Interviewing Your Potential Boss

Your old boss is gone and there’s someone in the conference room who could be your next boss.  Later that day, you are scheduled for a one-hour interview with them.

Yikes! 

 

You’re nervous about how your interview will go. Yes, technically you’re interviewing them, but in a very real sense they’re sizing you up.  It’s important that you get your questions answered, but also important to make a good impression.

 

Here’s our “Take Five” on how to interview your potential boss:

 

  1. Style – What is their management style?  Do they like to give the overall objective and then let their employee get it done, or do they like to give very specific direction on how to do things?  Do they have weekly one-on-ones, offsite team building, an open door policy?  How do they handle it when someone makes a mistake?  These questions are all excellent vehicles for ferreting out the work style and personality of your potential boss. Don’t be afraid to ask what they like to do off hours.  You may share a common interest. 
  2. Development – The key to your success may very well depend on how your new boss grows people and to what extent they enjoy this part of the job.  Ask them for an example of how they typically help people grow.  Things you want to hear are that they enjoy coaching and mentoring and that they typically send their employees to seminars, training programs and events to further their careers.  Also look for a boss who has a track record of raising people’s visibility through high profile projects, attendance at key meetings, presentations to senior management and committee appointments. Let them know what area you need to grow in and ask how they could help you.
  3. Role Model – Ask them who was the best employee they ever had and why?  This will be your roadmap to success with this person.  Listen carefully because this will tell you what they expect from you. For example if they highlight someone on their team who consistently delivered results, but, fail to mention the process involved, that may mean results trump everything else.  Conversely, if they describe someone whose product failed, but their processes were right, this will tell you that s/he defines success more broadly.     
  4. Succession Planning – Most people are looking to advance their careers.  Your boss will be the driving force in your ability to get promoted.  Given this, it’s important to ask your potential boss what criteria they use for choosing their successor.  Are they looking for someone like themselves?  For example, they may use their style as their standard.  Are they looking for someone who is eager to take on some of their responsibilities?  Some bosses like people who take this initiative, others don’t.  This would be good to know so you can ask them for “positioning” assignments – ones that would stretch you.  They may like the direct approach of someone who asks to be groomed as the successor.  Or they may be looking for someone who presents more strategic ideas.  The mere fact that you ask this question when interviewing your potential boss, will give them a good impression of you.
  5. Setting Goals – Part of your boss’s job will be to establish your goals.  Ask them how they generally do this.  What is the thought process behind setting goals?  Do they start out with goals that people will likely achieve in order to build confidence or do they set the bar so high that it is difficult to reach?  Are they the type that just takes last year’s number and bumps it up 10%? That might indicate they are not as creative as they could be.  Do they set goals mutually with the employee?  If the answer is yes, that’s good news for you as you’ll have input on how you will be measured.  Are they flexible – changing the goals when the situation warrants?  This is another question you’d like to hear them answer “yes” to.

 

 

Sometimes the mere thought of interviewing your potential boss can make your stomach churn.  It may help to remember that you both have the same goal:  to make a good impression and to find out if you’d work well together.  Use the time you have to best advantage by focusing on what’s most important to you.  Your potential boss will appreciate your preparation and you’ll walk away feeling like you have a good sense of how they would be to work for. 

 

 

Copyright 2008 Whelan Stone. All rights reserved.

Whelan Stone

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About whelanstone

I'm originally from New York - lost my accent when I moved down to Florida - and made San Francisco my home in 1985. I've been recruiting & coaching for 12 years, with the best partner (Fred) you could ask for, and love what I do. When I'm not busy working I write screenplays (haven't sold one yet) and travel - Morocco this past summer was fantastic. Fred and I started this blog because we wanted to share what we've learned along the way. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we do writing it.
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6 Responses to Interviewing Your Potential Boss

  1. CRL says:

    What do you do if after the interview you decide you can’t work for the new boss?

  2. whelanstone says:

    It would depend on whether you could transfer to another, similar assignment within the company or you might have to look for a new job at another company. Not pleasant either way.

    We’ll have to turn that into another blog!

  3. NB says:

    Thanks for this great post. It’s exactly the position I find myself in today, and you’ve given me great perspective and questions to ask. Much better than any of the other articles I could easily find online on this topic!

  4. ThatGirl says:

    I’m heading into that conference room next week to meet with 4 candidates. However, we will have our whole team (4 people) in for the process. How do I ask the questions without “taking over” the interview or looking too eager. We’re a team, but there’s still some competition among us. Of course, I want to be the successor, but I still need development.

    • Anonymous says:

      You won’t appear to be taking over if you give others a chance to speak up. Since you’ll have four separate interviews (1 with each candidate) you might want to ask the first question for a couple of those interviews and hold off and let someone else go first in the other interviews. The important thing is to get your questions answered and make a good impression while doing so. Some of your peers will probably ask questions you want the answers to, which in a way, will take the pressure off you. If someone else is monopolizing the interviews and you only get one chance to ask a question, make it a strategic one. Think about the key issue facing the department and develop a question that will enable the candidates to address how they would tackle the problem. Questions that show you know how to hone in on the important issues will separate you from your peers in the department, without making you look too eager. Just by taking the time to prepare yourself for the interview, as you’re doing here, will give you the edge. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

    • whelanstone says:

      You won’t appear to be taking over if you give others a chance to speak up. Since you’ll have four separate interviews (1 with each candidate) you might want to ask the first question for a couple of those interviews and hold off and let someone else go first in the other interviews. The important thing is to get your questions answered and make a good impression while doing so. Some of your peers will probably ask questions you want the answers to, which in a way, will take the pressure off you. If someone else is monopolizing the interviews and you only get one chance to ask a question, make it a strategic one. Think about the key issue facing the department and develop a question that will enable the candidates to address how they would tackle the problem. Questions that show you know how to hone in on the important issues will separate you from your peers in the department, without making you look too eager. Just by taking the time to prepare yourself for the interview, as you’re doing here, will give you the edge. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

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