We're on the lookout for a new department manager, who I would be reporting to. As part of the process they are holding some coffee sessions to give the potential recruits a chance to meet their team and vice versa.

How do I come up with good questions to ask in an informal setting with your potential new boss?

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    Afraid this will likely get closed as it's incredibly broad at present. You could maybe edit it to show your stated goals from asking these questions, the industry you work in, etc. to get some more targetted feedback. – berry120 Oct 24 '18 at 11:16
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    Agreee, it is totally too broad. Without knowing what the team is about it is impossible to answer. Even THEN it is broad, but right now you can drive a planet through the question, so to say. – TomTom Oct 24 '18 at 11:55
  • @TomTom When you think this question is too broad, please cast a close-vote. You should have enough reputation to do that. – Philipp Oct 26 '18 at 13:36
  • @TomTom The one close-vote is from me. But I just noticed that the question was reopened a few minutes ago which removed your previous close-votes. My bad. I still don't understand why. The question wasn't really made any more focused. It's still too broad IMO. – Philipp Oct 26 '18 at 13:41
  • @Philipp Cra*. I can not vote - tells me I already voted (2 days ago). Likely the vote is not reset when the question is reopened. – TomTom Oct 26 '18 at 13:51

People know when they're being tested, so be upfront about the tests. Give clear clean scenarios from your time with the company, asking them what kinds of calls they would have made as a manager.

Don't look for the "right" call, but do look for calls that seem to suffer from "skin deep" analysis. For example:

An employee who's had problems on two teams is having problems after being moved to a third team. His team mates just called for a corrective action due to his complaints in a review of the current work. The team is upset, and says they're not happy with his work. What would you do?

If he starts describing how to eject the employee out of the company, by preparing the paperwork proving the employee's inability to work with a team, he's going to be easily manipulated. He doesn't have enough information.

If he starts describing how he would gather information to make a call on if the team's description is accurate, he's about as good as you can get.

Decisive action in a manager is game-able by the problem elements in every organization. Typically the manager figures out they're being played a year or so down the line, but by then the culture has taken a major hit.

As far as the rest of it goes, try to get some insight to his grades (even if they are way back when) at University and where he went to school. While experience is vital for success, this person probably has experience, and it is probably dressed up in its best presentation. Grades can't be doctored in such a manner, and can be a better predictor of success than your ability to discern if this person is a good fit.

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  • As an addendum, try presenting a scenario along the lines of: "The lead engineer on a project and a junior engineer working on it come to you for help with a technical decision. You don't know anything about the tech in question. The junior claims that the lead's choice is slower and less secure than his; the lead claims that his is the industry standard and scales better." Look for the same things (no uninformed decisions). That's also something they'll need to deal with, possibly a lot. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Oct 26 '18 at 17:29
  • @NicHartley While that's a decent question, it's not purposefully lopsided. This means it will probably get a "matching" approach, as it is hinted in the "balanced" offering. A purposefully lopsided question with a balanced approach is a winner among managers, because the people will "game" the manager, by presenting purposefully lopsided scenarios, helping direct the "discovery" to people supporting their position. – Edwin Buck Oct 27 '18 at 2:24

I think Edwin's answer is good. Personally, I would try to distinguish two things: how skilled the candidate is in selling themselves and how good (competent, fair, communicative) they seem to be in reality. These two things sometimes coincide but frequently don't.

  • When asking situational questions I would try to keep track of to what extent candidates really answer questions and propose solutions, to what extent they play the "bullshit bingo". Those who play too much of the bullshit bingo are probably very good sellers, but poor bosses. I've worked with several bosses whose answer to very specific questions about very specific problems was giving a 10-minute lecture about the value of communication and collaboration and they really were no good. They were normally able to sell themselves incredibly well to higher-ups, so many of them progressed in their careers, but working under them was hell.
  • I would also be alarmed by people who avoid the topic of conflict or emphasise the value of harmony too much (e.g. by talking about the team as "one family" too much). Experience has taught me that in every office setting there is conflict. People have conflicts about their responsibilities, about their values, etc. And a lot of organizational success depends on how well conflicts are solved. Whether they are treated constructively and contribute to better results or are destructive. One of the main tasks of a boss is also to solve conflicts in the team. People who don't notice or accept conflicts value harmony over quality and fairness. It can be very difficult to work under such conditions.
  • For the same reason, I would maybe even try to question something candidates said just to see their first reaction to me - their could-be-report - questioning them. I don't mean being rude or aggressive of course, just a more inquisitive approach ("I'm curious why you discarded A as a bad idea. It actually has some advantages like B and C, doesn't it?").
  • Personally, I would also value being structured and lack of contradictions. Some unstructuredness and contradictions may be due to stress, so I wouldn't care too much. Managers are supposed to organize the work of their teams, however, and a chaotic manager who forgets what he said 5 minutes ago is a nightmare.
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