Foundation:Executive Director Search Proposed Questions

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Search Committee Proposed Second Round Questions

The Search Committee wants to ensure that it does the best job it can representing the Mozilla community in the search for an Executive Director. As part of this, we'd like some help brainstorming the sort of questions we should be asking in the (upcoming) second round of interviews. In that round, we'll be trying to understand how candidates would approach the Foundation, and what their ideas for it would be. We'll talk to the candidates about the challenges and opportunities, and delve much more deeply into how they think about Mozilla.

Do you have a particular hopes, ideas, or concerns for the Foundation? What would you like to know about how candidates might address those thoughts? You can also take a look at the sorts of questions we're already expecting to ask candidates during the second (private) round of interviews.

Please add any questions, thoughts, or ideas, whether they're well-formed questions or just rough ideas...


From Johnath

So if an interview is supposed to be one of our chief mechanisms for finding a really great Director, then we want questions that differentiate great directors from non-great. Some housekeeping questions make sense, but one would hope that most interview candidates here are baseline competent, so my suggestions are coming from the "how do we differentiate greatness" angle. I hope they don't come off as critical, I recognize and appreciate the difficulty of the task ahead of the committee.

  • Some of the questions on the sample list, "Talk about a time when things did not go well," "Talk about succeeding despite challenges" feel like the kind of interview questions that mostly gauge how well the person preps to handle interview questions. I've always felt those questions, while designed to spur real discussion, mostly end up as bad differentiators. Every person applying for this job should have answers coached and polished there. Maybe we do think it's important to ask anyhow, to ensure they're taking the process seriously enough to have a prepped and polished answer, but that feels like a pretty meta reason.

    Yes, there's something to be gleaned from what story they choose to tell, whether they choose to talk about individual leadership or team building and delegation, &c; I didn't say they were content-free, just that there are often not good ways to sort good fits from bad. If we want to know about leadership style, let's ask about it directly (as we do in sample question 8, which is great).
  • On the other hand, a variation on question 6 could be informative. What if we asked something more explicit, like "Tell me a time when you failed. When you invested time, energy and resource in a project that did not succeed. How did you respond to the failure, and how would you respond to such failures in the context of the Foundation's work?" The distinction being that the version as stated in #6 makes it too easy to morph into #5, that is, to make it into a "We failed, but then we succeeded! Hooray!"

    It's important for the director to recognize and embrace the potential failure of a significant number of our projects, it's crucial that the foundation not be afraid of that failure. An answer which talks about fixing policies and structures to prevent failure here would not be nearly as compelling as one who said "We learned from it to avoid making the same mistake again, but failure is intrinsic to doing interesting work." An answer which downplays the failure, or which weasels a success story into this discussion, "we failed because we wanted $8 hojillion in profit and only made $7.6 hojillion," would be a warning flag.
  • I would suggest making Question 10 more laser-precise. Setting goals and measuring those goals and getting it right is really hard work for us, because a lot of typical metrics don't make sense. I would talk less about an "accountability system" and more about our specific challenges. Something like:

    "Setting goals and measuring those goals in a meaningful way is very difficult in our organization. How would you approach the setting of Mozilla Foundation goals? What does success look like?"
  • We brush past it here and there, but I'd love it if we called out more directly the role of "disruption," of experimentation. Perhaps:

    "Part of the Foundation's job is to encourage the growth and evolution of the open web. How would you use the Foundation's resources to further that evolution?"

    Sensible answers will include standardization, community giving, etc. Awesome answers will include finding interesting, open work happening on the edges, and finding out what impediments they're experiencing that we can remove - even if (once again) that means risking of failure.
  • I don't know if this is a good differentiator or not, but it might yield interesting discussion to ask about credibility. E.g.

    "The Mozilla Foundation is the visible face of a large community of contributors and friends. How will you develop credibility and support in this group, and ensure that your voice is representative not only of your own vision, but of the shared vision that community embodies?"

From beltzner

+1 to johnath's comments above, especially the one about pushing on their disruptiveness

The suggested questions provide a solid basis for determining if a candidate can be operational, but I would suggest that we should also be looking for someone who can be visionary and has given some thought to what the Mozilla Foundation is, or more specifically, what it is not. I would propose some probes that dig into this question, like:

  • What sort of foundations or similar NGOs have impressed you in the past with their actions? Is there one that you've been considering as a model for the Mozilla Foundation? How are we different from other NGOs or Foundations?

Similar to vision, I think we should be probing for focus, since there's an obvious risk for the Foundation to be pulled in many directions at once. Probing for how they prioritize and execute would be helpful in determining this:

  • What would you consider to be a successful year for the Mozilla Foundation?

    Obvious answers would be "more market share" and "a more open web", but perhaps better ones would be "getting the open web mentioned in a national newspaper" or "helping 10 new open source projects to promote choice and innovation".

From Zak

Excellent suggestions from johnath and beltzner.

I'm interested in these additional things:

  • what challenges does the potential ED think that the Foundation faces?
  • how does the ED plan to deal with the current challenges that the Foundation faces?
  • what experience do they have working in a distributed fashion?