It speaks well of a professional culture when staff at various levels interview incoming leaders. It suggests a spirit of collaboration among the ranks.
Don Raskin, Senior Partner at MME, advertising and marketing agency, and author of The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job points out, “If an employee is given a choice to be a part of the interview team for their next manager, the employee should always say ‘yes’. . . it will allow them to have a say in whom they will be working for, but most importantly, whom they will be learning from once the manager is hired.”
Serving in this capacity can feel both exciting and worrisome; it’s a big responsibility. Here’s how to own it.
Know what you’re targeting
It’s hard to find what you’re seeking if you don’t know what that looks like; crystallize it for yourself. Review the position description, and think about what you need in a manager.
Consider past managers you’ve reported to: What qualities stand out? What priorities does a great manager champion? How do stellar leaders communicate? If you’ve had the misfortune of working for poor leaders, what made them difficult?
For Raskin, great managers have five core qualities. He advises: “Find a candidate who possesses all five, and you have found your next hire.” Raskin outlines his criteria that make a great manager:
- Listens – a great manager speaks when necessary, but spends most of the time listening and learning. That will allow for the opportunity to formulate opinions and problem solve, which is one of the manager’s primary job functions.
- Mentors – a manager who shares experiences others can learn lessons from is a manager others will benefit from.
- Empowers – you want a manager who offers an employee the power to make decisions on their own. This power will allow the employee to develop more rapidly and build an understanding that their voice really matters.
- Leads by example – Example: when a manager works hard, those around the manager will step up and work hard. It is difficult to ask others to work hard when the manager doesn’t do so.
- Has your back – When you know your manager will stick up for you, you will work much harder on behalf of your manager.
Synthesize your own criteria for what constitutes an outstanding manager, and use that to guide your search.
The anatomy of a question
It takes effort to prepare strategic interview questions. Give yourself time to think about the smaller picture of your team’s daily operations and the bigger picture of what your organization does. Raskin points out: “An interviewer prepares strategic questions by looking at the company mission and asking questions about how the manager envisions achieving the mission.”
Next, consider what questions would tease out relevant details. Raskin explains how to formulate strategic questions: “A good interview question allows for the respondent to answer the question in a way that shows how they will think and act. It also allows for the respondent to answer and present their thinking in a logical and sequential way.”
Raskin offers these sample questions. Notice how they directly hinge on his management criteria:
“Empowers – How do decisions get made between you and your employees? You want to hear that the manager says he trusts his employees to make their own decisions, but if they are unsure they can come to him/her and they can make a decision together.
Has your back – How would you handle a situation where an employee comes to you and tells you they made a mistake? You want to hear the manager say that you will work through the mistake together until the mistake is fixed.
Mentors – Can you describe your management style? You want to hear that the manager is always there for you so you can get a point of view based on their experience.”
Formulate questions that unearth the qualities you’re seeking. If you’re new to the role of interviewer, consider running them by your HR colleagues for an extra vote of confidence.
Heed your gut
Non-verbals can relay important information that can inform your gut instincts, so take note. Pay attention to how you feel in each candidates’ company: Is s/he comfortable surrendering the floor? Does s/he seem to need to dominate the conversation? Does s/he listen or interrupt? Observe and note communication styles, keeping in mind that the interview situation is a high-pressure case study for interviewees.
Raskin points out other key non-verbals: “[A] firm handshake tells you everything you need to know at the start of the interview. It demonstrates confidence, leadership and passion. . . . Eye contact is critical during the interview. Strong eye contact allows the candidate to quickly bond with the interviewer and build a relationship.”
Your gut feeling is important, but make sure to fortify it with data and evidence from the interview.
Prepare to field questions
Job interviews are a two-way conversation. Strategic interviewees foster good conversations about the open position. One way they do so is by posing strategic questions. Prepare to field questions about your tenure, team and institution.
Prompting conversation by asking key questions is not just a positive quality in an interviewee, it’s a positive quality in a manager.
You’ve got this
Earning the nod to serve on an interview team gives you voice in an important decision, and it bolsters your professional skillset. Recognize the compliment, and embrace the opportunity.