Freaky Management Friday: Former Boss Edition
March 2, 2009 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Being interviewed by outgoing manager for his/her job. Complex management question inside.

Three years ago, I was a very junior person in Group A of Very Large Company. I was then hired away by Group B (totally unconnected) for a management position two slots higher than my previous role. Now, thanks to my management experience in Group B, I am a finalist in a search for the top job in Group A. I would be returning to the place I worked just a few years earlier, this time as the most senior manager. As part of the interview process, I have to be interviewed by the current senior manager in Group A- the person whose job I would be taking. S/he will be dropping down a level and will report to me. So AskMeFites, what advice can you give me on this interview? It's a touchy one, and I have some ideas on how to proceed, but I want to hear what you have to say before I decide on a strategy. My goal here is not just to have the interview go well, but to make him/her into an ally.

Extra background: My experience qualifies me to do this job and many of the people in management in Group A would be overjoyed to have me take the reins. I know this for certain (it's not just conjecture). The real sticking point is the current manager- and yes, this person was in charge when I was part of Group A. Also, there will be a replacement for this manager no matter what happens with my interview.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This does sound awkward.

I would think a lot of how you handle this depends on why your old boss is dropping down a level and reporting to their former position, as well as if this is the only interview, or just one of several, and what your relationship with your former boss was like.

Was this a forced demotion for them, due to performance or other work-related issues? If this is the case, I would just approach the interview as you would the others... as if you were a new applicant. You can certainly acknowledge that you know them, small talk, chit chat... but to remind them that they're being demoted, or to try to buddy up to them too much, you risk coming across as patronizing. You may well be the absolute best person for the job... but if they've been demoted, chances are they don't feel the same way, especially if your previous dealings were anything less than stellar. In this case, treat it like a new interview... present yourself, answer the questions (honestly), emphasize your strengths, and think ahead of time how you'll use your prior experience with the organization as an asset without making them feel worse than they do.

On the other hand, maybe this person is taking a step down of their own volition to reduce their stress, cut back on the schedule a little, have more time to spend with the family, or other reasons that have nothing to do with the job itself, and your working relationship was otherwise genial. In this case, I would start by first thanking them for the opportunities they gave you in your previous role that allowed you to advance to the level you're at. Then do the interview as usual, but try, as you said, to work in how you will be looking to them as an asset, a key player, the 'go to guy', or any other nauseating cliches you want to use, but make sure they feel like they're going to be useful - without making it sound like you'll be working them as hard as they worked before, since this would be exactly why they wanted to step down.

Sorry if this is a little ambiguous, but hopefully it gets you started.
posted by SquidLips at 8:21 PM on March 2, 2009

I've been in situations that were sort of similar (interviewed my future boss, became the boss of my former boss).

My suggestion is that you treat this interview as you would any other interview. What I want in a boss is competence and absolute professionalism. I don't want my future boss sucking up to me in the interview. (Because they'll expect me to suck up to them when they're the boss and that will not happen.)

If you want that person to be an ally, then you'll need to work on that once you're in the job. For now, be content if the person sees you as mature, professional and ready to lead.
posted by 26.2 at 8:49 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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