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I am about to go into an interview in a few days for a job in the IT field. My current employer is a micromanager and I am wanting to make sure this new employer is not. What kind of subtle questions could I ask that would give me the answer without flat out asking?

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    This is a very related question and one you might find interesting. – enderland Apr 27 '15 at 15:30
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    I have seen two types of "micromanager" personalities: 1) an extremely bossy/confident manager who thinks he/she knows more than anyone else; 2) a person who is overprotective of their position, because they luck the skills. So I always look for a manager who knows the subject inside out, and he/she is not overpowering the people around. (I have no scientific evidence, and therefore it's just a comment). – Jama Djafarov Apr 27 '15 at 20:51
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    @Jama on the contrary, my best managers would not have been able to do my job - they were good at managing people. – corsiKa Apr 28 '15 at 0:47
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    What I noticed about micro-managers that I worked with is they are task oriented not people oriented. They lack proper communication and presentation skills. The always think that their way is the best way. Usually talk about the team member's mistakes. Usually point out other people mistakes. Use statements such as "This is the way it should/should have been done." or "Do it this way.". – Long Apr 28 '15 at 8:59
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    @Songo that's a great, great point. It's rarely recognized that people oriented managers are not micromanagers, but it's so very true. Maybe you can write up an answer with suggestions how to recognize people-orientation during the interview itself? – rumtscho Apr 28 '15 at 13:11
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I would just ask about the methodology for managing the projects - how is work assigned, how are deadlines determined, where do requirements come from, how much freedom to choose tools and problem solutions do individual devs get etc.

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    +1 for asking specific questions about dev's choices/liberties, and for asking about "individual devs" in general, instead of asking about the position you're applying for. I would however avoid the word "methodology" - you might just get vacant answers like "we're doing agile/XP/iterative", that literally translate to: "I've once read the first chapter of a book with that title and wished we did something like that" – nikie Apr 27 '15 at 18:19
  • Oh followupquestions are defintily needed. ASk exactly how they do agile for instance as so many comaponies do things taht are not agile at all and call them that. Someone who says agile withotu a further expanation of exactly what they do is less likely to actually be doing agile in my experieince. – HLGEM Apr 27 '15 at 19:37
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    Sure, but a discussion about what agile is or isn't and if they're doing it right doesn't tell you if there's micromanagement or not. So I'd just avoid it and ask about actual practices instead. – nikie Apr 27 '15 at 20:22
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    Most humans, including micromanagers, think they have good ideas and are happy to describe them if you ask. So long as you don't use loaded terms or hint at the answer you want, you can probably ask a lot about how often devs check in with their manager, the usual topics of the checkins, which actions and decisions require approval and which the dev makes, and so on. If you talk to other devs there, ask for best and worst parts of the job. Of course, all that can fail if people just don't describe the job how it is, or if your expectations are far outside the norm. – twotwotwo Apr 28 '15 at 0:19
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Here are a couple questions:

"Can you describe a project where someone reporting to you did particularly well on a project? How did you help them be successful?"

If the manager responds that he guided them very closely and gave them a lot of feedback and direction, then be careful. The manager is defining success by how much they listened to them, rather than how much initiative the person took.

"Which of the projects your team is working on now are you personally most involved with? What have you been doing on the project?"

Here, look for answers like 'I try not to get to into the details of their projects -- I hire good people and let them work!'. Answers that go into minute detail could mean they can't let go of things at that level.

"What do you think my first project might be? Who would I be working with? Would you be involved?"

They should respond by saying you'll be part of a team and that the people you'll be primarily working with are your teammates!

Best of luck!

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    Good answer. I would propose one tiny tweak: in your last question, make that "How would you be involved?". It's a pretty safe bet that a manage will be involved in a first assignment, but you want to know if that's broad oversight + availability for questions, or sitting down right next to you for some pair programming, or something else. (If you agree and make that edit, please flag this comment as obsolete.) – Monica Cellio Apr 27 '15 at 23:22
  • +1'd. But the first question does feel like it's taken straight out of a "how to manage people" book - if the manager ever read one, he might take it the wrong way, or find a way to weasel himself out of it (after all, reading a book about management doesn't make you a great manager, but it can help you fake it during an interview :) ). Beware of "guessing the teacher's password" answers. – Luaan Apr 28 '15 at 7:49
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If you take the route of interviewing your future employer which I have done then it is really simple. You ask during the interview, "Do you have team members that I could talk to about the team dynamics and office culture?"

It is much easier to ask members of the team how projects are managed and how things go. As a hiring manager I wouldn't care if one of my senior people talked to a candidate. (wait unless I am a true micro-manager and then I would have a set script for that employee)

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    While I like this idea in theory, be aware it will put said team member under a HUGE amount of pressure: they'll worry that they'll get the blame if the person decides not to take the job. Most people will give a rose-tinted view of the company because they'll be terrified that if the candidate turns down the job, it'll look like it was because of something they said. – user568458 Apr 27 '15 at 17:00
  • @user568458 - You will definitely have to phrase things right and ask follow up questions but you have a much better chance to get info from an employee than the manager. Most managers who want to hire someone are the "nicest people in the world". I would ask an employee how often they communicate with a manager on a weekly basis? If they say a lot, how much on a daily basis? Do they like to see how you are spending each hour, minute? Are you allowed research time? Things that are neutral but require an employee to out the micromanager. – blankip Apr 27 '15 at 17:29
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My current employer is a micromanager and I am wanting to make sure this new employer is not. What kind of subtle questions could I ask that would give me the answer without flat out asking?

You could say something like "You know, the one thing I'm looking to avoid this time around is a micro-manager!" That might work, although many folks don't recognize that trait in themselves.

Better would be to get to chat with some of your potential peers (other folks who work for this manager). Ask "What's it like to work for X? What do you like? What do you not like?"

Before this, be very clear in your own mind what constitutes "micro-managing" and what does not. Different shops have different views on this.

  • That might not work out so well as the differing perspectives and definitions of micro-managing may cause problems. As an interviewer, if someone told me they didn't want to be micro-managed, I'd have to wonder if it was actual micro-management, or if their manager was treating them differently because they have difficulty staying on task, working diligently, or seeking help when stuck. Just saying that they hated the micro-management in the previous position and asking if they will be micro-managed here might not be a good sign for the potential employer. – Adam Davis Apr 27 '15 at 20:24
  • I would have a hard hard time hiring someone who told me they don't want to by micromanaged since 80-90% of the time I have heard this raised in my work experience... the person saying it very much needed to be micromanaged. I think this might be a red flag. – blankip Apr 27 '15 at 21:40
  • I think your first thing and your last thing relate. People simply cannot recognise so-called micro-management in themselves, if their idea of appropriate management genuinely differs from yours (or the questioner's). On this site we can find examples of all sorts of things being referred to as micro-management, and not everyone agrees they really are. For example, I think I recall someone saying that daily standups are micro-management since they constrain working hours. So unless you first define the term, I don't think you can get anything by asking someone "are you a micro-manager?" – Steve Jessop Apr 28 '15 at 10:12

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