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How Would You Interview Potential Managers? 72

Posted by Cliff
from the introducing-the-hot-seat dept.
martincmartin asks: "The company I work for is starting to interview development managers, and I've been asked to interview a bunch of them. While there's been a lot written on interviewing programmers and what makes a good manager, how do you interview a management candidate? What questions do you ask? What are good and bad answers? What else do you do?"
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How Would You Interview Potential Managers?

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  • What level? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @08:33AM (#18910967)
    Middle management? Top? What area? Sales? Administration? PR? IT?

    Designing a standard interview for "a manager" comes close behind making one for "a worker".
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Does the phrase "development manager" in his query give you any clues?
      • Re:What level? (Score:5, Informative)

        by martincmartin (1094173) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @08:50AM (#18911035)
        Middle managers, directly managing around 10 people who write code, and reporting to the product manager.
        • No I didn't misspell "hole", I actually meant it.

          Each product team, taken in context (the services and support from the rest of the company),
          must be capable of providing skills to handle the whole picture.

          Bigger companies provide more support skills for each team.
          Bigger product teams provide more internal skills.
          The required but missing skills form a hole that must be filled.

          The development manager is the one that needs to plug this hole,
          either by directly providing innate skills, by asking someone to train
        • You contradict yourself. Middle managers manage other managers, rather than directly managing workers, and report to upper management. Hence the name.
          • Middle managers are in the middle, between low level staffers and upper level Directors, VPs, etc....they don't 'manage' other managers.

            "I see here on your resume that your last position was as a 'manager manager'. Right, I managed managers. I see, well, sorry, all those jobs are already filled."

            If you are titled as a 'Manager' and you think your responsibility is to watch over other managers and take their info and pass it to upper levels, you are a wart on a mole, constantly being pumped full of BS
            • by WgT2 (591074)

              ...and for your own myopia and rudeness we have: Middle Management [wikipedia.org]

              In a large enough organization, why can't the 'subordinates' be managers?

        • Re:What level? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @01:46PM (#18912729)

          OK, I'll take a stab. For reference, so you know how much or how little my opinion is worth, I've steered my career towards being a senior technical person rather than management. I'm pretty much a sideways move from the level of manager you're looking to hire here.

          With that disclaimer given, what would I want to see in such a manager? I think there are specific things involved with managing people, managing projects, and technical leadership. AFAICS, you haven't given a more detailed description of the balance of these for your specific post, so I'll outline my thoughts on each of these areas.

          Managing people

          It's been my experience that good managers of people tend to do three things well:

          • Set realistic expectations.
          • Provide adequate resources.
          • Get out of the way.

          Someone jokes elsewhere in this discussion that you can't just judge managers by how hands-off their approach is and who gives the most perks to their staff, but frankly, I think just doing that would be more successful than the current policy at many organisations!

          So in terms of interviewing a potential manager, I would be tempted to go for a practical example to judge their people management skills: describe an imagined next project for their team, and ask them how they'd go about finding out enough about the people they've already got to divide up the work, how they'd deal with any gaps (going into recruitment and team-building ideas if it's relevant), maybe how they'd deal with any apparent surpluses or team conflicts as potential difficulties, how they'd go about briefing the team and getting them started on the work, and how they'd monitor and support their team once it was up and running on the project.

          Project management

          To me, this aspect has a lot to do with dealing with the people above the manager:

          • How would your interviewee make sure they've understood what is required of their team?
          • How would they expect themselves and their team to interact with more senior management during the course of the project?
          • How would they deal with changing requirements?
          • How do they go about planning a schedule, assessing risks and building in slack time, giving reasonable estimates, and so forth?

          Again, I'd be tempted to set this in the context of a concrete example or two during the interview, starting with their first thoughts on an initial brief from senior management, perhaps switching to the people management work above next, and coming back later in the interview when some requirements now need to change halfway through the project to see how they'd deal with that.

          Technical leadership

          If this is relevant for the post in question, I'd be looking for:

          • their ability to think about their software design in big picture terms
          • whether they see how different areas would interact and how they might map development of related areas onto their team of developers
          • how they would ensure adequate testing (Are all 10 staff under them developers, or are some of them testing people? Are there other testers available within your organisation, with whom this team will need to work? What sort of balance between coders and testers does your interviewee prefer to work with, and how would they go about getting it?)
          • how they would balance getting the immediate requirements satisfied against long-term flexibility (including getting early prototype work up and running to avoid holding up other team members, while not unduly delaying completing the detailed work for each developer or sub-team)
          • their ability to assess the overall merits of different tools, programming languages, etc. that might be used on a project, and how they would go about identifying sensible options and deciding between them at the start of a new project (which is not the same as having guru-level knowledge of multiple programming la
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by fyngyrz (762201) *
            • Set realistic expectations.
            • Provide adequate resources.
            • Get out of the way.

            If this is all you see a manager doing, then there is no need for them at all. All three of these can be provided at the executive level with the stroke of a pen.

            If one requires the manager to have both management skills and (in this case) development skills, then the need to "get out of the way" will go away with a good manager. They can step in when the group being managed needs help, resources, mediation, or course change

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              If this is all you see a manager doing, then there is no need for them at all.

              There is no need for a lot of managers.

              However, please remember that those three items were only my criteria for managing people. Managers also tend to have the project management responsibilities I mentioned. Some, but not all, are also technical leads, and I gave further requirements for things I would expect of them as well.

              FWIW, I disagree strongly with your assertion that a good manager would necessarily make a great

    • Re:What level? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sabinm (447146) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @10:19AM (#18911489) Homepage Journal
      Management skills and technology skills are independent. Don't think that the best manager will be your best coder. Don't even think that your manager will be your average coder. Make sure that your manager has a fundamental idea of how your organization works: your manager will need to understand the reason for regulations and apply them consistently. Your manager will need to be able to work across several working groups at once and understand how to manage his or her superiors as well as manage his or her subordinates. That means tactfully explaining to higher management why this or that project will take more time, less time, or why is not viable. That also means making sure that the team performs well. Consistency helps to make teams successful, but management will be looking at end results. The manager has to understand that most likely the enterprise wants to make money, or at least reduce costs (in case your hypothetical company is a not-for-profit or a government type organization that derives income from taxes or donations). Finally, ask around. Ask around from peers, supervisors, subordinates, and the prospective manager as well. Make sure you know about that person's reputation, and if you'll be able to rely on him or her. You're looking for someone who can spot trends easily, come up with a solution framework and motivate his or her team to implement that solution with good communication with you and other higher management.

      You need to tailor your questions to your organization so that you can ask your management candidate specific scenarios about real business practices and then ask him or her 'how would you solve/implement this'?

      You'll get a quick idea how well your managers stack up to each other once you develop a way to determine how well your employees work in your specific organization.

      Remember: sometimes a manager has to be a jerk. sometimes a manager has to be the heavy. Don't look for the nicest person. You HAVE to be the bad guy once in a while. A good manager is one who lays down the bad news and then still can motivate the team to perform well.

      This is not professional advice. You want extensive advice? Call a consultant.
      • by Kjella (173770)
        Remember: sometimes a manager has to be a jerk. sometimes a manager has to be the heavy. Don't look for the nicest person. You HAVE to be the bad guy once in a while. A good manager is one who lays down the bad news and then still can motivate the team to perform well.

        Not just to the team, but just as much to the customer and/or his superiors. One of the worst manager types you can have is the one that'll always tell the customer "yes, we can fix that" and the superiors "yes, we'll deliver on budget" while
      • Mostly agreed, with one modification and some additions:

        > Remember: sometimes a manager has to be a jerk.
        > sometimes a manager has to be the heavy.
        > Don't look for the nicest person.
        > You HAVE to be the bad guy once in a while.

        Yes and no. Yes, you have to be the heavy sometimes, you have to be the bad guy sometimes. But you don't have to be a jerk about it. I don't think you meant that a manager does; But some people do seem to feel that you have to be the heavy in the obnoxious a**hole way, and
  • by pipingguy (566974) * on Saturday April 28, 2007 @08:33AM (#18910971) Homepage
    "If I recommend you, how soon can I expect my new raise (nudge-nudge, wink-wink)?"
  • Have a shotgun close at hand in case the answer is yes.
    • by arivanov (12034)
      I would rather tolerate David Brent compared to a pathological liar with acute nasoanal interfacing tendencies as the sole means of career advancement.

      First and foremeost: read the CV in advance, do every single background check you can and at the first lie - show him the door. Which is valid for any interview anyway. Not just management. A person who is happy to lie in your face in an interview is not someone you would like to work with.
  • Get him talking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @08:51AM (#18911049) Homepage
    I'd be especially interested in hear each candidate articulate their "management philosophy". While this is likely to lead to a fair amount of buzzword regurgitation, you can discern a bit about what they'd be like to work for from their choice of buzzwords and the connecting tissue that they have to supply themselves to craft a paragraph around them. You also need to know what kind of management style the department/team needs; don't automatically go for the guy who promises the least supervision and the most perks to his staff. Some standard "how would you handle the following scenario..." story problems can also be revealing.
    • Thanks; what kind of scenarios would you suggest? I ask people about their management philosophy, but for people who aren't very reflective, they don't have a lot to say. There are those who like to read, think about their approach, and reflect. They can have a lot to say about management philosophy. And then there are those who know how to handle any situation put in front of them, but haven't distilled that into a philosophy. Like people who did agile development before there was a word for it.
      • Re:Get him talking (Score:5, Insightful)

        by canUbeleiveIT (787307) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @09:17AM (#18911195)
        I ask people about their management philosophy, but for people who aren't very reflective, they don't have a lot to say.

        This is an excellent point. For whatever reason, many of the really talented managers that I have worked with are simply "naturals." They haven't a clue how to articulate how they do what they do--they just do it. I realize that this probably rubs many /.ers the wrong way, but the smartest and most reflective people aren't necessarily the most effective managers.

        One such manager that I used to work with was Patti. She was unremarkable in every way (looks, intelligence, education) and I guarantee that she had never read any "management philosophy" books. But she had a naturally calm and pleasant demeanor, an innate ability to make correct decisions on the fly, and great ability to prioritize. Her honesty and integrity just gave her such an air of authority that she rarely had to use the power of her position to get her people to get the job done. Needless to say, she was always the top-performing manager in her category.

        Personally, I would much rather have this type of person than some hot-shot who thinks that he is the smartest guy in the room.
      • by tverbeek (457094)
        Start with past incidents the department's been through, where the boss had to intervene/make a judgment call/rally the troops. Depending on who else is in the room you might have to be careful about describing the situation in too much detail (lest the jerk who never documents his code and won't reply to e-mails recognize himself), but this ensures that you're testing him with examples he's likely to encounter, and you can compare his answer with what the manager at the time did (good or bad). Or to be a
        • For someone who doesn't have some buzzwords handy to describe their philosophy

          Hey, if they don't have buzzwords they can't be management material right? :-) Or at least thats what I've learn working on an MBA.

      • Thanks; what kind of scenarios would you suggest?

        Think about what happens in your office, or the office that this position is in. What problems do they commonly face? If it is a new group that hasn't worked together than think about problems getting new groups together run into. Managers spend a lot of time dealing with people and the problems that people have with each other. Some examples would be simple jelousy problems between people, argumentative behavior (both to coworkers and to superiors), proble

      • by DingerX (847589)
        Well, reflective or not, you're going to need to distinguish between those who know management jargon and those who know management. When they talk, listen to who they talk about, and listen to how concrete they get. Philosophy is great, but it needs to reflect experience: a doctor who has studied medical science and says "light food is good for you," without knowing "chicken is light food," is much less useful than a person who has no knowledge of science, but knows "chicken is good for you." But the ideal
    • I'd be especially interested in hear each candidate articulate their "management philosophy".

      That is a good first step, but you are going to get what they want you to hear, probably almost a quote out of a management book, but it won't do a very good job at getting to what they will be like. A situational interview where a multitude of situations are presented and the interviewee must determine his/her actions. Start with some of the common problems you have faced in the organization nd then move on to so

  • by romit_icarus (613431) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @08:53AM (#18911057) Journal
    To be able to get an interview i'd check on general competence. there's no substitute for prior experience, reference checks.

    To get the job, you need to look for alignments on the softer stuff - vision, attitude, personality and motivation levels. There's no quick and dirty way to assess all that. That's why it's an interview, not a questionaire..

    • Reference checks are next to useless. Everybody who has been alive for more than a few years has fooled a couple of people into thinking that they are good people. Everybody who has been working for more than a few years has fooled a couple of people into thinking that they are good employees.

      Call the company your candidate worked for, try to get a receptionist, and ask to talk with people at the company who worked _under_ your candidate.
    • well Id still check the references.

      My take is role play them through senarios. Because a gruff boss can be good or bad, same with a pleasant boss. You want to know when there is a looming deadline what your boss is going to say about you staying home with your sick kid. Or if the new co-worker has a bad case of body odor/bad attitude/offensive personality. Or if the higher ups are cranky about a change that was made by the employee for various reasons (managers insistance/ legal/ policy change). And ho

  • I hear ITA Software is also hiring several managers:

    http://www.itasoftware.com/careers/jsearch.html [itasoftware.com]

    Anyway, somebody asked you to do it, so you must have some idea of what the job entails(and if you don't, you won't even notice when you fail miserably, so who cares). Talk to each candidate for a while(not a whole lot longer than it takes to figure out that they aren't what you want). Ask questions that you think are relevant to doing the job. The answer to questions like 'Do you have good people skills?' is
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2007 @09:22AM (#18911221)
    A good manager has good interpersonal skills and is usually gregarious. Unfortunately a psychopath often does a good job of imitating those characteristics. We hired one and it was a disaster. By the time we figured out what he was and got rid of him he had done a lot of damage to the organization.

    The people who study managers are finding that psychopaths are good at getting management jobs but are very bad at running an organization.

    My advice is to focus on achievements. How has the candidate done at team building? Really check their references. Ask for the names of some employees you can contact. A boss may miss the fact that someone is a psychopath but an employee never does.

    link [softpanorama.org]
    • I disagree. The best two managers I have worked for had poor interpersonal skills, were not gregarious, and were basically anti-social. However, they organized tasks, set priorities, arranged specifications, requirements, and other related documents, and delegated the work; all with very little contact but a few well designed spreadsheets and well placed document repositories.

      The job of a manager is to manage the company process and work flow, not to look important, make "tough" (easy/stupid) decisions, mic
    • by Knuckles (8964)
      A good manager has good interpersonal skills and is usually gregarious. Unfortunately a psychopath often does a good job of imitating those characteristics

      There was a /. story [slashdot.org] about this recently.
  • 2 questions (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CharlieD (162102)
    I would (somehow) ask two questions:

    1 - ask the candidate: What have you DELIVERED?

    Some people like to stay on a project just long enough to include it on their resume, but don't stay around long enough to be productive. You need someone who has delivered an actual product - finished it, not toyed around with it.

    2 - ask his/her co-workers on other projects (admittedly difficult to do.): Would you work for/with Mr/Ms X again?

    Some people can deliver, but at a horrendous cost in morale, physical and mental he
    • I'd agree, a good question is What have you DELIVERED?.

      Others off the top of my head.

      Give me an example of how your resolved a conflict in a team ?

      An example of how your secured extra resources ?

      How have you managed a team through a big change ?

      How have you had to change your management style to suit different team members ?

  • 1. Find people who have taken the old oral assessment for the US foreign service and get them to tell you about the sorts of questions they were asked in the personal interview. They're brutal and most involve worst case scenarios and ask the candidate what they would do in those situations.

    2. Ask what their biggest cock-up as a manager was and how they would do things differently. Toss them out on their ear if they can't think of anything.

    3. Ask what they would change about management where they currently
  • have them tell you about project they managed, what the goals were, who worked on it, what challenges presented themselves and how he/she addressed them. ask them about a project they managed that didn't achieve its goals. ask why.

    ask them to describe their favorite and least favorite direct report.

  • Role Play... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GrpA (691294) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @11:04AM (#18911739)
    A lot of managers and staff underestimate the effectiveness of Role Play as a teaching / learning tool.

    Take the manager into a quiet office and tell them that you're going to do some role play to observe their reactions. Give them a scenario... Eg, Employee theft, Trademark Crisis on project, Loss of proprietary information (that they are responsible for) etc.

    See how well they respond. Usually, once they get into role play, they'll even assume the correct emotion state. See what they think of. Put them into an emotional problem.

    eg, Someone comes in and lets the manager know they accidently gave their friend proprietary information and now it's on the Internet. Give the manager background. Is it a bad employee? Do they have family and how does that affect his decisions? Can he think on his feet to address the issue? How does he balance his commitment to his team with his commitment to his employer? A company hardliner always makes a bad manager, so even though it's the easy answer, it's often not what the company truly wants in a manager.

    Make the scenario real enough, eg, he's just taken on the job when this happens, and now it's his mess.

    Observing him as he reacts, thinks and determines what to do won't give a complete picture, but it will give an insight into their way of thinking and how they might react in similar circumstances if it did happen. Especially how he copes with this without knowing enough about the company he works for and what questions he asks the interviewer (playing the role of the managers Senior manager or as his 2IC...)

    Adjust as required to meet company needs and position role description.

    GrpA.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by smurfsurf (892933)
      While I generally agree to your post, the focus should not be about how fast and well he can put out fires. Unless the company is on fire and you are looking for someone to manage a crisis.

      Theft, crisis and loss should not be what take 95% of his time. Management work consists mostly of repetative, non-exciting things. I would rather like to know how he gives positive and nagative feedback, how he addresses different personality types of his directs, how does his weekly meeting with each direct, how he mana
  • Produce 5-10 situations and programming problems.

    Ask them to spot things that are impossible (ln0 sorting) and ridiculous ones (2 Day database development and testing to production level)...

    If the managers are able to tell which are tough tasks and which are reasonable ones they'll support and respect their staff and encourage really difficult or exceptional work.

    A lack of technical skills on the part of the manager, seems to be the biggest divisive element in most technical environments I've been a p
    • I disagree. I don't need a non-technical manager to know that something is impossible. I just need them to trust the senior technical people when they say it is, and not to have committed the team to doing it for a customer before they bother to ask.

  • "Which section of The Mythical Man Month did you find most insightful, and why?"

  • Management Style (Score:2, Informative)

    by Edward Kmett (123105)
    It really depends on the tier of management for which you are hiring the manager.

    When hiring someone to manage a bunch of programmers, ask them questions about the Mythical Man Month, agile software development, iterations and traditional waterfalls, and try to figure out if he understands the ways programmers think. You're not looking for a coder, but you do want someone who understands the lingo. If the guy sounds off with how he'll never ask his people to do something he couldn't do, perhaps ask why he'd
  • And the head honchos drilled me with nothing more than the basic "What previous management jobs have you had," various questions pertaining to my resume, and I took a little test to show that I at least understood the bare basics behind keeping things running smoothly and efficiently, minus the paperwork which another department handles. Personally, they were just looking for someone that at least knew how to manage a system and it's inner workings, and after demonstrating how fast I learned (had to help r
    • I'd think that's what most companies want - a manager that can immediately shift back into a worker-level mode when required, get things back up to speed, then go back and handle a tiny bit of paperwork.

      It might be what they think they want. It probably isn't what they actually need.

      It may be reassuring that you have a manager who can go back to doing what his or her people do, but it's a false sense of security. The approach doesn't scale. Rather than hiring a manager who can step in as a last resort

  • Manager's priority should be People, Processes and Technology in that order.
    Programmer's priority should be Technology,Processes and People.
    Hope this tip is useful to identify born managers and programmers.
  • If you don't know how to interview potential hires, and you wish to be a good professional, explain to your employer that you are not qualified as an interviewer. Interviewing is not a job for anyone as it requires specific skills and knowledge. Ask your employer to hire specialised consultants.
  • I am a manager in a different field but I interview sales and support personnel weekly and I do interview other management candidates on occasion. I have found it is best to focus on behaviors. A behavior is something that can been seen or heard and is easy to quantify. Also utilize S.A.R.'s, Situation Action Result. Ask them a question about a specific item, look for them to tell you about the specific situation (positive or negative), what actions they took to encourage/correct the situation, and what
  • One Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by triso (67491)
    Here's my question:
    It is nearing the end of a project and there is a deadline upcoming. The bugs are still coming in faster than the programmers are fixing them. What do you do?

    • by dodobh (65811)
      Change the deadline.
      Call for a freeze on all new features.
      Go back to the design board, and get some semblance of a design there.
      Turn off any overtime (you go home in 8 hours, period).
      Sort out the bugs into priorities, and have a few people working on fixing those.
      Hire more people if and only if the team(s) involved ask for them, and the teams are short staffed.

      Hire a few good people, put them to work on fixing the work culture upwards.
  • With a shotgun...gotta cull the heard somehow.
  • Ask him what Dilbert character he sees himself as.
  • Managers in business world are pimp/hole, con, lier, clown and lazy ass. Sum of worst know to human, but work at its best.
  • I'd get a communications major from a local 2-year university to wear a suit, sit across a table and disinterestedly glance at their resume while asking obtuse questions and coming up with arcane reasons to disqualify them.
  • Having navigated the career trenches of the technology world for the past 15 years (yeah, I'm still pretty young), the one thing that's always struck me as the downfall of any manager is the inability to make a decision -- quickly, and sometimes without all the information one would like -- and then stick to that decision.

    That is not to say you want to work for a manager that makes rash or random decisions and then becomes all-or-nothing about that decision because he says that's the way it is -- obvious
  • A starting point for this would be the "Quick and Dirty" interview guide on Manager Tools, http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/12/quick-and-dir ty-interviews/ [manager-tools.com]. It's not meant for full-on interviews, but it's a good starting point for thinking about what to ask and more importantly, WHY to ask it. There's a ton of great advice there!
  • I've seen a couple of guys who were looking good but I had the sneaking suspicision that they were 'reading' the question and giving the answers that they thought we wanted rather than honest ones.

    So I asked a couple of leading questions about their manner of dealing with increasing workloads to meet deadlines.

    I phrased the first suggesting that working the team stupidly hard might be in the company culture and the second suggesting that managing client expectations would be prefered. The sychophant too
  • Be careful if you find someone who easily agrees with everything you say, (s)he's just saying yes to keep you happy.

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