Phone "interview" with prospective subordinates
June 16, 2014 4:03 PM   Subscribe

As part of the interview process for a new job, I'll be speaking with two staff members I'd be supervising. Help me figure out the best way to approach it?

I'm a finalist for a director-level position at a small non-profit. I'd be supervising a staff of four, and the ED asked me to speak (individually, by phone) to the two who are more senior. I realize this is a great opportunity for all involved, and that they'll be reporting back to the ED, and that the conversation could set the tone for our working relationship if I do get the position.

(Background info that may be helpful: I do have supervisory experience, but in my last job - which I held for 14 years - I created new positions and hired people into them. This would be my first time coming in to manage a pre-existing team.)

I'd appreciate any tips you have for making this a great experience for all of us. Thanks!
posted by Sweetie Darling to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Much of the discussion should focus on them. It's not a demand to "sell yourself" like an interview with a prospective boss would be. Start by asking them about your predecessor: what did he/she do that they liked, what would they have liked him/her to do, what did he/she do that they didn't like? Is their perspective shared by the other potential supervisees, with whom you're not speaking? What sorts of issues or problems are they experiencing that they think you could really help them with? What advice would they have for you coming into the organization? Then, and only then, ask them what questions they have for you.
posted by DrGail at 4:27 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think DrGail is right on the money, but instead of focusing on the last supervisor, which might make it sound like you're asking them to gossip, I might phrase it more generally, like "Based on what you know about people who've worked in this position previously, what would make the difference between a good [title of position] and a great one?"You could also try "How can this position be most helpful to you in your role as [their job title]?" or "What do you like/love most about your job and what's your biggest challenge (or what one thing would you change)?"

I've used all of these successfully; if you feel like it's appropriate, I'd also suggest the more obvious direct questions about either their work style or what kind of support they prefer from a supervisor, but you should already have a fair amount of feedback from focusing on them and their discussion of how their work would relate to yours. Good luck!
posted by deliriouscool at 4:43 PM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes. You should aim to approach this similarly to as though you already had the job and was sitting down for a first meeting with your new direct reports, although of course you should be careful to avoid seeming presumptuous, as though you think you have the job.

Start off by introducing yourself and talking a little nuts-and-bolts: stuff like how you heard about the position, why you're interested in the organization, a little about your own background. Not in a sales way, just a "here's who I am" way. Then ask them to tell you about themselves: how they came to join the organization, what their responsibilities are, what's working well and what they think could be improved. A couple of good generic questions: What do you most value in a good boss, and what do you hope your next boss will be like. What are the biggest challenges facing you in your work. What are the biggest challenges facing the org. What is the best thing about the org. That kind of stuff. Keep it positive and fairly light.

I have set up lots of these types of interviews/conversations, as the hiring manager. When I do, the people in the subordinate role don't participate fully in the decision-making and they don't get a veto over applicants. Mostly I am just looking out for any really bad personality-type conflicts, and aiming to help surface anything I might have missed myself. I take the subordinate information seriously but usually these types of interviews are pleasant and not determinative. They're just one piece of input to the process. Be friendly but not a supplicant, and use it to do a little light information-gathering
posted by Susan PG at 10:16 PM on June 16, 2014

Oh and yes: leave some time at the end for them to ask you questions. They probably won't ask you much, but you should give them a window for that.
posted by Susan PG at 10:18 PM on June 16, 2014

Start off by giving them a bit of a blurb about yourself. I would make the questions centered around the staffer.

1. What kind of management style do you thrive under?

2. What's your favorite part of your job?

3. What's your least favorite part of your job?

4. How did you get into this position?

5. What do you think of the organization? (You will be AMAZED at what people will tell you with this one. 9 out of 10 will say good things, and then you'll get one who will tear it a new asshole. If, or plan to fire that person within a week of your arrival. It's a HUGE red flag.)

At every juncture, follow up with questions about what you are being told. "So it sounds like the existing computer system is a real source of frustration for you. What measures are being taken to address it? What would you do if you ruled the world?"

Time will fly and you'll get a decent idea of how these folks think.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:44 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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