I run a competency-based interviewing skills training now and then and I am always shocked by the number of seasoned managers who have no idea how to interview candidates when hiring. Most managers I train focus on assessing technical competence and have developed some fantastic tools and assessment methodologies for determining whether the candidate ‘knows his/her stuff.’ A lot of them, however, don’t even think about assessing the equally critical behavioral traits like teamwork, manageability, and decision-making. If you’re looking for a quick and dirty formula, here are my top ten questions to ask when interviewing someone for a managerial position in your organization. You’ll need to scale them down if you’re interviewing for a front-line position.
1. How would you characterize your management style?
This is a great question to determine how ‘clued’ the candidate is, does (s)he know what he’s talking about? Has he been through a management development program and actually ‘learned something? Another great things about these ‘characterize’ questions is they generally require the candidate to compare own style to some framework or to others. If you manage to find yourself interviewing the “I…; I…; I…” candidate, interrupt by the third or fourth ‘I’ and ask “this in contrast to…?”
2. What are your biggest hiring mistakes?
Most people don’t think about this one, but as a senior manager in your organization, you don’t want your middle manager costing your company time and money through bad hiring. A word of advise; if they come back with a wishy-washy answer dig further with questions like “how much was the turnover in your department over the past two years?” and “was it mostly due to termination or resignation?” If the candidate comes back with: ‘I’ve never made a bad hiring decision’; you might want to look elsewhere since this one is either arrogant –that’s annoying; or deluded, which is dangerous.
3. What managerial situation you find difficult to deal with or try to avoid?
This is one of those ‘drill down’ until the candidate cracks’ questions. Most candidates will give a non-answer as an answer, so drill down with “Can you give me a more specific example?”; “What about situation you prefer to avoid?”; “When did you experience a similar situation?”; “How did you cope with it?”; etc. remember to pay close attention to the body language for any potentially negative signs.
4. Describe the best Manager you’ve ever worked under. Describe the worst manager you’ve ever worked under.
If you will be managing this person, you should check you can manage her/him. Spend some time assessing whether her/his preferred style is similar to yours or will you top her/his ‘worst manager’ list. remember to be brutally honest with yourself and before the interview, ask yourself who your worst employee was and what were his/her characteristics.
5. How does your job relate to the overall goals of the company?
I once asked a potential candidate that question and he spilled the entirety of his company’s strategy, financial goals for the coming three years, and the main issues they were facing while I calmly listened and took avid notes since the company in question was a major competitor to ours. This is also a good question to confirm performance orientation since most pencil pushers will come back with general-sounding answers while the performance oriented folk will say “I can’t disclose figures, but I helped the company save x% last year.”
7. Define cooperation (or teamwork, execution, or any other important competency in your organization)
You would be surprised at how much you can know about a person by asking them a ‘define’ question. First of all, it tells you how that person’s mind works. It also tells you whether they are ‘tweaking’ their answers to make you like them. If the candidate comes back with more than one keyword that’s a match to how your company defines the concept, then the answers are tweaked. Dig further.
8. How would you typify (or characterize) your biggest achievement?
Notice that the question is about classifying the achievement – as opposed to describing it. Everyone has prepared an answer to the ‘describe your biggest achievement’ questions, but very few have actually thought about what it means, in what category it falls (overcoming obstacles, rallying people, negotiating, etc.) and how does that relate to the basic competencies required from a manager.
9. How do you determine whether someone in your department requires training?
Another infrequently asked question that hits multiple fronts: (1) does the candidate spend time and effort to develop his/her employees? (2) does the candidate appreciate the importance of training and approaches it in a scientific manner? (3) does the candidate have a clear understanding of his/her own in training and by extrapolation, his/her HR responsibilities?
10. How have you dealt with issues related to discipline over the last two years?
Listen carefully for avoidance answers like “the company has a clear policy and we implement it to the letter.” Discipline required personal involvement from every manager and if your candidate is not contributing, the department will suffer. Dig further with questions related to specific areas such as tardiness, absenteeism, or Facebooking (that’s when the spends most of the time on Facebook, twitter, or similar applications).
Even if you don’t like my top ten, remember to ask behavioral questions related to the non-technical competencies of the job. Most employees are terminated because of incompetence in non-technical areas, so cover all the bases and you will hire more productive, effective, and pleasant people!
One more for the road:
11. Tell me about a time when top leadership asked you for a result (or task) you believed unrealistic/wrong/not in the best interest of the department (or company).
This is a common question that most interviewers botch-up. You want a fine balance between honesty, loyalty, and objectivity. The candidate that will jump at the opportunity to bad mouth a previous (or current) employer will probably do the same to you and your company as well. The candidate that accepts any directives without at least some token resistance if (s)he feels the directives are inappropriate is a wimp (usually not a good thing unless you specifically require a wimp) and finally, the candidate that is unable to evaluate whether a decision is potentially sound or not is probably not ready for a managerial position.