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I am working as lead developer for my current client. My client is planning to build their own in-house software application. I believe my skillset and experience level is not sufficient for this, so I raised my concerns with my management.

They considered the issue and created a new role in the IT department, then decided to recruit a suitable candidate. This person should be covering what I am lacking to execute the project, and should mentor and train me to reach new levels. But my management are asking me to participate in the interview process with those candidates and would like me to provide feedback.

Is it appropriate for me to interview those candidates?

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For what it's worth, I've even been asked to help interview candidates to be my direct supervisor. If they've asked you do do this, that means they WANT YOUR OPINION, and therefore by definition it is appropriate. It's really the same as any other team interview; you're providing your own best guesses about his competence and how well you think he'll fit into the department and the company, and management will consider that along with other opinions and weight them appropriately. (My only complaint is that nobody bothers to teach non-managers how to do a good interview!) –  keshlam Jun 29 at 2:50
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There have been multiple times when I've been on a hiring committee for someone who was going to be my boss. It's not as though you're the only person making this hiring decision. You're just being asked for input. –  Ben Crowell Jun 29 at 3:33
    
Just relax and take it easy. It should be a fun experience, the more tense you get the worse the whole experience will be. Have some fun with it. –  ldog Jun 30 at 18:41

6 Answers 6

Not only is it appropriate, since it was you who identified the skills gap, surely you're the most important person to be at the interview. You'll be the person who can check they'll be capable of covering the things you aren't comfortable in doing yourself.

In addition, if senior management have invited you to participate, why are you worried? They're the ones with the final say, and if they say it's ok, it probably is.

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You need to ask yourself WHY management is asking you to participate in the interview process. Here, AT THE MINIMUM, what you can contribute to the interview process:

  1. You can ask questions based on what you know to make sure that the candidate and you have the same base line of knowledge. If you know more than the candidate, the candidate has a problem.

  2. You can ask questions about knowledge needed to successfully deliver the project -knowledge that you don't have but that you expect and want the candidate to have. While you are not in the position to know the answers, you still know enough about the problem domain to determine whether the candidate's answers make sense.

  3. And here is the most important part: can you understand the candidate's answers at at all? If the candidate knows their stuff but they can't communicate it to you in a way that makes sense to you, then having to work with that candidate will be an exercise in frustration to you. You are the one who is best placed to make the determination who can work most effectively with you.

  4. You are an extra pair of eyes and ears. In the give and take of the interview process, you may look at things a little differently than everyone else and think of questions that no one else in the interviewing team has thought of asking.

There is a downside to participating in the interview process: if they make an offer to a candidate that you signed off on and the candidate bombs out, fingers will be pointed at you. As a key member of the interviewing team, you have to actively participate. you can't afford to be a potted plant.

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To add to point #3 in Vietnhi Phuvan's response: you said that the new person's responsibilities will include mentoring and training you. This means that personal compatibility is very important: you want a person who you are comfortable being around, whose style of explanation you find easy to understand, who doesn't make you afraid to ask "stupid" questions, et cetera. It may even better to have a mentor with slightly worse technical skills but who you get better along with, than the other way around. All the technical knowledge in the world is useless if the other person can't make you learn it.

Because of this, it's very appropriate for you to be interviewing the candidates, because you're the best judge of how well you personally get along and communicate with someone else. Getting along with you is a vital requirement of the position that you've described, which makes you irreplaceable as an interviewer for this position.

This should also influence the way you choose your interview questions: for example, you could ask the candidates how they would explain some relevant concept to a person who has a basic technical background but isn't familiar with this particular part the domain. That will be a big part of what they will be doing with you, after all.

If you still feel uncomfortable, you can always just tell the candidates right in the beginning that they're probably more technically competent than you are, and that you're looking for someone who can teach you their skills. This also has the added benefit that you're lowering yourself from "scary authority figure who's conducting this interview and judging me" to "someone who respects me and hopes to learn from me", which may make the interviewees feel much more at ease. Job interviews tend to be stressful situations, and admitting your technical weaknesses may actually make the candidates feel more comfortable than if they thought you knew more than they did.

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You may be able to assess at least two things during the interview (which could help them to remove any unsuitable candidates):

  • Whether the candidate knows even less about the subject than you do
  • Whether you understand the candidate, when they answer a technical question

If the candidate is meant to work with you, then your being there will also help to answer a question which the candidate would be asking, which is "Who will I be working with?"

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As others have mentioned, it can be quite appropriate. Your opinion is being sought and (hopefully) will be valued.

However, I want to warn you of a potential political land mine. Be very careful of how you voice objections or a down vote. I was in a similar situation, had serious objections to hiring a particular candidate, who ended up being hired. My objections did not remain confidential and the new employee found out that I had voted against them. It was a very uncomfortable situation. Had that person now been my boss, the uncomfortableness would have been job-limiting.

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It's OK to object as long as your objections are in good faith. The candidate was hired in spite of your objections. If your objections did not pan out, it's a good thing you were wrong. Just say that you were wrong, be a good sport and take the new employee to lunch. I am pretty good but it's not first time and it won't be the last time I was wrong about something or someone and that I am glad I was wrong and everybody else was right. I'll brazen it out and say, "so what?" On the hand, if I am right and they are wrong, the only way they 'll stop hearing my whining is by killing themselves :) –  Vietnhi Phuvan Jun 29 at 13:04
    
The "good faith" aspect goes in the other direction, as well: Bill may be completely willing to work with the new hire he advised against - but the new hire may hold a grudge, and that alone can sour any working relationship. However, I don't see how one could manage this risk up front, unless you'd avoid downvoting anyone (or any frontrunner) at all. Better to be frank if you think someone is not a good fit, and hope that if he is hired, he is a good sport. –  Stephan Kolassa Jun 29 at 14:40

"Hire your own boss" is an uncomfortable job function, but one that needs to be done from time to time.

In this case, since you were the person to suggest the new role, and some of its key parameters, you need to be at that interview. The company is looking to you for guidance.

"Leading from behind" is not the easiest skill in the world, but is necessary, if junior people are to contribute to their organizations over and above their "job grade." If you learn to do this well, you won't be "junior" much longer. There are some people that hired their own bosses up to chairman, until they became the chairman.

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