How to Interview Your Future Boss
Interviewing someone is always a little tricky. What questions do you ask to hone in on who’s going to be perfect for the job? What are those rules on what you can and can’t ask a potential employee, again?
But it’s a whole new ball game if the person you’re interviewing is vying for the top spot on your team. How exactly does one grill a potential boss?
The unfortunate truth is, most of us never even get the chance to test out new management before they’ve been hired. And, when that rare opportunity does come along, many of us opt out—I know I have—because we feel we’re not in a position to question someone who might be managing us in the near future.
The good news, however, is that you’ll have lots of bosses throughout your career, which means it’s never too late to start getting more involved in your supervisors’ hiring process. Here are a few ways you can integrate yourself and what to do once your (potential) future boss is sitting across the table from you, resume in hand.
1. Ask to Be Involved
Aside from a few friends I have in the HR world, I can’t think of anyone who actually enjoys the interview process. That means, when it has to be done, those in charge of hiring will try to limit the interviews to only those they deem key decision makers. At a managerial level, that usually means people senior to the position—not necessarily those who will report to him or her.
But, as a future direct report, not to mention someone who knows the department inside and out, you have valuable input, and it’s not at all unreasonable for you to ask to get involved.
As soon as you discover the hiring process for your future boss has begun, let whoever is in charge know you’d like to meet with the top candidates, if appropriate. Now, this probably won’t happen during the preliminary interviews—it’s much more common for direct reports to meet with candidates toward the end of the process—so let the hiring manager determine when best to get you involved. Just make it clear that you’d like to be.
2. Study the Resume
Remember how much time and effort you put into updating your current resume? Well, your prospective boss should’ve done the same, and you’ll definitely want to take a look at his or her handiwork.
When reviewing senior-level resumes, pay attention to two key things: what candidates have highlighted as their greatest achievements and where they’ve spent most of their management career. How people see themselves and where they’ve “grown up” as managers will play a huge part in the type of manager they’ll be to you if they’re hired.
If you have any areas of concern, jot them down and bring it up when you’re interviewing. For example, if you’re working at a startup, and you’re interviewing a candidate that spent most of her career as a mid-level manager at a giant corporation, ask her how she’ll adapt her management style to adjust to your company’s culture.
Don’t be afraid to dig into your prospective boss’ background to better understand where he or she is coming from, because that will be a strong indication of what you can accomplish together if he or she gets the job.
3. Share Your Expectations
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made when given the opportunity to interview my bosses before they were hired was not telling them what I expected of them. We had great chats, discovered things we had in common, and learned a bit about one another, but I never explicitly expressed what I needed from them as my managers.
So, when they finally started, they were under the impression they had a green light to get started with their own agenda and weren’t fully prepared to address the needs of the team outside of what was in their job description.
My advice? If you have the opportunity to vet your future boss in an interview, take the time to jot down a wish list prior to your chat. Think about what qualities the best boss ever would have—and be realistic. Do you have areas where you don’t feel you have enough support from management? Are there classes or conferences you think your team should be attending? Would a more flexible work environment help morale? You shouldn’t list out every single thing you’re hoping for in a boss in your 15-minute meeting, but knowing what your ideal manager looks like will help you have a more constructive—and revealing—conversation with each candidate.
4. Give Constructive Feedback
While just meeting with your candidate is important, how you share your feedback with the key decision makers afterward is what will determine whether or not your efforts will be considered in the hiring decision.
Of course, you took great notes during your interview, right? Once you’ve finished meeting a candidate, take those notes and draft up a quick summary of your impressions as quickly as possible after the meeting. In addition to all the more tangible takeaways, your gut feeling is important, too, and that’s best captured immediately after your interaction.
Next will be how you present your thoughts to the hiring manager. If possible, do it in person or over the phone—with your notes and summary in hand, of course. Make sure you stay constructive, and avoid any comments that could be perceived as petty or unprofessional (commenting on a candidate’s hairstyle or lousy choice in tie, for example, won’t add any credibility to your feedback). Instead, share insightful observations about the candidates’ answers to your questions—and share some of the questions you asked as well. When the hiring manager realizes you tackled some angles the rest of the interviewers hadn’t considered, he or she is much more likely to consider your feedback seriously.
When the higher-ups see how carefully and professionally you approached the interview process, they’re not only more likely to factor your opinions into the final decision, but they’ll have a whole new respect for your capabilities. And, don’t be surprised if you find yourself interviewing as the future boss someday as a result!
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