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A reader writes:
Our department was asked by our director to have an informal-type "interview" with two of the finalists in line to fill our manager position (the current manager is retiring). We are a small department of eight people, and we are tasked with "being unemotional" and to have "facts" as to why we prefer one over the other. Yet, we were told to not assume that this will make a difference in who is hired.
What do you think of this? We are thinking that this is a effort to make us feel good - that we have some say - yet we all know that that in fact is not the case.
And since we have to go through this exercise, could you give us some ideas of interview questions that can be judged unemotionally and allow us to give some useful feedback to the director?
It sounds like your director might not have been especially tactful in explaining what he's looking for. That said, asking people to interview candidates to be their manager can be a sensitive situation: Your director probably wants to make sure that you understand that the final decision may not match your recommendation, and it's smart to make that clear up front, because it really won't feel good if it's a surprise to you later. He also wants useful input from you -- not just "we liked Susan the best." For your input to be helpful, he's looking for specifics that aren't about liking or disliking someone, but rather something more concrete than that -- "Susan had really good ideas about how to streamline X and it felt like she really got the challenges we're facing with Y," or "Jane didn't communicate her ideas very clearly and seemed stiff to the point that it was hard to get a good sense of her."
Very often when I've asked people for their input about candidates, I've received responses more along the lines of "I liked Susan best," and then have had to pull out details from them. So I've learned over time -- and maybe your boss has too -- to be clear up-front about what kind of input will be the most valuable.
Now, will your input be considered or is this just a charade to make you feel like you had a voice in the decision when you really didn't? It could be either, but I wouldn't assume it's the latter without some real reason for thinking that. While I can't imagine a situation where I'd hand a group of employees final authority over who their next manager would be, I'd still (almost) always be interested in hearing their insights and impressions and would factor them into my decision. If everyone hates the candidate I love, that would be really important for me to know. And I'd be interested in hearing more nuanced impressions from them too, especially from people with a different vantage point than mine. I'd still be making the final call, but the more well-rounded my picture of the candidates, the better decision I can make.
That's not to say that your boss isn't just going through the motions here; maybe he is. I don't know enough about him to know, but at least factor into your thinking that everything you've described could be the actions of someone approaching this in a reasonable way.
As for what to ask the candidates when you meet with them, here's a list of questions you could consider pulling from:
- What's a common misconception some people have about you?
- What has your biggest achievement been at ___? What results there that you produced are you most proud of? (You can then also ask the same question for other jobs they've had. You're looking for someone with a pattern of taking things from X to Y--with Y being bigger/better/greater than X.)
- Can you walk us through how you managed a recent large project, something where others were doing the work but you were overseeing it? What was your role? How did you interact with the people carrying out the work?
- Can you tell us about a difficult decision you had to make recently? Walk us through the problem and what your thought process was, and how you ultimately handled it.
- How would you describe yourself as a manager? How do you think people you've managed would describe you?
- How has your approach to management evolved over time?
- What do you think are some of the most common ways people fail at management?
- Tell us about an employee who became more successful as a result of your management.
- How would you describe the bar for performance at ___ (or in the department you manage)?
- What do you look for when you hire people?
- How do you handle performance problems? Can you walk us through your approach using a real-life example?
- Tell us about a time you had to give someone difficult feedback. How did you approach it?
- Tell us about a management mistake that you made in the past. What would you do differently?
- Even the best bosses generate complaints from their employees now and then. What complaints do you think the people you've managed would have about you?
- What drives you crazy in people you manage?
- One problem that we're struggling with here is ___. What are your thoughts on how you'd approach that?
There's a wide range or good and bad answers here. Overall, what you're looking for is a sense of how this person operates: Is the person someone who's focused on results, or do they get bogged down with minutia? How do they make decisions? How do they see the role of a manager? What will they be like to work with? Do they communicate their ideas well? Do they think clearly? Are they smart? Are they willing to make tough choices and have hard conversations? Do they have good judgment? Do they manage by fear? Do they manage at all? Are they open and transparent? Secure? A wimp? A tyrant? Indecisive? Defensive? Calm? Direct?
Use the list above as a starting point. Good luck!
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