Direct Report

6 minutes


Updated September 25, 2023
Ask Me This Instead

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When you’re interviewing for a managerial or leadership position, you’ll want to learn about the dynamics of the team situation you’ll be stepping into. Early in the process, start to flesh out the overall picture:

  • What is the size of the team?

  • Who are the team members?

  • What are their roles, tenures, and contributions?

Then ensure you have clarity about a few specifics that might not be proactively addressed:

  • Why is this role open (did the person who filled it previously quit or get fired)?

  • Does the team know the hiring process has been activated? How do they feel about a new manager stepping in?

  • How will the team participate in the interview process? If they will not act as interviewers, when will you be able to meet and interact with them prior to making a decision?

It’s hard to be a manager, and it’s even harder to step into an existing team and take over trying to build a new path forward while dealing with the legacy or baggage of what someone else might have left behind.

Put simply, a direct report is playing the same role you are playing when you’re interviewing with the hiring manager during this process. They are trying to determine if you are their person, if you’ll coach and support them in their journey in those real, tangible ways and those hard-to-quantify gut instincts. Like you, they are motivated to find the right person. Your direct reports will play a critical role in your work experience—when you have talented high-performers, work is easier, more enjoyable, and productive. You may form long-lasting relationships with these individuals, work with them at other companies, or perhaps work for them someday (especially when you work with exceptional people)!

Depending on the individuals, they may have experience working with many managers and will be able to compare and contrast your strengths with those they’ve known before, or they may have a single point of reference to measure you against. As a result, the interviews could vary significantly from a timid “getting to know you” conversation to a critical assessment of your capabilities, personality, and leadership style.

In an ideal world, you’ll have had several previous conversations with the hiring manager, recruiter, and perhaps the department executive, and will be able to ask questions about the team as a whole as well as the individuals. Make sure you proactively push to get information about the team in these conversations as the interviewers’ inclination will likely be to continue to assess you. In some companies, the direct reports are active participants in the process and members of the decision-making team. Other organizations might approach it differently, a smaller group of decision-makers might assess candidates and then introduce direct reports at the final stages with the context of community building rather than evaluation.

important Sometimes, companies won’t involve direct reports at all. It’s highly important that you meet with your direct reports prior to accepting a position. Early in the process, there may be a need for confidentiality for a number of completely valid reasons, but because the working relationship of a manager to their team is so vital to the health, engagement, and success of the overall group, building those connections as soon as possible and being able to factor those learnings into your ongoing assessment of the opportunity is key. If they do not offer you the chance to meet with a minimum of a couple members of your prospective team, ask directly to do so in the later stages of the process.

dangerShould a company deny you the chance to meet with critical team members, including direct reports, before you accept a position, consider it a warning sign that something important isn’t being disclosed.

During your conversation, focus on building rapport and capturing details about what matters to them. Be humble and willing to answer any question they ask and try to do it genuinely and with the details that will help them gain confidence and trust in you as a leader. Open the door for them to ask you questions that put you in a vulnerable place—in this conversation it’s not about asserting everything you can do and do better than others, but rather understanding how you would step into the team and help everyone reach their individual and collective goals. When you have the floor, ask questions about their motivations, career aspirations, and learning styles, as well as specifics about the projects or work to be done. Talk about feedback styles and preferences and get their insight on bigger picture topics as well—team members from every position in the organization can have incredible insights on interpersonal dynamics and strategic priorities.


How Companies Learn About You Outside the Interview Process

The concept of a back-channel may or may not be as familiar depending on how often you’ve been part of interview teams or interviewed yourself.

Put simply, “back-channel” refers to the conversations prospective employers might have with people who know or have worked with you that you have not proactively shared as references. These conversations can happen at any stage of the hiring process, from before they get on the phone to after an offer has been extended. Often companies take this approach to get the “real” story about you, as your official references are most certainly enthusiastic champions—and prepared ones at that! Like references, back-channel conversations are most often used to complement and validate existing beliefs about a particular candidate (mostly positive) and rarely change the course of the process entirely (though, it can happen) so don’t beware these conversations, but be aware that they might occur.

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