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Best Questions to Ask Candidates Interviewing for Management Positions

published: April 22, 2020

A manager has the power to make or break the employee experience, so organizations take this hiring decision seriously.

If you're finding yourself in a position to hire a manager, we understand the pressure you are facing.

The role of a manager is unique and can be challenging for recruiters to fill. Moreover, replacing a bad hire will incur a large financial and moral toll on a team. Of course, you want to avoid this at all costs.

In short, proceeding with care and attention is crucial when recruiting people in management positions. Hiring the right person has important implications for the growth and success of your business. This is particularly true for young growing companies.

Expectations of a Manager

That said, the expectations of management vary from business to business.

Some companies need managers to be a conductor of sorts, responsible for overseeing high-level tasks, for example, managing budgets, establishing success metrics, planning growth strategies, and training employees. Other businesses, however, expect managers to roll up their sleeves and do the work. Not only be the  supervisors.

One overarching expectation of ALL managers is to have a well-rounded set of "soft skills." In short, to be a respected leader and someone who pushes and inspires a team into production and action.

But how can recruiters properly assess these intangible soft skills?

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Qualities to Look for in a Management Candidate

It's important to mention: hard skills are essential, too. When hiring a manager, you want candidates with a balance of hard and soft skills.

Hard skills refer to particular learnt knowledge and expertise. Normally acquired through hands-on experience, training, and education.

Determining whether a candidate's hard skill levels are sufficient is simple—ask them about their proficiency and give them a test. You will quickly find out if they are honest about their level of skill.

What can be much more challenging to test in an interview are those elusive soft skills.

For example, measuring how good a candidate is at conflict resolution, critical thinking, leadership, and some of these other essential qualities of excellent management:

  1. Communication
  2. Leadership
  3. Critical & Analytical Thinking
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Flexibility & Adaptability

This is when interview questions come into play. Key questions must be designed to carefully assess the potential of each candidate in terms of these "invisible" interpersonal skills.

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Questions to ask Management Candidates and Answers to Look for

Questions that assess communication skills

  • Describe how you develop relationships with staff at your last job?
  • Tell me about a time you had to persuade someone to see things your way at work?
  • Tell me about a time you had to relay bad news to an employee, client or colleague.
  • How would you respond to a negative comment about your management style?
  • Have you ever worked with someone you regularly struggled to communicate with? If so, what was the issue? How did you handle it?

What to look for: Every question in a job interview is an opportunity to assess communication skills. Pay attention to how they speak--can they clearly articulate their ideas with few words. Or do they struggle to get their point across, frequently pausing with too many “uhs” and “likes.” That said, look for signs that this person can verbalize a negative piece of information in a non-confrontational and tactful way.

Questions that assess leadership potential

  • Tell me about a time you took a position of leadership when something went wrong.
  • How do you give feedback to employees?
  • How do you help employees grow their skills, knowledge, and careers?
  • Who is a leader you admire and why?
  • What essential qualities do you believe make for a good leader?
  • What motivational strategies have you found most impactful for your past employees?
  • Tell me about a time you turned a disappointment into a new creative opportunity.

What to look for: Look for answers that prove the candidate's practical knowledge of motivational techniques. Look for evidence that they have implemented these strategies in real life. Most importantly, ask about the tangible results. Also, be mindful of the candidate's tone. Do they express excitement, enthusiasm, and passion in regards to leadership? Those who genuinely want to be in a leadership role will be eager to discuss their opinions on the topic.

Questions that assess critical thinking abilities

  • Describe a time when you anticipated a problem and took measures to prevent it.
  • Give an example of a time when you were required to make a quick and impactful decision. What happened?
  • What would you do if you had a looming deadline, but you didn’t yet have all the information and resources to deliver on time?

What to look for: Ask these questions to test a candidate’s ability to problem-solve under pressure and with limited information. Look for answers that prove the candidate’s ability to make decisions without much personal bias. Pay attention to how they factored in the knowledge that was available to them at the time. Prime candidates should demonstrate an ability to discern when to rely on intuition versus quantitative data to make decision. 

Questions that measure Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

  • What has been your proudest professional moment?
  • Describe a conflict you had with an employee that made you feel frustrated?
  • How do you respond when you disagree with the feedback an employee gives you at work?
  • Describe a time an employee came to you with a problem, what did you do?
  • Describe a time you helped an employee overcome a challenge or a difficult time.
  • How do you recover from failure?

What to look for: Ask these questions to assess how good someone is at controlling their knee-jerk emotional responses. Can they make honest self-assessment? Moreover, these questions will show their capacity to practice empathy and compassion for others. Look for answers that show the candidate is sincere and pensive about their past failures and weaknesses. Candidates that are unable to think about their shortcomings or have a tendency to blame others for failure may not be the best fit for a management role.

Questions that measure flexibility and ability to adapt

  • Do you prefer to plan things out ahead or leave room for trial and error?
  • Tell me about a time that an unexpected issue occurred at work, how did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react?
  • Can you think of a time when you've had to adjust quickly to changes in your department? How did you respond?

What to look for: A significant part of a manager's job is dealing with changes and unexpected events. Look for answers that prove experience with sudden events. More importantly, look for answers that show a positive and open-minded attitude. Candidates who express negative feelings in the face of unexpected change—like defeat, skepticism, frustration— may not be a good fit for management.