Interview questions for hiring a manager

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7 mins, 36 secs read time

People don’t leave companies – they leave their managers. Good managers inspire, motivate, and support their direct reports and teams, while not-so-good managers can lead to wasted resources and weaker team performance. But how do you make sure you’re hiring someone who’s a good manager? It all starts with asking the right interview questions for managers.

At Greenhouse, we’ve always believed that there’s a connection between management and employee happiness and we wanted to dig into how to make sure this takes place and is continually practiced.

What should you ask managers during interviews?

There were two important stats that we considered as we created our manager interview kits: companies that hire managers based on their management skills, as opposed to not explicitly testing for management skills, saw a 48% increase in profitability and a 19% decrease in turnover (State of the American Manager, Gallup, April 2015). When selling candidates on the Greenhouse company culture, we have always taken pride in our strong management culture, and have worked hard to create an environment where people can do the best work of their careers—ensuring that we do a great job of interviewing and hiring highly skilled managers is one of our most important tools in achieving that mission.

We also knew that it would take some work in the kick-off stage for our interview teams to understand the difference between interviewing for management skills and interviewing individual contributors. When interviewing an individual contributor, interviewers are typically checking for technical, communication, and collaboration skills. While these things are important for a manager too, it’s helpful to use behavioral interviewing to pull examples of times when they exhibited being a good coach and when they cared about those on their team—you want to understand their management style and getting examples from them can help get you there.

How can you define your management philosophy and design interview questions for managers? Read on for a few tips!

Defining your management philosophy

Defining your company’s management philosophy is an important first step in determining how your company’s managers should approach management and helps to determine the best interview questions for managers. First, Greenhouse Recruiting Manager, Jacqui Maguire revisited our management philosophy that was initially outlined by Cheryl Roubian, Greenhouse’s Director of Talent Acquisition and Management.

Cheryl set out to follow Google’s 8 behaviors of highly effective managers, ranked in order of importance according to Google. Just as you spend time defining and building your company culture, you should define what it means to be a good manager at your own organization. We decided to use Google’s list as the basis of our philosophy:

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Be productive and results oriented
  5. Be a good communicator and listener
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.

Our Recruiting Manager Jacqui took these attributes and made sure they could be tested. She wanted to create a standard interview kit in the Greenhouse platform similar to the structure that our culture add interviews currently take today. The last quality on the list around technical skills isn’t mentioned through Greenhouse’s list of questions but instead has its own interviewing section as our team finds importance in separately evaluating those skills in a more robust way.

After finalizing the list of questions, Jacqui took each question and matched it to the corresponding attribute. This helped ensure that the highest ranking attributes were hit more and that each attribute was included in the mix. Referencing Google’s list, the most important quality is to “be a good coach.” This quality was referenced the most and came into play in four of the eight questions that made it into our manager interview kit.

Determining core competencies

As we’ve shared so far, at Greenhouse, we’ve spent some time defining what we look for in a manager. Our VP of Engineering, Michael Boufford, has also outlined this list of what he calls manager “core competencies.” As you begin to think about what makes a good manager at your organization, you may find it helpful to go through these questions with other leaders and recruiters to make sure you’re all on the same page.

  • How well do they do their job without having complete visibility? This is especially telling for someone who is in a VP role and doesn’t see every single thing that happens on their team.

  • What do they think about skip-level one-on-ones, data and reporting, check-ins with managers, and other tools that help to provide visibility?

  • How do they think about their relationship to the people on their own team?

  • How do they view their responsibilities—is it only towards the company or also to those on their team?

  • How do they manage change? Do they do things all at once or do they have a hypothesis and then test something out to see if it works before rolling it out?

  • How do they achieve buy-in for change?

  • How persuasive are they? Can they tell you a story and make you believe it?

  • How do they articulate their failures? If an interviewee doesn’t tell the story as a true failure, it may indicate narcissism.

  • How do they view themselves in relation to their specific role/level? If someone is a VP and oversees a 60-100+ team, what should their answer be? More delegation?

  • How well do they articulate a coherent vision for how management should work?

  • What processes do they plan to put in place to help the team get better at doing their jobs?

  • What core values do they plan to bring to their team, regardless of the organization they might be joining?

  • Do they empower people to do their own work or do they give prescriptive workstyles (do they have to approve everything)?

  • How have they handled mistakes from those on their team?

Interview questions for managers

And finally, here is the list of actual questions that we include in our manager interviews. We’ve also included below which manager attributes each question aligns to.

interview questions for managers

Keep in mind that there are not necessarily right and wrong answers to these types of questions. You’ll need to determine what you consider to be acceptable and unacceptable answers based on your company’s approach to management.

  1. Tell me about a time when someone on your team was working on a project and they got stuck. What did you do to help them move forward? (Be a good coach & Empower your team and don’t micro-manage)
  2. Tell me about a time when you were managing someone who had more experience in a specific skill set (or was more technically proficient than you) and they came to you for help. What did you do? How were you able to help them? (Be a good coach)
  3. Tell me about a time when someone on your team had a personal struggle that impacted their work habits/schedule/routine. We don’t need a lot of detail on the personal part, but how did you handle it? (Express interest in employees’ success and well-being & Be a good communicator and listen to your team)
  4. Can you tell me about two or three people whose careers you fundamentally improved? What did you do? (Be a good coach, Empower your team and don’t micro-manage, Express interest in employees’ success and well-being, & Help your employees with career development)
  5. When you think about leading and growing this team, what is your vision for what this team will look like long term? How do you envision the team and how would you convey this message and direction to the team? (Be productive and results-oriented & Have a clear vision and strategy for the team)
  6. Tell me about a time when you were teaching someone and they struggled to understand? How did you adjust? What was the result? (Be a good coach & Be a good communicator and listen to your team)
  7. How do you help facilitate the relationship between members of your team and members of other teams within your organization? (Empower your team and don’t micro-manage & Help your employees with career development)
  8. How do you measure the success of your team? Knowing what you do about Greenhouse, the [department] team, and this role at this point, is there anything you would measure differently if you were to manage the team here? (Be productive and results-oriented & Have a clear vision and strategy for the team)

We hope this post has helped spur a conversation at your company to define a management philosophy and/or to focus on specific interview questions for managers. Remember that spending the time to evaluate management skills during interviews can have positive benefits on productivity, retention, and more. We can’t wait to hear how you’ve implemented this in your own workplace!

If you’d like more help when designing your interview kit for managers (or any other role, for that matter), be sure to check out our Structured Hiring interactive workbook.

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