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How to avoid hiring a bad manager when you're just not sure
#managing_others Here's my approach for interviewing potential managers I'm not sure about. If you're like the countless people I've shared my approach with - you won't try it, or will you?
I’ve interviewed at Google three times. I’ve stopped the process every time. My last adventure interviewing for a position at Google happened in 2004 when they were assessing my fitness to be a front-line manager.
During the first round, two different interviewers grilled me on several brain teaser questions. In the final interview of the day, I submitted a mathematical proof that using the Fibonacci sequence was a more memory-efficient approach for building a vector than the classic array-doubling scheme that computer science programs have been teaching for years. I struggled with the proof but felt I got it in the end. The interviewer chastised how slow I was at solving the problem, then stormed out of the room.
A few days later, Google called me back. Google said I crushed their interview (including the last question), but I told the recruiter on the phone that I’m not going back for another round. I told them they don’t know how to interview engineering managers.
A manager’s primary role is the administration of people. By administration, I mean hiring, firing, and managing performance throughout their experience at the company. Solving brain teasers that I might have encountered already on the Internet anyway, or answering arbitrary technical problems of various relevance may be some proxy for if I can still write software. However, it fails to test whether or not I could perform the core functions of my job as a manager of people.
If we dig a bit deeper into what managers do, an essential skill is their ability to read people. An individual with poor emotional intelligence will struggle with giving feedback that people respond to positively. When an employee has a bad experience, they will attrit. Similarly, the same manager may struggle with assessments in an interview. Making bad hires invariably pressures a manager’s empathy skills in all sorts of ways. Notably, their team may get frustrated at the lousy hire or them. These are just a few scenarios that illustrate the importance of emotional intelligence and the troubles you may suffer from when you hire an emotionally unintelligent manager.
In those cases where I have questions about a potential manager’s emotional intelligence, I do something some find unusual. In essence, I turn the tables around and have them interview me as if I were to work for them. For example, if the manager was interviewing for a front-line manager role (manages individual contributors), I might ask the manager to give me a technical screen. At the end of the mock interview, I will ask the person to break down what their impressions were and what were my strengths and weaknesses. Notably, I would want to understand why they would or would not hire me for the mock job.
Using yourself as a litmus test is powerful because you know more about yourself than anyone else. When you turn the tables around and become the interview candidate, you will receive an image in return.
If you get something back that you don’t think looks right, the individual might struggle with emotional intelligence, but perhaps more troublingly, they might struggle with reading you.
If this sounds great, I’m willing to bet you probably won’t try it. I’ve given this advice for years, but few people follow it. The reason?
We all hate to be judged.
But guess what, judging people is what we’re doing to someone else in an interview. Sometimes, people tell me they are afraid they might appear incompetent and that it might reflect poorly on the company. You might blow the mock interview, but does it matter? Ultimately, as the hiring manager, all of the power is with you, so if you can, try to put your feelings aside.
Should you leap and put yourself out there, making better hires for those times when you’re just not sure will be your reward.