Interviewing candidates for a non-supervisory role is, by and large, straightforward, with the primary areas of concern being: “Does this person have the skills and experience to excel at this job?” and “Is this person a good culture fit?”
Hiring a manager or supervisor, however, is not so cut-and-dried. Interviewing a prospective manager requires determining whether, technical skills aside, the candidate is able to lead others, handle difficult situations and plan strategically.
A manager oversees an organization’s most important resource: its employees. A bad hire is costly no matter where the position falls on the hierarchy. But when that bad hire happens to be a manager, the ramifications can be far-reaching. On the flipside, skilled managers are a great benefit to organizations.
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Determining whether a candidate has the right mix of skills and personality traits to succeed in a particular management role requires asking good manager interview questions.
Consultant Barry Maher says that asking management candidates what their current or most recent boss would say about them can produce some eye-opening responses.
“Since potential managers are trying to cover themselves for anything that boss might say, it’s amazing the things they’ll reveal,” Maher says.
Focused Questions for Management Candidates
While the type of wide-ranging question listed above is great for getting candidates to open up, more targeted management interview questions help an interviewer assess a candidate’s capabilities and background as they pertain to specific key areas, such as leadership, problem solving and accountability.
“You’re looking for a combination of characteristics in the manager you select: an experienced, mature person who is also very dynamic, forceful and able to do the job for you,” writes Entrepreneur contributor Ameen Khwaja. “This is why you need to apply strong tests of character and ability to your search for the right person.”
We asked some recruiters, hiring managers and other experts for their go-to interview questions for manager candidates. Here are just a few.
“If I had to only ask one question,” says Leading People Partners, LLC, President Todd Averett, “I would ask: Tell me about a time when you had to provide difficult coaching to someone.”
That question, he says, “tends to get at the candidate’s courage – their desire to address issues head-on – and helps me see what kinds of issues that the candidate feels are feedback-worthy. Many terrific operations-type managers really struggle with providing feedback.”
Chris Barbosa, talent recruiter of Blue Fountain Media, offers this set of questions: “If they have management experience, I ask: Tell me about an experience you’ve had where there was an issue with your team and the way you handled it. What was the outcome, and what would you do differently?”
To candidates who have not previously been managers, he adds, “I ask, what experience do you have that shows why you’d be a successful manager?”
Mishri Someshwar favors a broad inquiry about management style: “How do you motivate and manage employees?”
“This is open-ended, which means I can then dig deeper if their approach is too generic,” says Someshwar, career/communications coach at Elevating Communication.
From AJ Saleem, owner of Suprex Private Tutoring: “What do you value more, the end result or cooperation and why?”
“There is no correct answer to this,” he says, “but it allows me to gain insight on someone’s personality.”
Cindy Lothrop, HR hiring manager for Central Community College, probes candidates’ own thoughts on management best practices: “What are three qualities you think are important for effective leadership? How have you demonstrated these qualities in your previous or current positions?”
10 Interview Questions for Management Candidates
Here are 10 more questions for prospective managers provided by the experts we talked to:
1) Tell me about a time when you delegated an important project to one of your direct reports. How did it go? What did you learn?
2) What are some important decisions or recommendations you have been called upon to make?
3) Tell me about a time when one of your direct reports gave you feedback about your performance. How did you respond?
4) Have you ever hired an employee? What did you look for when hiring that employee? What type of role was it?
5) Tell me about a time when you managed an employee you inherited versus hired. How did you handle it? Did you face any challenges?
6) Have you ever had to resolve a conflict between two direct reports or two colleagues? What was the conflict and how did you resolve it?
7) Have you onboarded a new employee? Tell me about the process.
8) Tell me about a time when you had to fire someone. What were the circumstances? What did you do?
9) Tell me about a time when your team had a significant goal or deadline for a project. How did you go about accomplishing it?
10) Tell me about a time when you needed to tell your team something that they did not want to hear in terms of policy or direction. How did you handle it?
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