The Executive Quality Check – How to Tackle A Management Audit

Management audits carry with them a certain aura of mystery – most executives are still unclear about the assessment procedure in which the performance of top executives are measured. Which questions will you be asked in an interview? How is a management audit structured? Which topics will be covered, and how can you best prepare yourself? We spoke with one of the experts who knows the ins and outs.

Management Audit

The recruiting firm heiden associates regularly carries out management audits for venture capital and private equity corporations for their portfolio companies, or through strategy, in order to evaluate the various leadership competencies for candidates. Dr. Thomas K. Heiden will explain not just the background, but also how to best prepare yourself for a management audit.

Management Audit: Who, what, where?

First of all, a normal job interview can’t be compared to a management audit. In a management audit, everything will be discussed, no stone left unturned – these decide whether an executive candidate will make the next step in their career or not. Senior managers must be able to convey that they have what it takes to move up to the next highest leadership position, and submit themselves to a comprehensive “quality check.” Typically, a management audit is part of a multi-hour interview, which includes several different personality tests. For example, heiden associates bases their management audit on four core pillar.

“Besides the multi-hour, half-structured interview, our management audit also includes a psychometric conversational profile as well as a team fit analysis, so that we can see how well the executive would fit in a team. We also require at least 10 references per candidate,” explains Thomas K. Heiden. “In a management audit, one is trying to get a clear view of a candidate from several different angles,” Heiden continues. “This way, one can objectively analyze a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Some believe that if they’ve already worked at an executive level, that they’ve proven themselves – but in a management audit, one’s experience doesn’t mean everything. “Normally, a management audit is for senior executives and the level below,” says Heiden. When it comes to weighing the outcome of a management audit, there are several outside factors that could also impact a candidate’s performance.

“Typical reasons for a management audit are things like mergers, where two or more candidates from each organization might potentially be considered for one of the top executive positions. A management audit should help clarify which senior manager would be best suited for the company’s future challenges and pursuits. Through due diligence, hiring managers should try to use a management audit to create an objective picture of the management qualities of an executive, and to learn whether the management team is in the position to effectively implement the ambitious new strategies of a new company.”

Management Audit: The Preparation

Rule Number 1: Stay calm. Rule number 2: Nothing is better than an authentic impression. In a management audit, it’s all about who you are, not the role you’re applying for. Thomas K. Heiden also counsels against acting in a management audit: “That’s hopeless, as hardly any manager can successfully pretend to play a role for more than a few hours.”

But you can prepare for a position. “Create a small assessment for yourself and take a thorough look at your career thus far, especially successful situations that you handled well,” recommends Heiden. “Having clear examples of situations in mind will make it much easier to respond to such questions during an audit, and you’ll be able to explain them with more poise.”

You should also prepare for specific questions when getting ready for your management audit. Generally speaking, these are questions about your management style, like:

  • What’s the biggest management mistake you’ve made in your career?
  • How has your management style changed in the last five years? Why?
  • What would your team members name as weaknesses in your management style?
  • How do you motivate your team?

Overall, management audits are an opportunity to analyze your ability to self-reflect, as well as to judge your ability to learn from mistakes, and a chance to judge your current management skills. Why do you do things the way that you do? Can you make a convincing argument for your methods? How can you achieve success, and what have you learned from these situations?

All questions in a management audit follow a strict logic, says Heiden. “What has this person achieved? How did they achieve it? With what results? For a critical work situation, candidates should consider how they would answer these three questions.” Successful managers stand out from less successful candidates mostly because of how they were able to achieve success.

“There are no ‘three killer questions’ in an interview,” says Heiden. “When a candidate can convey how they reacted in a certain situation, this allows us to draw conclusions about future patterns. This will also help us to see how candidates may react in future working situations.” To succeed in these interviews, keep these questions in the back of your mind, so that you can mention not only singular situations and successes, but you can also mention general techniques and problem solving strategies that you’ve employed over time.

Management Audit: The Interview

In order to score points in your management audit and outshine the other applicants, you should work to present yourself in the best possible light. “Think about it like this: you’re selling yourself! Act as though the management audit would be a sales pitch,” recommends Heiden. “It’s all about content and presentation. Listen actively, paraphrase the interviewer’s questions when they’re unclear.

Focus on answering the direct questions. Actively ask whether you’ve sufficiently answered your interviewer’s questions. Consider the fact that you are sitting across from interview professionals – they know exactly what your answers, gestures, and body language are communicating!”

Again, try to remember Rule 1: Stay calm.” When you noticeably shake, twitch, or stutter, alarm bells will go off in the minds of all those conducting the management audit. Try to sit comfortably, speak slowly, clearly, not too high, and maintain a self confident but reserved body language. In this way, you can amaze your interviewers and convey your ability to manage a company.

About heiden associates:


Dr. Thomas K. Heiden and his colleagues from heiden associates (Berlin / Dortmund / Stuttgart /Wiesbaden) support tech companies (from startups to midsized companies) with executive search, management audits, leadership development, and coaching. Heiden developed a Teamfit Analysis which considers a team’s environment, when reaching inform personnel decisions. After Heiden finished his studies in air and space technology, he worked for McKinsey as a consultant, then took several management positions in the telecommunications field before he switched to the venture capital industry. In 2003, he founded heiden associates and has since continued to expand his recruiting. In April 2015, heiden associates was named to the Top 10 Recruiting firms in German, in the Executive Search category, in Focus Magazine. For more information about heiden associates, click here.


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