You’re reading an excerpt of Ask Me This Instead: Flip the Interview to Land Your Dream Job, a book by Kendra Haberkorn. This powerful work is written by a veteran recruiter for job-seekers who want to find their dream job—not just the next job. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, worksheets and a question database, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
important Put simply, a great manager can transform your career while you work with them and long after. Finding that kind of manager is magic and worth several percentage points on top of any salary. They influence so many aspects of your experience day-to-day and over time. As for the bad manager, think back on the vent sessions you’ve been a part of with team members, partners, and friends. What is one of the aspects of the work experience that everyone bemoans the most? Their boss. As a recruiter, I know this is one of the things candidates need to focus on the most throughout the hiring and decision-making process.
During the interview process, managers play the role of mentor, motivator, and evaluator. Their accomplishments and experience at work depend largely on the strength of their team. If anyone is more motivated than the candidate to find the right hire, it’s the manager. In navigating the interviews, the manager must weigh the capabilities and experience of the candidate within their understanding of the work to be done as well as how this prospective hire will complement and extend the expertise and output of the rest of the team.
While they may seem to be all-knowing or all-powerful in the process, in most cases, the manager will not be. There will be other voices represented in the process, other interviewers for example, as well as other decision-makers, such as their boss or a more senior executive.
Many managers are natural leaders and develop their team members’ skills and capabilities. They know what they’re looking for, perhaps they even filled the role you’re applying for themselves, and understand deeply what it takes to be successful in that role. These managers recognize potential and ability and can effectively bring out the best in a candidate and their direct reports. Other managers are new or developing in this capability, having recently made the transition from doer to leader, and might not be as effective or capable in structuring a collective body of work across a team of people, designing and scoping roles or interviewing to fill a gap. A lack of experience doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t succeed or be a great manager—it does, however, put an extra burden on you, as their prospective direct report, to understand their strengths and development opportunities, managerial and communication style and their expectations of whoever steps into the open role. On the flip side, an experienced or long-term manager might be ineffective or just bad at their job, too—years of experience doesn’t always correlate to skill in the management capacity.
In an ideal world, a manager has had a role model to learn from or years of experience and success leading teams so that they approach the new position, hiring process, and onboarding of a new hire with attention and sophistication. If they are less experienced or skilled, a strong recruiting team and thorough process can fill in some of the gaps. But sometimes, they will be relatively alone in the process and might even be driving it from end-to-end with autonomy and limited oversight.
important It is of the utmost importance that you take advantage of every minute you have with your future manager, and if possible, ask for more time than they may have allotted during the process if you get to the final stages or receive an offer. As you progress through the course of multiple conversations with the hiring manager, continue to identify, map out, and ask thoughtful, tough questions.
Along with the real-time answers, take time after the interviews to do some extra reflection and diligence. Reflect on the chemistry and compatibility you sensed—or didn’t—during the conversations. This is hard to quantify, and sometimes even harder to articulate. While I maintain that relying exclusively on your gut is a fallback that can be avoided by the kind of preparation I offer in this book, your instincts can still be a data point or factor. Your gut feeling can be very powerful and revealing as you determine if this is the person you need to be your manager at this point in your career. When I reflect back on the first conversation I had with two of my favorite bosses, I knew then—before we even got to interview questions—that they were managers I’d learn from and enjoy working with. I knew I’d become a better version of my professional self as a result of that relationship. Similarly, when I think back on the relationships that weren’t as strong or beneficial straight out of the gate or as time progressed, there was something that just didn’t click and I had to convince myself and rationalize away my hesitations to move forward. Unfortunately, the issues or lack of connection didn’t go away. In fact, when the going got tough, the distance grew and the problems magnified, ultimately accelerating my decision to look for another role.
Finally, in an effort to check your gut, take the chance to verify that the manager is telling you the truth during the interviews. To do that, connect with others who currently and previously worked for them. As you go through the interview process, connect with interviewers on LinkedIn. Once you’re connected, you can see where your network overlaps and potentially find someone who could endorse you or provide insight into the team and opportunity. These individuals will have different views, and it’s important to understand that the context of the relationships and growth a manager experiences, as well as your unique interpersonal dynamics, will surely impact how your connection plays out with the manager. In the meantime, you can get a read on how they coach and develop, communicate and direct work, measure performance and share context, balance the struggles and celebrate success from these other conversations. After all, there’s a good chance the company will check your references—why not look into theirs? I always thought that anyone who was considering working on my team should talk to the people who worked for me before—they would tell a much more accurate picture than the stories I’d craft about my style and approach. Find a way to get this insight by asking current or former direct reports targeted questions.
Department Executive or the Boss’ Boss
Depending on the nature of the company, role, and makeup of the hiring team, you may or may not encounter the hiring manager’s boss or a department executive. Even if you do not meet them, understanding their role and influence in the hiring process and your ultimate path at the company is valuable information to gather during interviews.
Put simply, this leader is responsible for the hiring manager’s team’s success and likely a broader scope of work. With this bird’s eye view, they want to ensure there are capable, engaged, and talented individuals in each position and, importantly, that those individuals come together to form a high performing and productive unit working toward a collective set of priorities. The department executive is tasked with operationalizing a higher-level set of functional or company priorities and building an organization (vs. a team) that delivers. As with the hiring manager’s motivations, a strong group of teams reporting to an executive enables and impacts their success so their attention and commitment to the process takes into consideration the full team’s performance, capabilities, and expertise.
In most cases, the leader will have collaborated on, reviewed, or approved the job description. Depending on the size of the company or the seniority of the role, they may have weighed in on the content of the job description, as they help drive and delegate priorities and goals for the overall team. Typically more tenured in their career (though not always), a department executive will have institutional, industry, and team context that enables them to interview and evaluate with confidence and a perspective that is long-term and beyond the scope of many of the other interviewers. At the same time, they remain close enough to the details and day-to-day operations that they can credibly determine an individual candidate’s strengths and gaps while calibrating and comparing those attributes across their teams.
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