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Interviewing Your Future Boss? 447

Posted by Cliff
from the putting-forth-pointed-queries dept.
crimethinker asks: "I am an embedded systems engineer for a small division of a large company. Up to now, we have managed to get by with little more than a 'team lead' position, but as our division grows, they are looking to hire a full-on engineering manager. I was one of the candidates, with my current boss's favorable recommendation, but I withdrew my resume when they told me the job was all paper and schedules; I'd never touch code or hardware again. Now the VP has a 'short list' of candidates, and has invited me to be one of the interviewers. Yes, you read that correctly: I will be interviewing the person who will become my boss. So, I put the question to you, Slashdot: what questions should I ask my prospective boss?"
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Interviewing Your Future Boss?

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  • Well (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:41PM (#9473082)
    If I hired you, would you agree not to fire me?
  • by paz5 (542669) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:42PM (#9473086)
    Can I have next week off?
    • Re:vacation...? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by caseydk (203763) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:43PM (#9473773) Homepage Journal

      How about something serious like:

      What schedule/planning creation process do you use?
      What sort of prioritization system do you use to rank the active projects?
      What are some techniques you use for improving/encouraging productivity during especially streesful periods of a project?

      I know that it's possible to get pat answers, but if the guy (or lady) is worth anything, he/she is going to be able to tell you about times in the past where these situations occured.

      After all, *all* of our projects are on time, on budget, with minimal stress... Riiight.
      • Re:vacation...? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        1. How do you resolve conflicts?
        2. What is your management style?
        3. Methodology that you use to do peer reviews?
        4. Are you a boss or leader? Explain and show with examples! Compare answer given here to #2!
        5. What was the greatest success you had as part of a team. What didn't work and what did.
        6. What was your greatest failure. What worked and what didn't.
      • by saden1 (581102)
        What is your take on Bean counting? Are you mythological or pathological bean counter?
  • by Various Assortments (781521) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:42PM (#9473087)

    Naptime?"

    • by svanstrom (734343) <tony@svanstrom.org> on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:26PM (#9473361) Homepage
      Why is naptime a joke?

      Seriously, taking a short nap will increase productivity; and his view on naps might tell you a lot about flexible workhours...

      Personally I might want to work 12+ hours when I'm getting a lot of work done, and during the days that it feels like I can't get anything done I want to leave early... and as long as I'm getting the work done on, or before, the deadline that ought to be ok.
    • While the naptime comment is funny, there is some validity in asking similar questions.

      Breakthroughs in better ways to do things often present themselves during what is often considered "unproductive" uses of time like coffee breaks, a short walk across the company campus or even a brief nap. If those types of activities help you work better it's definitely worth asking about.

      You should also ask the candidates to describe their leadership styles and management styles, and to provide concrete examples of

  • My question (Score:5, Funny)

    by teamhasnoi (554944) <(teamhasnoi) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:42PM (#9473088) Homepage Journal
    "Will you give me hell about reading Slashdot all day?"
  • by X-rated Ouroboros (526150) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:42PM (#9473090) Homepage
    I'd ask him what sort of ideas he'd have to improving employee morale/productivity. If all he can come up with is "Casual Friday" or other similarly benighted schemes, give 'im the boot.
    • by Flamingcheeze (737589) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:10PM (#9473260) Homepage Journal
      Ask him this question: What is a supervisor's duty to his subordinates?

      His answer will reveal much about his leadership ability.

      • Supervisor Duty (Score:5, Informative)

        by persaud (304710) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @03:22PM (#9473957)
        1. Inspire growth.
        2. Firewall politics.
        3. Negotiate resources.
        4. Advertise results.
        • Damn good answer (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ishmaelflood (643277)
          Well done. It is amazing how many technical people think their boss needs to be a technical expert. As your list demonstrates, he/she/it does not have to be able to do your or my job at all.

          The way I usually say it is that my manager is my interface to the rest of the company, who gets me the resources I need to do my job while moderating the demands on my time.

          • Moral Justice (Score:3, Insightful)

            by persaud (304710)
            Thanks. In the twelve years I've been consulting since 3yEE/1yCS sans degree, I've had nine managers. Most were good. Two were not. The first was the best, at that time the youngest-ever manager at IBM Toronto Manufacturing, BH.

            Once when I was complaining to anyone who would listen, about the moral injustice of known-but-unacknowledged shortcomings in an internal tool, BH gave me a coupon for a free pastry+coffee at the IBM cafeteria, noting how hard I had worked on the particular project. No one else
        • Translation... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by asr_man (620632)

          1. Sell the project he's already been told will grow his stock options the fastest.
          2. Obfuscate political factors that would inspire you to get a better job with better pay elsewhere.
          3. Badger, wheedle, cajole, or guilt you into overcommitting yourself because that looks so much better on his Gantt charts.
          4. Praise his own accomplishments while belittling the misguided, lame efforts of his competitors.

          Thankfully it's been a long time since I've been around of those managers, but they do leave an impres

          • Error Correction (Score:3, Insightful)

            by persaud (304710)
            1. Growth of employee.
            2. Firewalls filter (not stop) overt politics, not employee grapevines.
            3. Negotiate resources for employees to do their job, sustainably.
            4. Advertise employee success.

            Sorry my good managers reminded you of bad ones.
    • by tabacco (145317) * on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:42PM (#9473448)
      Hammocks! :)

      Hank: Uh, hi, Homer. What can I do for you?
      Homer: Sir, I need to know where I can get some business hammocks.
      Hank: Hammocks? My goodness, what an idea. Why didn't I think of that?
      Hammocks! Homer, there's four places. There's the Hammock Hut,
      that's on third.
      Homer: Uh-huh.
      Hank: There's Hammocks-R-Us, that's on third too. You got
      Put-Your-Butt-There?
      Homer: Mm-Hmm.
      Hank: That's on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Matter of fact,
      they're all in the same complex; it's the hammock complex on
      third.
      Homer: Oh, the hammock district.
      Hank: That's right.
  • by frostman (302143) * on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:43PM (#9473092) Homepage Journal
    You should ask your prospective boss about things that will affect your happiness with their "boss-ing."

    Since you were a candidate yourself and withdrew, you have probably already figured out that your new boss is unlikely to be your equal in engineering.

    But that's not her job anyway.

    You should ask things about leadership philosophy, their personal goals in management, their ideas about telecommuting,
    about how they balance their work and "real" lives.

    Remember that if you are a good engineer, your boss works for you as much as the other way around (unless your boss is the Big Boss of course).

    Try to figure out how much you would enjoy having this person around, and how helpful they are likely to be in clearing the way
    for you to do your best work.

    Use no buzzwords.

    Thats my style, and it's worked well so far. I've interviewed about half my bosses and haven't had a bad one in 8 years.
    • by LostCluster (625375) * on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:51PM (#9473159)
      The key thing that a boss over engineers needs to do is clear the administrative hassles that a project may run into before the workers on project actually hits it. For example, if things are going over budget, they should detect that and get a correction in place before it actually causes any stopages in work.
      • The key thing that a boss over engineers needs to do is clear the administrative hassles...

        This reminds me of a few things one of my previous employers did that generally lowered morale:

        1) Move to cumbersome and over-engineered "web based" electronic timesheet system, where previously our quite competent secretary would handle most of the data entry and phone-tag games.

        2) Move to a cumbersome and over-engineered "web based" expense reporting system, where previously we simply handed all our receipts to
    • by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:30PM (#9473382) Homepage
      There's another side to that.

      A few years ago I worked at a company with an 8 person IT dept, an IT boss, and a CEO above him (maybe 40 people in the whole company). The IT boss was fired and we needed a new one. The CEO and CFO interviewed the candidates and then let the IT guys talk to each candidate for maybe 15 minutes without anyone else there. The biggest deciding question for us was "What's your favorite band?" One of the leading guys answered a contemporary Christian band and the other answered "Slayer". The big bosses were on the fence and we begged for them to hire the Slayer guy. Bad move. By far the worst boss I've ever had. He was probably a pretty cool person, but just an aweful boss. My direct superior literally wouldn't talk to me for 2 months at a time.

      -B
      • My direct superior literally wouldn't talk to me for 2 months at a time.

        I wish that would happen to me. Conversing with my boss is invariably counter-productive and a big waste of time.

        For example, last week I had to spend half an hour explaining to him the concept of a firewall. I told him that our network is behind a firewall, and that if he tried to connect to my machine from outside our network, he wouldn't be able to. He told me that no, our network must be behind a NAT device, because if it was
      • by C10H14N2 (640033) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @06:58PM (#9475201)
        There's another other side to that: personal matters are none of their business.

        Asking personal questions in a professional interview is unprofessional and, depending on the content (and location), can be illegal. You're not hiring a best buddie or a whore. Whether or not you would "hang out" together should not be part of the equation. You want the person who can best do the job and do it with a professional attitude -- which means a neutrality and distance that makes YOUR personal attributes as irrelevant to them as theirs should be to you.

        By opening the pandoras box of private minutiae, you run the risk of bringing information to the table that identifies a person as a member of a protected class. For instance, where I live, in addition to the normal bits outlined by the US-EEOC, political affiliation and sexual orientation are protected. Asking "so, what do you do on the weekends" might result in "I go to Log Cabin Republican meetings after Temple." Great, now if you pass that person up, you've got a discrimination trifecta. A company I work for was very happy to find out my political affiliation. Fortunately for me, it's the same as 100% of the company. Unfortunately for them, they're RIPE for a lawsuit as a result. Even if you don't care, you don't want to know because once you know, you're open to accusations of bias.

        But, legal risk-aversion shouldn't be your primary reason for keeping your nose out of the personal details of a potential co-worker. It's just basic professional etiquette. If it's not business, it's none of yours, capisce?
    • by Alan Cox (27532) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:25PM (#9473641) Homepage
      Seriously - when was the last time a footballer got promoted from the team to do the paperwork, how many CEO's secretaries outrank the CEO.

      If you are the natural team leader then its unlikely the team will listen ot the manager anyway, they'll listen to you. So don't hire yourself a manager, hire yourself an assistant. Someone who goes to meetings for you, plans schedules for you and lets you get on with the real job. That doesn't have to be someone who is in charge of or controlling what you do but someone who enjoys doing the bits you don't and you can work alongside.

      So many IT companies seem to screw this up. Good project managers are great people to have but they don't have to be in charge.
      • by solprovider (628033) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @03:40PM (#9474067) Homepage
        If you are the natural team leader then its unlikely the team will listen ot the manager anyway, they'll listen to you. So don't hire yourself a manager, hire yourself an assistant. Someone who goes to meetings for you, plans schedules for you and lets you get on with the real job. That doesn't have to be someone who is in charge of or controlling what you do but someone who enjoys doing the bits you don't and you can work alongside.

        I lived this experience.

        I was the "lead developer" for many projects at a consulting company. We had several customers that required much personal attention that had no impact on the projects, so I asked my boss (the VP) to hire someone to take the phone calls, make appearances at "strategic" meetings, and handle the paperwork I hated. We gave this person the title "Project Manager" (PM), but the development team still expected my leadership.

        We introduced the PM to our customers. He said some silly buzzword filled comments ("Joint Application Development") that added even more meetings, but that was fine as long as none of the techies (including me) had to go to them.

        Everything was great until we started a new project. Everybody had the same titles, but the PM decided that as "manager", he should be the top of the chain-of-command. The first time he tried to give me orders, I explained his purpose. The second time, I had the VP explain his purpose. The third time, we transferred him to the Microsoft group.

        I have had several great managers (and just hired one of them to work for my new company.) A great manager acts as a filter between the techies and the customers. He protects the time of the techies. He stays out of design and development, but can offer a non-techie perspective when asked.

        This only applies if you have a great lead developer. I know of one group that fires programmers with leadership skills. The manager is a non-techie, but knows how to coordinate development with mediocre developers. Adding a hotshot guru programmer would disrupt his system. (He works for a large bureaucratic company where speed is not a priority.)
  • by MrNonchalant (767683) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:44PM (#9473098)
    How much of a pay raise would you give me latet for a favorable reccomendation now?
    • by mrscorpio (265337) *
      Actually, that might not be a bad question to throw in there, just to see what their reaction is. If they don't skip a beat and answer "how much do you want?" or "how much will it take?", you know that this is probably somebody who's going to fuck you/everybody over later...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:44PM (#9473099)
    Seriously, see what he/she likes to do outside of work. You don't want someone who is a total workaholic who will expect you to put in 80+ hrs/wk if that's not your bag.
  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Deanasc (201050) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:44PM (#9473102) Homepage Journal
    Let's say, hypothetically, that I came in still drunk from last night and told you what I really thought about those ugly kids in that picture frame on your desk and then puked behind the ficas tree in the lobby... How would you handle a situatioin like that?

    The correct answer here is to give me a raise.

  • by Reivec (607341) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:45PM (#9473106)
    Ask about the shows he/she likes, what he/she reads, what they like to do. Try to find the person you get along the best with. If you 2 are friends it feels less akward to have a boss which you hired because you will have mutual respect for one another. Also, friends don't fire friends ;). If they are uptight and have no social skills I would stear clear.
  • I would... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AvitarX (172628) <me.brandywinehundred@org> on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:46PM (#9473110) Journal
    I would start looking for a new job. You can only move up or out they say.

    Also there is probably going to be some resentment when the boss realizes that you were the first choice (if they do not already).

    • Re:I would... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ejaw5 (570071) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:57PM (#9473204)
      What resentment? The guy would rather work with code and hardware and let someone else deal with the paper shuffling. The incoming boss probably wouldn't like the 'engineering' work enough to do it 8hrs/day, although he/she should know at least a bit of what's going on.
    • Re:I would... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by frostman (302143) * on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:03PM (#9473226) Homepage Journal
      There are other ways to move up.

      If you don't want to be in management it doesn't mean your career is a dead end.

      If it's strictly about money then in most organizations you won't make more than your manager even if you deserve it - but then, if you're in it for the money you should probably start your own company. A consulting company, for example.

      But it's probably not strictly about money for this person, or he would've taken the management position. Lots of tech workers are much happier doing tech work than doing bureaucracy, and find greater rewards in challenging projects and creative freedom than in a slightly larger paycheck.

      As for the resentment, it's possible, but hopefully the manager they hire will not be one who is insecure about their choice of career path, or about someone else deciding against it.
  • by Exsam (768226) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:46PM (#9473113)
    Pantless mondays?
  • by SteveMonett (528540) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:47PM (#9473123)
    Look around. The company let the last secretary for your engineering group retire 5 years ago. You have been doing all the ordering and tracking. A manager of a development group attends all the planning meetings but he or she must also be the clerk and secretary for the group. You do not need to know how the company has changed the PO approval process. Leave that up to the manager.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:47PM (#9473128)
    It's fairly clear that the reason you've been invited to take part in the interview is because you "know your stuff" inside out, more so than anybody who is two levels above you. Therefore, your portion of the interview competition should be to judge how much the candidates know about the exact technologies you're working with.

    I'd come up with a list of 10 to 20 buzzwords that you use in your everyday conversations and e-mails, but keep that list secret from the candidates. See how many of those words each canadidate mentions in proper context as they talk with you and the other interviewers.

    The point of this exercise isn't so much as to hire the high-scorer like it's a video game, but so that you can have a reason to veto somebody who is talking in generalizations but can't come up with the terms for what you actually do. Basically, your whole point is to eliminate anybody who is likely to become a PHB character if given the job because they don't know what you do.
    • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:54PM (#9473184)
      You want to make sure they have a feel for the tech but frankly they are not hiring an engineer, they are hiring an exec. Are you really concerned that the VP know as much or more about the tech than you? Isn't that your job?

      Tech will be -part- of this person's job, but only part, since they will be managing the business side of things.

      Probably more important is the question "can us engineers work with this person?"

    • bullshit. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid (135745)
      he/she needs to knwo how to allow you to do your job.
      he/she needs to trust your experience

      he/she needs to knwo how to address issues with upper managent, perferable without you knowing there ever were issues.

      he/she needs to be able to learn the industry relationship with vendors.

      If you say "I need part xys234", they ned to get you that part quickly, and as inexoensively as possible. That do not need to know what how it works. By the time they aroder, they should now what it does, but not in a technical
  • Mmmmm. Donuts. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thinmac (98095) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:48PM (#9473134) Homepage
    "What is your position on the free coffee and donuts issue?"

    On the other hand, if you want to ask *good* questions, think about what topics you and your current boss deal with, and ask about those questions. If it's a management job, then think about what managers can be bad at. Ask about their previous management history (are they a good leader?), ask about how well they understand the technology (are they the quentessential pointy hair?), and ask about how they view the postion from the point of view of being the interface between the techs and the upper management (are they there to keep you down, or to make things go smoothly?).

    Also, think about what might happen a year or five down the line that will piss you off, and ask questions relating to that.
  • Here's a few... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jarich (733129) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:49PM (#9473136) Homepage Journal
    References... from former employees

    Number one way to motivate an unproductive employee.

    How well can you estimate time and set project schedules. (You know this can't be done exactly... if he doesn't know, you don't want him)

    Why did he lose (or leave) his or her last job? (Double check on this one... it's IMPORTANT)

    How many of their former employees will want to follow them to this job?

    Annual reviews? Good or bad? How are they done? A form or "free form"?

    Do hours worked matter or is getting the job done more important?

    Comp time or bonuses (or anything) to make up for overtime needed at deadlines?

  • by CharAznable (702598) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:49PM (#9473138)
    Do you read Dilbert?

    Did you like Office Space?

    Oh yeah, have you read The Mythical Man Month?
  • by csoto (220540) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:49PM (#9473144)
    You ask this person the same things as anyone else:

    -Ask them if they understand the nature/scope of the job
    -Ask them to describe relevant experience (professional, not futzing around on their own time)
    -Ask them to describe any characteristics/attributes that make them a good choice for this job
    -Ask them how they would handle any particular circumstances you either expect your operation to encounter, or some that you have encountered in the past that could have used some good leadership
    -Etc.

    Basicallly, when interviewing, you really only need to concern yourself with KSAs - knowledge, skills and abilities. Note that interpersonal communication and team skills are VERY critical KSAs. I value them more than actual technical or academic skills - those can be taught. The former, not as easily.

    I sat on the committee that hired my current supervisor. She turned out to be one of the better administrator's we've had...
    • Ask them to describe relevant experience (professional, not futzing around on their own time)

      That doesn't seem fair. Why discount a person's experience just because it wasn't in the context of a professional position? If they're doing it on their own time, it means (1) they really care about it and (2) they can teach themselves, as opposed to having to be hand-held through everything.

      I think you would short-change me if you refused to consider what I've accomplished on my own time. A relatively small
  • Management Style (Score:5, Insightful)

    by n6mod (17734) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:50PM (#9473146) Homepage
    You, no doubt, have an idea what constitutes a good manager. If you don't, here's my opinion:

    A good manager:
    1. Fights for her people with upper mgmt.
    2. Gets her people the resources they need to do their job.
    3. Gets the hell out of the way.

    Put another way:
    1. You know he will be there when you need something.
    2. Otherwise, you'd never know he was there.

    These are the traits you're looking for.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:51PM (#9473155)
    This person will be making BUSINESS decisions, be it code, purchasing, product development etc. If they do not know the BUSINESS deeply, they will make bad decisions. Ask them about competitors, products, why certain products and strategies succeeded or failed.

    This is not a technical interview if it is a VP job - make sure they know they business.

  • important question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by boisepunk (764513) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:51PM (#9473156)
    Why should we hire you in the first place?

    (this is not a troll! it's an honest question!)
  • by wildnight (621084) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:51PM (#9473158)
    Surveys reveal the #1 predictor of job satisfaction is how the employee feels about his/her relationship with his/her direct manager.

    Consider questions like:

    1. What do you feel it is important for those you supervise to focus on?
    2. How do you set and manage goals for your subordinates?
    3. How would you handle the situation when you perceived one of your subordinates was performing below expectations?
      a) describe a situation in the past when you felt you successfully reformed a poor-performing subordinate
    4. How do you communicate your expectations with subordinates?
      a) describe a situation in the past when you felt you successfully communicated expectations with staff
    5. What managerial tools or strategies do you use to motivate staff and/or how do you create incentives? Under what circumstances do you feel incentives and/or rewards have been earned?
      a) describe a situation in the past when you felt you successfully motivated staff using incentives/rewards
    6. How would you handle a situation where your department was assigned a workload that could not feasibly be completed during normal 40-hour work weeks?

    Your goal is to try to get an idea of what it would be like to work for this person under good and bad circumstances.

  • What is your style? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ruonkrak (788831) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:51PM (#9473162)
    I would definately want to know what is the boss's stile of management.

    Is he/she ...

    ... a hands-on type of coach who wants to know day-to-day what you are working on and when are you going to have it completed.

    ... the hands-off type who enables you to guide your projects and assign completion dates, etc. while always being available for manegement-specific questions.

    ... a good team-lead?

    ... going to take the team out for lunch once or twice a year to bond?

    A good manager IMHO lets their employees guide their own careers while providing targeted guidance.
    • by pz (113803)
      ... a good team-lead?

      In my experience, the best bosses are those who lead by example. If everyone is required to drink red tea while working, then they're the ones who get big clear mugs and have double servings. Nothing inspires more, IMO.
  • by Enonu (129798) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:52PM (#9473169)
    What would you do for a Klondike Bar?
  • by NixterAg (198468) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:53PM (#9473171)
    It's important that you try to find someone you relate to. They don't necessarily need to have the same interests you do, but should have a similar lifestyle. For example, if many of your team members have a wife and kids at home, try to find someone in the same situation. He'll understand the value of sticking to a focused 8-5 schedule and will better understand your needs to stay at home with the kids when they are sick, to have your weekends free to spend time with your family, etc.

    On the other hand, if you guys are all workaholics who spend every daylight minute at the office and you hire a guy that prefers a tight, 8-5 schedule you'll naturally have some tension and frustration when it gets crunch time and he chooses to go home at 5 every day. He may get twice as much work done as everyone else in a shorter period of time but that doesn't seem to matter at midnight to a grouchy, sleep-deprived developer.
  • Experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by quantaman (517394) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:54PM (#9473179)
    You probably already realize this but make sure this guy understands computers. Ask him general questions to make sure he understands the general technology behind the projects (make sure he has a little geek in him). But most importantly make sure to ask him questions that you claim are easy and he should know but are anything but, see how he handles these situations. If he's starts trying to BS that's definate bad news, you want a boss who will admit when he's outside of his experience and is willing to listen to the advice of his subordinates.
    • Must have a clue (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbIII (701233)

      You probably already realize this but make sure this guy understands computers.

      You'll need to ask specific questions about the field they'll be managing until you hit the boundary of their knowlege - then you'll find out if they are going to guess and bullshit under pressure or admit they don't know and go looking for answers. This is very important, a manager has to know something about what they are managing, and be willing to take advice from others on what they don't know.

      Example - freshly employed m

  • Thanks (Score:3, Funny)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:04PM (#9473237)
    As one of the short listed candidates I would like to thank all those who submitted questions. I now feel very confident I can blitz this interview. Thanks again.

    PS crimethinker, prepare to be sacked for lack of imagination.
  • Bottom Up Managers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GrouchoMarx (153170) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:09PM (#9473259) Homepage
    The last company I was at, I arrived only shortly after the VP of IT. (The company had maybe 20 people.) I liked him. His basic attitude was that he was the representative of the IT team to the CEO, and his job was to work with us to see that stuff got done and to keep the CEO away from us. He had his problems, like having a new great idea for where that stupid bug I was trying to track down might be every frickin' day, but I respected him for his "bottom up" style. He was our representative and leader, not our "boss".

    Of course, the CEO didn't like that, which is, I believe, why he was fired about a month and a half after I got there. The CEO wanted a yes-man mouth piece who would see to it that we were broken into generating the response numbers he wanted, not tell him what the rest of us knew full well, that his interpretation of the numbers was asinine and counter-productive.

    (I lasted about another month after that before I was canned as well. Wheee!)

    Before you interview ANYONE, speak to your upper management and make sure you and they are on the same page about what you're looking for. What you want is someone who will go to bat for you and keep upper management and customers out of your way. The CEO may want the same, or he may be looking for someone he can give a directive to who will then crack the whip on the rest of you to do it. If you don't figure that out now, you're going to only scare away potential good managers and the person you get will be so torn and confused that they won't be able to do a good job for anyone.
  • Why not... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Phouk (118940) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:14PM (#9473284)

    ... ask for references? I.e. people both who he as worked for, as well as people who have worked for him?

    If he's not willing to give such references, especially of the second kind, that's an answer as well.

  • by FunWithHeadlines (644929) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:15PM (#9473292) Homepage
    I've used that question when I interview people, and it's illuminating to hear the responses. This gives you a bit of insight to their personality and interests, and if you have them tell you about that book and what they liked about it you begin to get more insight. Remember, the key to having a good boss is finding someone you will get along well with. To do that, you need to know their personality. Besides, it's always interesting to throw an off-the-wall question at someone and see how they respond. In my experience, the best interviews become more like long conversations on a wide-ranging number of subjects. When it ceases to be question-answer and more like story-anecdote, you have a great interview going on. That's when you get the measure of the person and their personality.
    • by IIH (33751) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @06:17PM (#9474931)
      Besides, it's always interesting to throw an off-the-wall question at someone and see how they respond.

      Where I worked, we interviewed our boss, and one of the Q's was "do you keep goats?" (as we had heard he had a farm. Positive answer, great boss, so that was added to our standard list of questions. Next interview (a few years later) when we asked "do you keep goats?", we got an answer of "No, but I minded cheetehs for a while, does that count?" (boss was from south Africa, and was an excellent one!)

      In short - ask about pets! :)

  • by melted (227442) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:21PM (#9473332) Homepage
    About where he started in his career. If he comes from the very bottom and understands the job of his direct and indirect reports a little bit he will not drive you guys crazy with unreasonable expectations.

    Also, ask about his education. It is my firm belief that non-technical people simply can't effectively manage technical people, and the best managers grow from the very bottom.

    If he STARTED as a manager and/or he does NOT have technical education at all, the decision is "no hire".
  • by isaac (2852) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:23PM (#9473342)
    You should ask him how he feels about institutional memory.

    I'm not sure how old you are, but if you're approaching 50, you should be worried about being shitcanned and replaced by 2 jr. engineers fresh out of school, each making half your salary.

    Whether such a replacement is a good idea or not is dependent upon the circumstances, but repeated purging of senior engineers for junior ones leads to engineering departments that repeatedly blunder into the mistakes of the past.

    Ironically, if you're in that 45+ age range, you've probably just given up your best chance both to save your paycheck and to propagate institutional memory. Once you pass 50, you'll probably never get another engineering job should you lose your current one - you'll be too expensive to hire compared to someone a few years out of school (not to mention less attractive - physical appearance has been shown to be a major factor in hiring decisions).

    The sad truth about engineering is that you can't do it forever. At some point, you have to step up to management or else you'll find yourself jettisoned at some point with no hope of finding another good-paying job. I've watched my father's career arc and seen a lot of his colleagues fall by the wayside (and through the cracks) because they didn't understand this reality. He's now on the cusp of retirement and is one of the last survivors from his generation of engineers at his company because he was willing to make that move to management.

    Having removed yourself from consideration for this managerial role, it's in your interest for whoever's coming in to have an understanding of the importance of striking a balance between cost efficiency in terms of dollars-per-head and the importance of retaining experienced people (e.g. you) who are capable of larnin' them youngsters who will be coming in as your division grows.

    Just my $0.02

    -Isaac

  • by Rick Zeman (15628) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:33PM (#9473392)
    ...is always "I don't know" (with the usually unsaid corollary of "I'll find out") rather than making up bullshit.
  • Here are a few... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digitalhermit (113459) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:47PM (#9473464) Homepage
    Many people believe that a good manager need not know the nuts and bolts of what the subordinates do. After all, a manager is hired to manage, not code or administer systems. Plus a manager that is very technical will have that urge to jump in himself (or herself). On the other hand, we are all familiar with the clueless manager that sets impossible deadlines or purchases technology based upon some salesman's pitch. So a technically clueless manager can be as bad. Ask the candidate what they think of this. How much should a technical manager know about the technology?

    Hard-core geeky types are often introverted and not what most managers are accustomed to see. Some are arrogant prima-donnas, some self-effacing, some look and smell like long-haul truckers. Many are violently independent. How will the candidate deal with this motley group and get them to work together?

    Two competing vendors are trying to sell you a product. How do you choose between them? This question can help answer who the candidate trusts. Does he/she speak to his group first, soliciting their opinions or does he exclude his team from the process.

    Whose job is more important, the manager's or the employee's? If he says the employees he's very likely pandering for acceptance. If he says the manager's then he may quickly drop useful members of the team.

    What is a TPS report? The bigger question is how pedantic is the manager? Can he bend the rules or break them in order to get something accomplished. Does he understand the reasons for a paperwork process but is willing to forego them based on his judgment.

    The building is on fire! What do you do? Start timing him immediately and look at a stopwatch as you ask. This can show how well he performs under the slight pressure of a fake emergency. Does he wilt? Does he get the employees to safety first or is his first reaction to grab the backup tapes? Which one is more important to you?
  • by ahdeoz (714773) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:52PM (#9473490)
    1. Admit when he doesn't know something 2. Restate what he is told without distorting it too much.
  • Been There (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pmbarth (230087) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:56PM (#9473510) Homepage
    I've been in your position before and having survived a few suggestions.

    - Ensure you know what the hiring (one-over) manager is looking for. Is the priority training? Project management? Team development? Process improvement? I'm sure you have things you want in your manager, but make sure you know what The Company is looking for.

    - As with any interview, ensure that you have the candidate provide you with concrete examples given for your questions. Bad question: Tell me about your management philosophy. Good question: Give me an example of a time when The Company's needs and the employee's needs were at odds and how you handled it. (For example an employee wants vacation but their project was late.)

    - Be ready to have a manager that your feedback was "no" on become your manager. It happened to me.

    - Pretty obvious: Make a good impression! This person may soon be your boss!
  • by StrutterX (181607) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:00PM (#9473532)
    The one consistent thing I have observed in all my bosses who were good to work for, and all those who were dreadful, was that the good ones had children.

    This means that they:

    1. Have a life outside of work, and will understand that you do to.
    2. They are used to dealing with illogical childish tantrums, and so will be well able to deal with upper management and the marketing department without it affecting you - and they will resist behaving that way themselves.
    3. Will understand if you have to do occasionally weird hours if you have children of your own, without putting you on the no-promotions shit-list.
  • by wilsynet (713412) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:19PM (#9473609)
    I manage a group of 11 engineers with varying projects in a medium size company.

    Managing schedules and pushing papers and pencils, yes, this is a lot of the manager's job. But there's also strategy, technical direction, mentorship, hiring (and eventually firing), and more influence at the higher levels as the company grows.

    That might not be what they tell you, but that's what it inevitably becomes if you're a manager that has any influence at all -- and being promoted internally, that's most likely what you'll get.

    Having experience with all of those things and being accountable for them rather than being a guy who merely chimes in, hey that really rounds out your resume. Building software and product isn't all about writing code; here's your opportunity to find out about how the rest of it happens.

    In the worst case, you decide you don't like it. Big deal. No one said you had to do the same job forever.

    The great thing is that since you'd be the manager and hence, ultimately be in charge of the schedule, you can schedule yourself to contribute some code here and some code there. That's exactly what I do:

    1. Give myself interesting things to do.
    2. Keep the sub-project limited in scope.
    3. Try and stay off the critical path.

    Being a manager doesn't mean you can't be technical; it just means that your primary responsibility is to your people and not to the code.
  • by codeButcher (223668) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:23PM (#9473626)

    My biggest frustration with my current managers is that they don't have the slightest clue what my work entails, from a technical perspective. While I do appreciate the need for people to shift papers around, keep clients off your back, etc. etc., it does not help if you have to cope with unrealistic expectations and don't get equipped (hardware, training,...) to properly cope with ever-changing job demands. My ideal boss would be one who moved up from a similar position than what I'm doing now.

    But then again, as you yourself pointed out, not everybody wants to move from coding to admin - and I'd definitely also ask why he made the move. Might be interesting....

    Yeah, I've got a couple of questions ready about my prospective bossed if (when - probably sooner than later) I ever sit in a job interview again and they get to the "you got any questions?" point.

  • by tmoertel (38456) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:27PM (#9473659) Homepage Journal
    You cannot reliably predict, based on a few short interviews, how a manager is going to perform weeks and months into the job. Yes, you can spot outright bozos and reject them, but it's hard to detect self-servers, backstabbers, politicians, us-vs-them players, and so on. And that's just on the personality side. What about good team-building and project-management skills? How can you measure those during a short interview?

    So be careful. The guy who seems fine during the interview may turn out to have serious flaws as a manager. Unless you do your homework, you'll never have the opportunity to spot these flaws until they manifest themselves on the job -- at your company.

    The only people who have first-hand, long-term knowledge about the candidate's on-the-job performance are the people he has worked with before. Talk to them! Ask your candidate if you may speak with his references. If you get a No response, that ought to be a warning sign. If he doesn't trust his own references, why should you trust him?

    But don't stop there. Say that you would like to, if at all possible, speak with the people he has managed on previous jobs. Say that you would also like to speak with the people who managed him. Ask if he can arrange it. Even if he can't because it might jeopardize his current position, the way the candidate responds can tell you a lot.

    Good managers are worth their weight in gold. Bad managers can destroy projects and drive away your most talented employees. Thus when hiring managers, be discriminating. Do your homework. Check the references.

  • by MattW (97290) <matt@ender.com> on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:36PM (#9473728) Homepage
    I spent 5 years working as a network security architect at Exodus Communications, in the heydey before they grew themselves into bankruptcy. I had the pleasure of getting my own boss hired twice.

    The first time, when there were problems with one manager, I proposed that my department (network security) be managed by the guy who ran NetEng, who was a friend and an all around great guy. I just said: who has a light-handed management style, who has the credibility to back me if management is thinking of doing something stupid, and can be a technical resource?

    I used those same criteria to select my next boss. I was given only two candidates for a Directory of Network Security position. One was a fairly laid back, older gentlemen with an easygoing attitude, some technical aptitude (although he couldn't do the engineering work, but he had clearly done things in the arena in the past), and a clear idea of challenges we faced. The other candidate was ex-law enforcement, and his answer to most technical questions was, "I like to surround myself with good people so I have resources to tap for questions like that". He was stiff, formal, and projected a great deal of confidence... that didn't seem justified. He showed competence only with physical security issues (cameras, guards, etc), which was part of the job but not the important part to me (since I only did the network side).

    The first guy had *real world* experience. He'd founded and flopped a security company that sold an evaluated hardened multi-level secure firewall... one that cost in the 6 figures to get and get installed and was generally only bought by a few governments.

    I pulled heavily for the first guy, and he was the best boss I've had -- the best I can imagine. He was respectful, tried to shield us from management making illogical or impossible demands, and after several years, quit the company rather than allow bad management to wreck our group. (well, they still wrecked us, but he left rather than be party to it)

    Based on this experience, I'd recommend you look for:

    * Someone who was once technical. No matter that they aren't, but they should show the sort of aptitude and experience that indicates they did what you do or something equivalent
    * Someone who is laid back and 'real'. If they say anything about Moving Your Cheese, about management synergy, about "marketing the group", about "having a first-rate team" or other management-isms that you cringe to hear, then RUN don't walk from that candidate.
    * Someone who is not afraid of their management. One reason I liked our boss was he was on the tail end of his career -- he was in his 50s, and instead of being desperately clingy, he was ready to take a bullet for the team. He never really had to; he was so well thought of that even when they said our team was being taken from him because he wouldn't budge, they offered him another job (which goes to show how stalwart he was; he quit just as a disincentive for them to go through with it). Maybe he was just a strong person and it had nothing to do with age.
    * Someone you actually get along with. 50% or more of an interview is checking that a candidate fits the corporate culture. Having a manager who buys into your group's culture is key; this guy never batted an eye when we stuck a couch and a playstation in one room for chill out breaks.

    Good luck.
  • Management Style (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @02:53PM (#9473831) Homepage Journal
    I've worked for quite a few different people over the last 20+ years. Based on how their career went, some were good at management; some were not. One reason I got out of a management career track was I realized that the perception of how well these folks were doing was more important than to their career than their actual results. I found that I could get along with most people as long as they perceived me as contributing to their success.

    The one thing I absolutely could not and still cannot stand in a manager is if they try to tell me how to do my job. I expect my manager to give me tasks to do and its up to me to figure out how to perform them. I don't expect them to set up my daily calendar. Unfortunately, some people want to manage at too low a level. This has applied as much to some of the managers I otherwise got along with as to some that I thought were absolute jerks. Be wary of any candidate you talk to who is too much into the details of how you do what you caurrentyly do. You don't want someone critiquing you on your mouse click technique.
  • Managing Engineers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggz (69912) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @03:33PM (#9474021) Homepage
    Managers have a simply defined job.

    They will allocate resources to the team. Determine priorities. Provide the direction to the team. Be your defender/face to other departments.

    If they don't understand the technical details they might not allocate resources well, be it money, headcout etc.
    If they don't know what you are doing, when people complain they will not be able to defend you, and might take on the view that you are not doing your job.

    Myself I like the technical stuff, but as I work, I do more directing and discussing and liason work. I'm realizing this is very important than the technical work I was doing before. I might have been very strong at it, but I'm adding more value at the more managerial side.

    I understand people think managers don't do anything, but wouldn't your group and the company be in general better off having a capable manager? If that just happens to be me, so be it.
  • by Soong (7225) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @03:58PM (#9474172) Homepage Journal
    ... than one of us who have been working here for a while who might otherwise be promoted?

    Openly or covertly, the boss will eventually have to answer this question to people potentially bitter that they have been unfairly denied the opportunity for promotion.
  • by Paul Johnson (33553) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @05:06PM (#9474543) Homepage
    Having seen various boss situations from various perspectives, here is my $0.02 worth.

    The manager of an engineering team has two jobs:

    1. Organise the work of the team.
    2. Represent the team to other areas of the company.

    So you want to understand how good he is going to be at these things. Sound him out on the organisation by asking some open ended questions about how to manage projects. Like,

    • Marketing say if it isn't delivered in six months we'll lose half our sales, but your best estimate says it ships in a year. What do you do? (A: start trading features for ship time)
    • One of your developers comes to you enthusing about a new technology that could double our productivity at the cost of changing everything we do. What do you do? (A: explain the risks of new technology, then keep a watch out for reports of anyone else jumping first to see if he is right).
    • You hire a hotshot new engineer, but then he repeatedly asserts that the best way to get the job done is to leave him alone and not saddle him with cow orkers who can't keep up. What do you do? (A: Hand him a couple of difficult & complex assignments. If he succeeds, great. If not, explain to him that teamwork does actually help, and see about improving interpersonal skills. Wrong answer: "bring him down a peg".)
    • You are in a strategy meeting with senior management. Some favour Technology X. Others Technology Y. You know very little about either. The CEO tells you to come back in two weeks with a recommendation. What do you do? (A: First, find out if anyone on the team already knows about them. Then get a couple of people to dig up facts and brief you. Work with the team to put together a briefing for senior managers. Concentrate on business risks and productivity rather then technical coolness, but understand how the technology impacts these things.)

    Finally, some general advice on interviewing. Remember that you are there to listen and evaluate. The candidate should be doing most of the talking. I've been in "interviews" which mostly consisted of a lecture by the interviewer. Avoid steering the candidate towards the right answer. Your purpose is not to get them to agree with you, its to find out what they know. Do challenge their views (even when you agree with them) to understand their depth of knowledge. If they start to flounder, just let them. Look for enough technical knowledge to hold an intelligent conversation with you, but then concentrate on people skills.

    Paul.

  • by fdiskne1 (219834) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @05:34PM (#9474696)
    If he say's "What's Slashdot?", he's out.

    If he says he only lurks, or posts AC, he still could be worth hiring.

    If he gives you a user ID, great! Now go find out if he's cool, a 1337 h4x0r, or a troll.
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @06:38PM (#9475078) Homepage
    You should be looking for someone whose view of management is not only compatible with your own desires of being managed, but who also will be a successful manager in the eyes of upper management. They must be sufficiently aware of the dual role they perform, and have rational views of how to perform that role. Most importantly, they should be honest with you about what they intend to do - if they spin you in the interview, they will spin you down the road.

    One good question for assessing this:

    - What do you see as the role for an IT manager?
    Wrong Answer 1: To tell the IT employees what upper management has told me needs to be done, when to do it, how to do it, and the amount of time in which it needs to be done. (the wrongness of this should be self evident)
    Wrong Answer 2: To tell upper management what my employees have told me can be done, when it will get done, how it will be done, and how long it will take. (this may sound right at first, but they are either lying to you to kiss your ass, or they do not understand management)
    Correct Answer: An IT manager acts as an intermediary between upper management and the IT labour force. He or she should, when talking with upper management, promote the technical solutions presented by the technical experts on the team. He or she should also, when working with the team, promote the value of satisfying the customer by striving to acheive the goals set by upper management. (honest, rational, and compatible with any dedicated employee)

    On the compatibility front, one note in response to some of the other postings: You shouldn't see it as a requirement for your manager to have an outside life and understand that you have one also. In this you should seek compatibility with your view of the world. If you like working 80 hour weeks, you should seek a manager who will work 80 hour weeks. There's nothing wrong with being a workaholic, if that's your thing. If that is your thing, you'll want to look for a manager who appreciates workaholism. I say this because I am presently a bachelor workaholic who is working at a company where workaholism is significantly undervalued. In the future I will settle down and start a family, but for now I would be happier working somewhere where 80 hour weeks beget large raises. It is good to be a dedicated family man. It is also good to be a career focused soldier. Each is good in the right context.
  • A good manager (Score:4, Insightful)

    by linuxhansl (764171) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @07:37PM (#9475376)
    (In no particular order:)
    • Represents the team to upper management.
    • Shields team members from politics.
    • Does not micromanage.
    • Trusts members of the team to get their job done. (this may be the most important one)
    • Provides advice when asked.
    • Works with teammembers to help them achieve their personal goals.
    • Does not request long hours unless the team suggests it.
    • Understands group dynamics, who can work best with whome.
    • Understands (of course) the project.
    • Defines realistic goals and deadlines (after conferring with the teammembers)
    • Does not work on technical issues, unless asked by team.
    • Knows how to motivate different types of people.
    • Knows when to delegate.
    I'm architect in my team and always interview new candidates for the manager positions (my bosses).
  • Never a "boss" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Balthisar (649688) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @09:19PM (#9475984) Homepage
    I'm an engineer outside the IT industry, so I hope this applies.

    There is no "boss." There's only someone who allows you to do your job, and sometimes directs you as to what your job is. A micromanager, for example, isn't your boss -- that's someone who's doing you job, which isn't his job. A good boss is an enabler. He may download porno all day. Or he may go to meetings that aren't worth your time (he'll be able to tell you in five minutes that which took two hours to discuss).

    A boss isn't a co-worker nor a friend. He's a partner.

If money can't buy happiness, I guess you'll just have to rent it.

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