, we’ll send your team a detailed proposal about the next steps.
  • Finally, just sign the dotted line and bring the fractional Chief Operating Officer on board!

Our Selection Method

Here’s how we handpick each one of our candidates in our executive search process. We:

  • Pick candidates with extensive leadership experience and success running businesses of their own.
  • Interview each candidate rigorously to ensure they meet our standards.
  • Ask candidates to create detailed profiles that represent their careers and achievements.
  • Send you a monthly invoice for all fractional executives working with you.

If you're considering hiring a fractional COO, Go Fractional is your key to streamlining this critical recruitment journey. Our expertise makes finding your operational leader more straightforward and economically savvy.

Are you prepared to onboard an operational maestro who can elevate your business to new heights?

Join forces with Go Fractional and set the stage for transformative leadership today.

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