We all know managers have a tremendous impact on the productivity and engagement of their teams. And we know that not everyone can manage people: Gallup says only 10 percent of people are natural managers and another 20 percent are coachable .
Upgrading the quality of your existing managers can seem like an arduous task, but one thing you can do right away is to hire new managers from Gallup’s 30 percent—the group of people who understand (or can learn) how to manage.
Ideally, you want candidates who are excellent communicators and who can keep their egos in perspective. You want managers who nurture and reward their teams and manage with empathy while being unafraid to have difficult discussions.
Asking the right questions during a job interview can help you identify talented managers by discovering how they see their roles. You will get a sense of their characters and their insecurities. Hearing specific examples from their previous positions can help you be confident you’re getting honest answers.
Here are ten interview questions that will help reveal management talent:
1. Tell me about your biggest employee success story.
This will show whether the candidate believes employee development is an important part of their job. Excellent candidates will have many stories about employees who were promoted, overcame an obstacle, or turned around a performance problem. If they can produce this kind of story, it means your candidate takes a personal interest in the development and accomplishments of their team members.
Follow up question: “What role did you play in their success?”
The candidate should be able to describe how they coached, supported, or promoted their team member, and you’ll know whether their support was genuine or if they credit themselves with the employee’s success.
2. Give me an example of a time when one of your employees made you proud.
When a candidate can talk about being proud of an employee, it’s likely they were genuinely invested in their success. Even if the story was about something personal rather than professional—charity work or overcoming a physical disability—you’ll know your candidate is engaged with their team members.
You’ll also see whether your candidate can set aside their own ego and genuinely feel pride in the accomplishments of others.
3. What do you think a manager can do to make sure their team respects them?
This will tell you whether your candidate understands respect is earned, that it doesn’t come with the position. The right answers here are about communication, honesty, integrity, and consistency, not about demanding respect or using intimidation to get it.
4. What have you found to be the most effective way to reward your team members?
This question will tell you whether your candidate knows the importance of positive feedback. Ideally, they’ll talk about how they frequently use compliments to make employees feel valued and not focus only on occasional bonuses or perks.
5. How often do you have informal conversations with your direct reports about their performance, even if those conversations are brief and casual?
The right answer here is, “Often,” at least once a week or a few times a month. Ask for examples of how those conversations have gone when the feedback is positive versus negative. See if you can find evidence the candidate is a clear communicator and is supportive even when delivering constructive but critical feedback.
6. What steps do you take to bring a poor performer up to the standard of the rest of the team?
Good managerial candidates will talk about their attempts to communicate clearly, set goals and coach their employees through the process. Poor managers may jump right to disciplinary action.
In either case, this question will reveal whether the candidate realizes the importance of having team members at a consistent level. A follow-up question might be: “Would you say everyone on your team is at about the same level or is there a difference in skill and output from person to person?”
7. Has your boss ever congratulated one of your people for one of their accomplishments?
This may sound like you’re asking about the candidate’s boss, but you’re really trying to see if the candidate promotes their team. If the answer is, “No,” probe to see if the boss didn’t know about the team member’s accomplishments or if they knew but chose not to say anything.
8. In your experience, what’s the best way to deal with a bootlicker?
Experienced managers will know there are bootlickers on every team, and they will spot them and neutralize them by recognizing and not reacting to their behavior. The larger a manager’s ego, the harder it is for them to recognize bootlicking when they see it, so this question might help spot a self-absorbed candidate.
9. Tell me about a time when you turned around an adversarial employee.
This is a bit of a trick question—you want to hear about a turnaround that involved clear communication, collaboration, and support. Candidates who have attempted to befriend a difficult employee or who have fired or offloaded them may struggle with this one.
10. Tell me about your favorite boss—what were they like?
You’ll find out if this candidate recognizes leadership qualities and strives to adopt them. If necessary, follow up with, “What did they do that made you appreciate them so much?” and “What effect have they had on your management style?” Great management candidates will openly discuss their desire to learn and improve.
1. Gallup, “State of the American Manager,” 2015
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