I’m feeling a bit more attuned to risk than usual these last few days. 

In Philadelphia last week for a reunion, I was merrily walking down the street with a friend. Suddenly I tripped on some uneven pavement and crashed down, knocking the bejesus out of not one but both knees. Oof. Walking the rest of the way would clearly not be happening.

This being a lovely spring evening in Philly, there was a family sitting 10 feet away from me, lounging on chairs on the sidewalk. (A lovely tradition. Why doesn’t this happen in other cities?!)

Within moments, I had met Fernando and his sister Nancy. They insisted I sit down, and brought out some frozen Italian ice for me to nurse my bruises. We chatted like we’d known each other forever, while my friend brought the car around. My mind kept cycling between, ‘How kind of them’ and ‘Ouch this really hurts’ and ‘Why am I so clumsy?’

I’m still hobbling around, icing and Advil-ing, and am now very careful about where I step.

Having a heightened sense of caution is in the air lately, not just when strolling around but also when hiring CMOs. I recently wrote about “CMO Recruiting In B2B SaaS Right Now: The Race To Reduce Risk.” (Incidentally, this was before my Philly trip.)

A key way to reduce risk is to extend beyond interviews and ask finalist candidates to show their work and their thinking in a group setting.

To ensure that these sessions are revealing, efficient, and candidate-friendly, you will want to structure them intentionally.

Here are some things to bear in mind:

1) Finalist presentation sessions are controversial… 

Some candidates will bristle at being asked to do unpaid and time-consuming work. Their concern is that the company will scoop up their work, without paying them or hiring them.

However, in my experience, the risk of that is low, since the work is done without candidates having an in-depth understanding of the company’s situation.

News flash: The work that you as a hiring leader see may not actually be done by the candidate! There are many 30/60/90 day marketing plans for scale-up companies floating around CMO communities. (And of course, AI tools can be very strong at putting together marketing plans.)

These sessions may not even be necessary. Some of my clients have skipped it entirely – or used a jarringly lightweight version — and still landed successful, impactful hires. Usually this happens when it is a CMO hiring for their team, or a CEO who has deep marketing experience.

2) Finalist sessions have a lot of upside: you are finding your ‘chief marketing education’ officer, after all

I always recommend these finalist sessions, and have seen many different ways to make them successful.

Here’s why I’m a fan: 

  • This new hire will be a chief marketing education officer. So you get to see whether they can educate and what their style is for teaching about marketing.
  • You gauge whether the candidate really wants the job.
  • You get a lens into how a candidate tackles problems and projects. What questions do they ask? What preparation do they do? Do they synthesize the inputs from the people and data they have interacted with? Do they get what is at stake?
  • You get more aligned as a hiring team as a result of doing the sessions. Yes, of course, you can and should align from the start, but every search is a learning process, and these finalist sessions can be a great coalescer for the hiring team.
  • You see the candidate’s altitude. Do they approach the project in a purely strategic way, in a purely tactical way, or in a way that blends strategy and execution?
  • You see how a candidate approaches problems when they have some time to reflect. This is a nice counterpoint to interviews, which favor the candidates who are strong ‘off the cuff.’

3) To craft the right challenge, consider some key things to be effective and efficient

When crafting a finalist session, consider these things:

  • “Yours or ours?” How much should candidates step into your world (they present on your business) versus you stepping into their world (they present on their previous experience)? Either way, one side needs to do the work of connecting the dots to the job at hand.


  • How formal? This depends on your culture. My advice for most companies is to call this a ‘chalk talk’ more than a ‘presentation.’ This gets across that it will be an interactive session and will be more focused on content than pixel-perfect packaging.
  • How heavy of a lift? More complex asks take more time to prepare and can turn off some candidates and extend the search timeline. Consider what the biggest challenge in the job is and craft the guidance accordingly. Realize that if you will cover multiple topics (like organization, budgeting, and GTM strategy), there is less time to go into each of those.

Pro Tips:

I’ve structured and sat through umpteen of these finalist session. Some tips:

  • Limit these in-depth sessions to just a few top candidates. It saves time and shows respect for their efforts.


  • Choose participants wisely. Don’t include potential direct reports, since some presentations entail discussions of org design, which can get awkward. You can have direct reports meet their new prospective boss later. Do consider saving a spot or two for people who have some stake but have not been involved in interviewing – they will see things with fresh eyes.
  • Make yourself accessible. Tell candidates that they can reach out with questions ahead of time. You can see how they approach the challenge and they can craft a meatier session.
  • Reserve ample room for dialogue in the session. These sessions are often a bit contrived, so the discussion is often more important than the actual content.
  • Ask for clarity of thought and a strong POV, not a beautiful aesthetic design. Visual design takes a lot of time; leave that to the designers.
  • Be open-minded about the results. Often these sessions shift your stack-ranking of candidates.
  • Consider how to innovate the process. What rules can you break here? For instance, I have seen companies do a lighter-weight version of these sessions earlier in the hiring process, to root out the ‘false positive’ candidates that can make it to the end.