Interviewer tips?
December 5, 2005 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I am particpating in a group interview tomorrow for someone who is potentially a new boss for me. Any ideas of good questions to ask?

A couple of people at work have suggested that I ask what his management style is...It just sounds like one of those questions I am going to ask and then not listen to the answer because I don't care.... however, I don't really want to ask any non-professional type questions.
BACKGROUND: The interviewee will possibly be one of my three bosses (as if one wasn't enough) at a research firm. He will be responsible for managing the data collection side of surveys. As his underling I will do some of the quasi-technical stuff.
posted by TheLibrarian to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wow, that's a good question.

Instead of explicitly asking what his management style is (and getting back a bunch of meaningless buzzwords you aren't paying attention to anyway), could you present him with problems you guys have run into in the past and ask him what he would have done to mitigate them?
posted by clarahamster at 5:28 PM on December 5, 2005

Best answer: Maybe you could surreptitiously gather his management style by asking if he has been a manager before, what he enjoyed most/least about being in a leadership position and naming some definitive examples. This keeps it real without resorting to some lame-o question/answer.
posted by quadog at 5:40 PM on December 5, 2005

Best answer: I've done these interviews for years. You want to set the tone of respectful inquiry; don't use this as a chance to show them how smart you are or kiss their asses.

"Tell me about a person you let go. What was the problem and how did you go about it?"

"Tell me about a person you promoted. What lead to his/her promotion and how did you go about it?"

"Tell me about your ideal day."

"When did you feel most excited about your career? How did that next year go?"

"What's most important to you as a manager? As an employee? As a coworker?"

"Tell me about a project you lead that didn't go as planned."

"If we were to call two or three of your previous employers, what would they say? If we were to call two or three of your previous employees, what would they say? Which employees are you thinking of when answering that question? Are there any qualities that unite those employees?" (Gets to what kind of employees they secretly like the best.)

"Based on what you've heard so far, what would you change first on our team, and what would you keep the same?" (Expect a highly diplomatic, if not downright wishy-washy answer here, but you may get a signal or two.)

"As you probably know, we had lots of applicants for this role. Why do you think you've gotten this far in the process? How do you think you fit the company culture? How do you think you fit the job?"

"What questions do you have about the team, the job, or the company?" (Types of questions can tell you a lot about how interested they really are, among other things)

The main thing is to make them feel comfortable, to get real answers, without being unprofessional. You want to try to make a connection and at the same time not be too obsequious. You never know -- if you don't work with them at this job, you may work with them later, particularly if it's a tight little industry.

Listen closely to their answers. It's okay to take notes on their responses. They will ask you questions about your job/school/resume. Keep your response brief, less than three sentences, and redirect back to them. You have plenty of time to tell them how great you are if they get the job.
posted by pomegranate at 6:43 PM on December 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

ask him questions that matter to you, as clarahamster and quadog suggested - I would ask about his greatest technical challenge to date (and how he solved it), about his greatest management challenge (and how he solved it). Ask him about mentorship style as well (more about this below).

He'll be your boss - does he listen well? When you ask him a question, does he look at you in the eyes and really listen, or does his mind appear to wander? How does he answer your question - in detail, or breezily?

It comes down to this: would you trust this person to work with on a day to day basis? to give you a performance review? would you trust him to give you a challenging assignment, and mentor you in the process?

Does he appear to trust the knowledge of people who are already with the firm, or does he appear a bit condescending? Trust your gut on this. Ask the right question for this.

How does he help employees on new assignments? Given what he already knows about the company, what would *he* see as his top priorities with the group? What challenge would he tackle first, and why?

He'll be managing the data collection of surveys and you will do his tech stuff - how clearly can he enunciate what he needs done by you? Does he understand the field that you are in? Has he done your type of work before? Does he understand what you do? Why you are needed?

Can you see you two getting along? From a professional, technical, intellectual basis - yes - but also from a friday-afternoon-after-work-beers-with-the-team basis?

This is your chance to vote him onto, or off, the island. The questions that you will ask him will help him evaluate what kind of person you will be, to work with.

So ask carefully. And insightfully.

Remember - he'll be your boss, but his opportunity to work with you hinges on the impression that he will make on you as you interview him tomorrow. Good luck.
posted by seawallrunner at 6:51 PM on December 5, 2005

Best answer: Seawallrunner has some good points, but please remember - you actually probably DON'T have a chance to vote someone at that level onto, or off, the island. He or she has been vetted by HR, and the person he or she will report to, and lots of companies use these interviews as a courtesy or as a chance for their favorite applicants to get to know their potential employees.

The execs/HR may take your input, but you probably don't have veto power. Similarly, any condescension you sense may be from what he's heard from others at your company about you or the team, and may not reflect the applicant as much as what others have told him about what they're looking for in a team leader for you guys. Give your feedback to the exec who set up the interview, but when you do, keep it focused on how you think the applicant fits the company goals and not who you would want to work for. They want your insight, not your preferences. Don't get too attached to the outcome.
posted by pomegranate at 7:18 PM on December 5, 2005

Pomegranate those were amazing answers. I hope you've talked somewhere about what to talk about to say when interviewing!
posted by xammerboy at 8:14 PM on December 5, 2005

How do you find great people to hire? What is it about someone that makes you want to go from seeing their resume or getting a referral for them to bringing them in for an interview? How many resumes do you review, and how many people do you interview, before filling a typical job in your organization?

When you have someone in for an interview, what techniques do you use to determine if they will make a great hire? What do you do outside of interviewing them directly to research a good candidate (reference checks, google searches, etc.)?

If you have a candidate in for interviews with the team, what are the circumstances under which you'd give an offer to the candidate? Would all of the people on the team have to agree to hire someone before you would give an offer? If not, what percentage (rough or exact) do you consider necessary? Are there any circumstances under which you would make a hire over strenuous objections from your current team?

Other than yourself and your team members, do candidates interview with anyone else in the company before you make an offer?

How can you tell when a team is working well together? What do you consider to be warning signs that your reports are having problems with each other or with their work? What is your role in the team -- are you the platoon Sergeant, giving orders minute by minute? or the problem solver, resolving conflicts and giving advice? or something else?

On what sort of questions do you want to have the last word, and on what sort of questions should we figure things out for ourselves?

Some people say that employees should always be praised in public, and always be scolded in private. Do you agree with that?

Jack Welch believes that a company should get rid of the bottom 10% of its employees every year. Do you think that is a good general guideline? In the last three years, what percentage of your employees did you eliminate each year?

Can you tell me (without naming companies or names) about a serious employment issue -- harassment, discrimination, theft, fraud, or a lawsuit -- that you handled, how it came about, and how you reacted? Are there certain kinds of training or education that you feel companies should always require?

How many of your employees have worked with you at more than one company? What is the greatest number of companies at which you have worked with any one of your employees?
posted by precipice at 8:58 PM on December 5, 2005

I would like to know why he left his last job. I'm sure there is a prepared answer for that, but there may be a way to get around to a more honest answer to that question by a less direct route. Executives don't always come right out and say "i humped my secretary and her husband tried to stab me, so i decided a lateral move was more fitting for my career goals."
posted by freq at 9:00 PM on December 5, 2005

"If one of your senior employees strongly disagrees with you about how to implement a project he'll be directly involved with, and you are convinced his approach is incorrect, what do you do?"

That one really gets to the heart of their style, I find. It was used on me by a VP at Dell, and threw me for a loop.
posted by Invoke at 10:49 PM on December 5, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks guys these were all great suggestions! I feel much more confident about going in there with real questions not just a bunch of snarky corporate speak questions that make me glaze over. I guess a lot of it is, yes, I want to impress him (not just me but on my company's behalf as well) as well as find out about him. I know that my opinion (several other people are interviewing him) will not make or break him but hopefully my questions will give our group a good sense of who he is and what kind of co-worker/boss/ employee he will be.
posted by TheLibrarian at 5:24 AM on December 6, 2005

so, how did the interview go??
posted by seawallrunner at 6:48 PM on December 9, 2005

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