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How Would You Interview Potential Managers?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the introducing-the-hot-seat dept.

Programming 72

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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FP (0, Offtopic)

repruhsent (672799) | more than 7 years ago | (#18910965)


What level? (3, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:What level? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18910985)

Does the phrase "development manager" in his query give you any clues?

Re:What level? (5, Informative)

martincmartin (1094173) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911035)

Middle managers, directly managing around 10 people who write code, and reporting to the product manager.

You need to look at the hole picture (2)

kunakida (886654) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911665)

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 or by hiring someone where necessary.
For a manager to hire/fire and manage someone, they should have at least some knowledge of the skill topic,
so they are able to evaluate performance.

If you describe the capabilities of the existing team,
and of the available support (including the responsibilities handled by the product manager),
then a good manager should be able to spit back a list of the missing capabilities,
and a suggestion of how to approach filling the gap.
The specially creative ones, will be able to suggest more cost-effective solutions.
You should be able to ask the manager candidate to describe each of the skills/capabilities they mentioned
in more detail with examples, and to rough estimate (in time and money) of their approach.

The usual holes to consider (depending on the size and organization of the company)
are Q/A, documentation, build/release/configuration management/engineering,
project management, customer delivery and customer support.

One thing the development manager must specially have a handle on is the development process,
its state of affairs, what the missing parts are, and how it should/could be improved.

In a small (10 man) product oriented team, usually the development manager should also act as the technical lead,
and should be responsible for the technical (i.e. non-functional) requirements.
Ask them to describe some of these potential requirements.

Like any other manager, a development manager should
be able to lead their team and negotiate with other teams.
And beyond that, they should be able to present technical explanations.
So look for leadership, negotiation and presentation abilities,
as well as the ability to assess and apply motivation.

Other than this, a development manager should,
(again like any other manager) be a good cog in the reporting hierarchy.
They need to be able to conform to and enforce company policy as it trickles down,
and they need to be able to report issues/status/budget regularly upwards.
They also need to contribute their bit to the overall budget planning.
Check for communication, writing, budgeting and planning skills.
Look in their past history for ability to work within the organization.

In particular, a development manager should be aware
not to download too much of their reporting burden to their developers.
eg. daily 2 hour status meetings + individual developer reports.
Ask them their policy on what developers should be reporting and how often.

Lastly, whether their team already has the capability or not,
a good development manager should be able to contribute something to the overall design discussion.
They should be aware of other solutions out in the market, and of where to find answers.
Check for ability to design and ability to research (specially on the internet)

Re:What level? (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912389)

You contradict yourself. Middle managers manage other managers, rather than directly managing workers, and report to upper management. Hence the name.

Re: What level? (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912637)

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 and tolerated only for your myopia. Ask your Uncle, the one that got you the job - I'm sure he can explain your 'position' accurately.

Re: What level? (1)

WgT2 (591074) | more than 7 years ago | (#18920797)

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

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

Re:What level? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#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 languages or development tools, but probably involves talking to people who do).

Again, to put this in context, you could insert some background and then ask questions along these lines during the interview after you'd covered the people management issues. If this role doesn't involve direct technical leadership, then presumably someone else on the team will have these responsibilities, and you could instead explore how your candidate would build a useful working relationship with their senior technical person/people.

And finally...

Spanning all of these areas is a general appreciation for the fact that you're working in a business and your management decisions need to be made based on the business needs, and a general appreciation for formality and understanding when it is helpful, when it is necessary, and when it is just getting in the way. You'll probably pick up on this while exploring the above areas anyway, but if not, you could ask about your candidate's views on formal project planning tools and development methodologies. In the latter case, you could explore their perspectives on a traditional, heavy process and on something very agile, and see how well those perspectives match the kind of work your organisation does and the processes it currently employs. Ask some open-ended questions based on some example scenario(s) and see where the interviewee takes you.

That's probably more than enough unqualified brainstorming from me, but I hope some of it will at least provoke some useful ideas.

Re:What level? (2, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913719)

  • 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 and they'll understand these requests so they can actually make a qualified decision on the matter at hand.

A good manager can spend five minutes with an already-launched, directed and running team and get a good sense of where they are as compared to where they were, and still not "be in the way." They can also sit down with a tech person for an hour and work through something complex. They'll have the patience, skill and knowledge required to explain this to the top level and keep them off the team's back, from cutting the team's resources, from "featuritis" (and keep the team from it too) and from making unrealistic promises or marketing excursions.

So, just to add my two cents here, a good manager is someone who would make a great tech person, and has management skills. If "getting out of the way" is their idea of management, I have no use for them. For the record, there are only two managers, per se, in the four companies I own, and about 300 employees.

Re:What level? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18914359)

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 tech person. Some of the best project managers I've worked with had little idea about the technical details of the project, but were good at supporting those who did, liaising between them and customers/senior management, planning budgets, schedules and the like, and leaving the tech guys to get on with tech.

Re:What level? (3, Insightful)

sabinm (447146) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911489)

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.

Re:What level? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912813)

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 laying it on the team to do the impossible on an accelerated schedule. Also, you need a manager that knows the meaning of the words "estimate" and "uncertainty". Good managers are almost like translators - you have managers talking numbers, customers talking needs and techs talking tech. One of the most important things is making sure the spec is clear, so that techs are sure of what to deliver and the customer is sure of what's being delivered. Every time in a customer meeting they say "Of course we have to be able to do XYZ" and the techs go "Um, XYZ isn't in the spec and we haven't at all designed it to have that capability" the project management fell down somewhere.

If I as a tech was to tell a project manager what his job was, I'd sum it up as follow: "I know you don't understand half of what I'm saying, and most things I consider implicit or logical you don't. Well, I have it the same way with business talk. I want you to figure out what the customer wants, spell out all the things he'd consider implicit or logical and spell them out to me." Every time I've managed to get the customer to explain his needs clearly, I've usually been able to quickly place it in one of the categories: "Can do", "Hard but possible" or "Won't happen". Of course it happens that the client doesn't want to hear that, but I'm almost always right. Good managers pick up on who's making the right calls and not, and knows when he should rather take that fight with the client rather than me.

Re:What level? (1)

QuestorTapes (663783) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913345)

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 you don't.

> A good manager is one who lays down the bad news
> and then still can motivate the team to perform well.

Bingo. He -has- to be able to motivate the team. I'd consider asking the candidates how they delivered bad news to the team. How did they keep the team motivated? I'd ask them for one or two examples of each of the following:

- a case when they had to tell their boss/customer 'no'.
- a case when they had to get rid of a team member.
- an example of how they dealt with a challenging or even impossible delivery date.
- a description of their ideal developer.
- a description of their ideal boss/customer.

People skills are funny things: some people are fine dealing with their superiors, but can't deal with subordinates. Others are the reverse. Good managers need to deal well with both.

Question One (4, Funny)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#18910971)

"If I recommend you, how soon can I expect my new raise (nudge-nudge, wink-wink)?"

Simple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18910979)

Make sure who ever you are going to hire has atleast +5 years of experience. As for questions, use google luke, because that is what all slashdotters are going to do for you anyway.

Is David Brent your hero? (1)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#18910983)

Have a shotgun close at hand in case the answer is yes.

Re:Is David Brent your hero? (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911117)

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.

Do a goatse (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18911021)

Re:Do a goatse (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18911391)

I was gunna say pull out your dick, but a goatse may be more professional.

Re:Do a goatse (1, Funny)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911483)

I was gunna say pull out your dick, but a goatse may be more professional.
It's not if you do the goatse yourself in the interview room.

Get him talking (5, Interesting)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911049)

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.

Re:Get him talking (1)

martincmartin (1094173) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911101)

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 (5, Insightful)

canUbeleiveIT (787307) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Get him talking (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911251)

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 little politically safer, go back to your own previous jobs for examples. Or rent DVDs of Office Space and The Office. :)

For someone who doesn't have some buzzwords handy to describe their philosophy, or can't pick the right ones to describe themselves, you can make it a multiple choice question.

Re:Get him talking (1)

Jonny do good (1002498) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911303)

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.

Re:Get him talking (1)

Jonny do good (1002498) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911273)

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), problems determining the best method in the course of completing a project. My list is generic, but once you think about how you expect the team to work together and who is on the team you can figure out what the situations that will occur often will be.

In theis specific situation, where you are looking for a development manager you need to know the experiance levels on the team, and their communication abilities. If the team is an existing team then the manager doesn't need to be a team builder, he/she needs to know how to get a well oiled machine to run better (or know how to fix a borken machine), if the team is new then the manager must have that last skill plus the ability to build the team by using people to their best total potential (sometimes this means a few people don't use all of their potential). That right there gives rise to more questions/situations. You can ask about how they would assign the group (or a fictional group) to different tasks (just give the interviewe a set of experiences for each person and see how they assign them to a given project). Another questions is how the manager would put together a team if hiring all of the new developers. Just put some thought into the situations the interviewe is going to have to face in the field and see how he/she would handle those situations. As the story unfolds during each scenerio make sure to ask follow-up questions if there are holes in their story or throw more kinks in the situation (maybe you are talking about getting the team to meet a deadline and bring up something about two employees getting into an argument so now thye have to solve two problems).

Re:Get him talking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18911307)

tverbeek and johnydogood gave you some good concrete ideas on how to evaluate a manager. Too bad the mods didn't think so.

AC, Business Owner, MBA

Re:Get him talking (1)

DingerX (847589) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911883)

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 is to have both

So give them a completely abstract, philosophical question (What do you look for in a member of your team?), and see how quickly they get concrete. Then give them a concrete case (pick one related to your own experience), and see if they can explain their actions in terms of management principles.

And above all, listen to who they are talking about. You're hiring a manager -- that person's focus should be on the people being managed, not on her or himself.

Re:Get him talking (1)

Jonny do good (1002498) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911163)

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 some pretty wierd situations. Make sure you take into account that the interviewee may not take the same course of action that you might prefer, but judge it in relation to their stated management philosophy, their other answers, and how you think those that will be under the managers control would see it.

Interviewing is unique for each firm and any direct answer here is probably not worth too much. Every situation has unique challenges and one manager could be great for one firm while horrible for another. Does your team need leadership just to keep them working together, does it need technical guidance, is great on the technical side but just needs a manager to keep them on task? Any of these situations would require a different management style, if you need a technical lead then hire based more on technical ability, of if you really just need someone to cooridinate between the developers and more other development groups but doesn't require too much technical knowledge then hiring someone with good project management skills is probably the most important. Interview questions should always try to see if the person will fit into the culture, has the knowledge required to do the job, and has enthusiasm for the job.

interviewing techniques (3, Interesting)

romit_icarus (613431) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911057)

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..

Re:interviewing techniques (1)

oyenstikker (536040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911229)

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.

Naahhhh... (1)

tempest69 (572798) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911997)

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 how the manager handles higher level employees who are violating policy. What the manager considers priorities when hiring a new employee, and what the manager does to remove those employees from his/her workgroup (transfer/fire/make it a living hell so they quit/write them up over dinky violations until HR fires them.).

With most managment your looking for someone who is keeping an eye on whats about to spill all over their reports, and nudges them out of the way. Watch out for the managers who take advantage of the more "agreeable" employees, when it becomes time to reciprocate "agreeable" employees feel betrayed when their vacations get "bumped" or time off requests are rejected.

Anyway just my $.02


What a coincedence (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911131)

I hear ITA Software is also hiring several managers: []

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 invariably 'yes', so don't bother with those. Try not to ask questions that you would find insulting. A popular line of questioning seems to be to ask about responses to a scenario, but I can see where you would get better flow out of an interview if you asked for their opinions about someone else's responses to a real scenario, rather than their personal responses to some contrived scenario.

What to watch out for ... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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 []

Re:What to watch out for ... (1)

oyenstikker (536040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911365)

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, micromanage, and try to be all buddy-buddy with the employees (but fail miserably). However, most managers are very poor managers; they don't understand this, and they hire people just like them.

Most of the people who are good at managing have no interest in doing so.

"Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job." - Douglas Adams

It is similar with managers.

Re:What to watch out for ... (1)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911803)

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 [] about this recently.

Amen! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18913575)

That's almost exactly what I was going to say.

Why are you interviewing a potential manager? Interview his past subordinates.

I'm working for some real losers at the moment, and I'm sure they'd be able to spin it so they look good. But none of us working for them would hesitate to say exactly why you don't want these people around.

If you can't do that, and you assume the person is going to be honest, ask what their best programmers would say about them. If they squirm, you should worry.

2 questions (2, Insightful)

CharlieD (162102) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911427)

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 health, etc. If he/she destroys or otherwise alienates your people so that they are unlikely to deliver again, you don't want him/her - he/she probably doesn't know what a "team" is.

The usual "did you meet tech requirements, cost, schedule, etc." are a given.

Re:2 questions + 4 (1)

bmsleight (710084) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911947)

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 ?

need to probe their job history (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18911435)

People are pumped up, motivated, and gregarious during the interview - they'll sit up straight and make good eye contact and do all the things you're supposed to do during interviews. That's not necessarily the person you'll be dealing with a year from now. You need to find out - are they motivated, disciplined, outgoing, good with people, make good on their commitments?

Walk them through their past jobs, whether management or otherwise, asking them what they thought their most notable goals and challenges were, and how they dealt with them. Try to uncover both big-picture business issues and people issues. Also, ask them about to assess their technical skills at each step. It's not so important that s/he be up to the minute with C#, Ajax, J2EE, or whatever, but it is significant if they worked hard at mastering whatever technical skills they needed at the time. If not (and some excellent managers are not very technical), did they make up for it in other ways, for example by making intense efforts to get people to collaborate?

There isn't a single formula for a successful manager, even for a specific department in a specific company. I guess what I'd look for is someone who is very serious about work and goals w/o being a bullshitter, but manages to project a disarming "doesn't take himself/herself too seriously" face to coworkers. If I can't get both, look for the first.

Three suggestions (1)

brokeninside (34168) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911445)

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 work.

And above all look for the ability to think abstractly rather than concretely in the answers provided to all questions.

Simple. (1)

Rendo (918276) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911457)

Battle to the death. If they won't fight for their lives for a job, why let them manage your company?

experience, experience, experience (1)

acvh (120205) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911619)

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.

My take on this (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 7 years ago | (#18911639)

Thankfuly, I had good/great managers for the past years, so here's a couple of ideas.

1 - Does ho know the basis of Software Project Management? Something like Mythical Man-Month, Agile or classical methodologies (yes, they stink). What do you do if the estimate and deadline don't match, etc.

2 - What about classical project management skills: PMBOK, etc

3 - "Common Sense" - this is the hard part. Maybe throw a couple of what-if scenarios to him, check he's not a jerk or a numb manager, etc, etc

Role Play... (2, Interesting)

GrpA (691294) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.


Re:Role Play... (2, Insightful)

smurfsurf (892933) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912123)

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 manages training of his directs, how he does performance reviews, how he runs meetings. How does he do it , what methods does he use? Using role play for these scenarios would probably work well.

Can you manage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18911825)

The job of a manager is to manage. This means setting priorities and seeing that they are kept. So you are looking for someone who understands all the factors in doing this. Some of the following questions may help determine if the candidate is qualified:

- What scheduling tools have you used? Which did you like best and why? What do you think make a management tool effective?

- What is your strategy for getting the most production from the people who report to you?

- What is the main message you have for upper management? How do you handle a situation in which you had no input in the expectations set for your team?

- Is it better to have 1 or 2 stars on a team or everyone of approximately equal ability? Why?

- How do you say, "No," to customers/upper management/your team members?

Simple Question (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912133)

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 part of. They don't need to be able to DO everything but they should have a general understanding of how difficult things are, this skill is almost always overlooked in hiring (Ambition is good but not when its divorced from technical realities).

Re:Simple Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18912687)

Hear hear.

I'm looking for two things. First, a manager that can go out and talk to other groups about what we are doing with sufficient clarity that the other groups won't try to offload work onto us because "we aren't doing anything important". Second, a manager that goes to the same meeting, and makes sure not to over-promise (e.g. the O(ln N) sorting). I want support for our group's need to work on long-term improvements (instead of reacting to bugs all the time), balanced with our need to fix the bugs that prevent other people from doing work. That is, I want a manager smart enough to figure things out without wasting my time explaining it, where wasting is defined as it takes me 15 minutes to describe something to another engineer, but 60 minutes to a manager, and she needs a follow-up meeting two weeks later.

Re:Simple Question (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913009)

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.

Mythical Man Month (1)

UncleFluffy (164860) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912353)

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

Management Style (2, Informative)

Edward Kmett (123105) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912367)

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 limit his team to the scope of his own abilities. Try to get a feel for his management style, if the team is small, and he is an ace-programmer, maybe he is more of a team lead candidate than a manager candidate. Skills with MS Project, Visio, Powerpoint, etc. are useful. Finding out how comfortable they are summarizing results and presenting material.

If you are hiring for senior management perhaps add questions about earned value management and try to get your head around how they have invested in improving their personnel in the past, and move away from the particulars of managing coders, because job duties will probably extend into other areas.

In either case, management style is a big factor. I am not a huge fan of the screaming-foreman style of management. IMNSHO, a good manager knows when to let his employees own their own deadlines, and how to keep s#!t from flowing downhill; they will go to bat for their team when they are right, and work with them to solve the problem when things go wrong. Asking questions about situations where someone underneath them has been thrown 'under the bus' and how they handled it and how they have handled situations where their estimates were wrong, is a good way to get a feel for their personalities in good and bad situations. A good manager inspires loyalty and doesn't make you dread coming to him with bad news.

I recently left management for academia, and ultimately made the round trip to coding and systems architecture when I received an offer from the best manager I had ever had the pleasure of working with. We had worked together during the dot-com days and moved on to separate fields in the meantime. I mention this to demonstrate that a solid manager can help you retain or acquire your best people and inspires loyalty.

I just got interviewed for a similar position, (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 7 years ago | (#18912495)

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 repair a molding machine, I showed my basic knowledge of mechanics, repaired the machine, started production back up,) I have the job, now. I may be able to sit at my desk, but if something goes wrong, I'll guarantee you I'll be the first man on the floor with the repair techs, getting my hands dirty just to save the company money. 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.

Re:I just got interviewed for a similar position, (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913399)

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, I'd rather hire a manager who didn't make the whole string of mistakes implied by the need to do so.

If you don't know already... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18913103)

And think asking here is a good idea...

G and do something else, something within your competence....

Quite simple (1)

jawahar (541989) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913619)

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.

Don't interview (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913869)

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.

Behaviors are key (1)

Underfunded (1039600) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913917)

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 the result was. I also ask a lot of probing questions during the interview process watching out to see if the person can answer my question or is just skirting around the answer because they don't know it. Best of Luck.

One Question (2, Interesting)

triso (67491) | more than 7 years ago | (#18913975)

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?

Re:One Question (1)

dodobh (65811) | more than 7 years ago | (#18917945)

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.

How Would You Interview Potential Managers? (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 7 years ago | (#18914041)

With a shotgun...gotta cull the heard somehow.

How *I* would interview someone for management ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18914069)

If I were a manager, interviewing a potentially new member of the Cultic Knights of Management :

Me: Do you have a soul ?
Applicant: No.
Me: You're hired. Can you start tomorrow ?

I'd also let them know that it is appropriate to display - proudly on their desks, no less - the mason jar containing the tiny piece of brain that will be surgically removed removed just before they cash their first paycheck.

Self-image (1)

Steve Furlong (9087) | more than 7 years ago | (#18914503)

Ask him what Dilbert character he sees himself as.

Obligatory OJ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18914909)

With a knife!

In simplest term (1)

cky625 (947281) | more than 7 years ago | (#18915131)

Managers in business world are pimp/hole, con, lier, clown and lazy ass. Sum of worst know to human, but work at its best.

the biggest stakeholders should do the interviews. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18916737)

.... the programmers

same way as everyone else (1)

mshurpik (198339) | more than 7 years ago | (#18917323)

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.

(One of) The most critical management traits... (1)

hlygrail (700685) | more than 7 years ago | (#18921577)

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 -- obviously, there must be balance between knowing all the details and making a choice so that the team can carry on, whether it's a political, social, technological or other decision.

For that reason, when I interview other prospective managers (I manage a team of 12-15 Technical Support and Escalations Engineers), I almost always toss out this question if I haven't already gotten a good sense of their decision-making abilities:

How many cotton balls would it take to fill up this room?

Within reason, the answer is mostly irrelevant. Someone who still thinks very technically will sit and calculate the dimensions of the room and, just like guessing how many jelly beans are in the contest jar, try to come up with an exact number. Someone who is haphazard will toss out a random number that's usually way high or way low ...not that I've ever actually calculated the "right" number for whatever conference room we're in.

The intent of the question is to determine how quickly that person can make an intelligent and informed decision and move on. Trust me here -- you really don't want to work for a manager that has analysis paralysis [] . Then again, you don't want to work for a manager that doesn't really care about the details, either. Somewhere in between those two extremes, IMO, is good.

I usually follow that question with another zinger: What is your favorite movie? There's a lot you can divine from knowing what someone's favorite movie is. If it's "Office Space," chances are you'll be working for/with a manager with a sense of humor that won't take themselves very seriously. If it's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," you might want to drop your standard list of (probably useless*) interviewing questions and delve into some in-depth behavioral interviewing [] questions... and heaven help you during that discussion. :)

*There's nothing more useless than this question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? When I hear that in an interview (some of my peers that don't have very good interviewing skills ask it), I cringe visibly.

Great Advice on Manager Tools (1)

The Grey Ghost (884000) | more than 7 years ago | (#18922821)

A starting point for this would be the "Quick and Dirty" interview guide on Manager Tools, ty-interviews/ [] . 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!

Bait and switch. (1)

RogueOne (582281) | more than 7 years ago | (#18923689)

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 took the bait and answered the way it looked like we wanted the questions answered from the phrasing, hence he was not hired. To be fair we had made it very clear that working extended periods of overtime was not going to be part of the job at the very start of the interview.

Watch out for agreement (1)

GWBasic (900357) | more than 6 years ago | (#18935789)

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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