interview questions to ask when hiring a manager

I recently put this together for someone, and I’m recycling it here: interview questions to ask if you’re hiring a manager of a department, organization, whatever.

As you’ll see, the idea of most of these to give you a good feel for whether this is someone who gets things done, is a strong manager who’s focused on results, etc. Please add in your own!


Send the candidate your annual report or other materials ahead of time. In the interview, ask him/her to explain the organization’s work to you as if you were a prospective funder or investor.

How would the people around you describe you?

Tell me about a difficult decision you had to make recently. Walk me through the problem and what your thought process was, and how you ultimately handled it.

What is some of the most useful criticism you’ve ever received? Why?

Getting things done

What has your biggest achievement been at ___? What results there that you produced are you most proud of? (Then ask the same question for other jobs they’ve had. You’re looking for someone with a pattern of taking things from X to Y — with Y being greater than X.)

What were the big things you were trying to achieve in the past year at ___? What things were/are worrying you? What were/are you doing about it?

What were your organization or department’s major goals last year (depending on whether the person was managing the organization or a department there)? How did you settle on those? To what extent did you meet them? How did you measure whether or not you met them? Were there targets you considered setting, but ultimately rejected?

What’s an example of a goal you didn’t meet? How come? How did you respond to that?

What will success look like for you this year? Why is that important? How hard will it be to get there?

If I were to ask your ___ (someone who reports to the person) what her goals are, what would she say? Does that match what you would say they are?

Tell me about one of the organization’s largest or most important projects and how you managed it, from start to finish. I’m interested in something where others were doing the work, but you were overseeing it.
– What was the vision for it?
– What happened?
– How did you ensure that happened? (You’re looking for managers who leave little to chance: either they have good reason to rely on the person in charge of the project, or they keep their hands in things enough to ensure success.)
– How do you know it happened?
– What lessons did you take away?

What are some of the biggest obstacles your organization/department (whichever they are responsible for) hit in the last few years? What did you do to address them?

Tell me about something you got done at ___ that someone else in your role probably wouldn’t have.

Managing people

How would you describe yourself as a manager? How do you think others would describe you?

How has your management philosophy evolved as you’ve gained more management experience?

What do you think are some of the most common ways people fail at management?

Talk about the balance between not micromanaging but still being involved enough to be able to catch problems early on.

Tell me about an employee who became more successful as a result of your management.

How would you describe the bar for performance at ___ (or in the department you manage)?

When was the last time you fired someone or coached someone out? How many people have you fired in the last two years? Why? (You’re looking for a manager who fires people who don’t perform at a high standard.)

Walk me through one of more challenging times you had to let someone go — what did you try first, how did you make the decision? How much time did it take from when you first started having concerns until when you ultimately let the person go?

Tell me about the most difficult employee situation you ever had to handle. What did you do and what was the result?

Tell me about a management mistake that you made in the past. What would you do differently?

Even the best bosses generate complaints from their employees now and then. What complaints do you think the people you’ve managed would have about you?

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. TheLabRat*

    Oh I really like the one about misconceptions people may have about you. That is such an excellent question that I wish I were asked in interviews. It gives so much opportunity from my position as an employee (actually I'm a self employed admin. asst. but that means I interview a LOT right now) to explain minute things about how I work that others might not understand when looking from the outside. When my business is solid enough that I'm not interviewing like a regular job candidate anymore and I'm able to take on another contractor myself, I'm so using that one.

  2. ziv*

    Good resource information in this website. Thanks for posting – it goes beyond the basics.
    I would add –
    What are the project management tools that you have worked with, like: MS project?
    What are business intelligence tools that you have worked with, like: SAP or Bann?
    “What type of prioritizations methods that you have taken?
    Explain project’s risk factors and how did you monitor these factors during a project life cycle? (i.e. red flags)
    Have you managed directly or indirectly a team work?
    How did you handle multi disciplinary project? – Matrix management (indirect management) or cross-company project management.
    How did you manage the outsourcing with sub-contractors?
    Have you been responsible of selecting vendors and suppliers? (i.e. procurement)
    Describe your work with key company’s department like- financial, R&D, procurement and logistics.
    How was your interaction with customers? Have you been responsible for the project’s invoicing and financial issues?
    Describe your definition for the project’s miles stones, project SOW (scope of work) and project action items/tasks?
    How often have you informed about the project’s status to your executives and the company’s key management members? – The transparency of the project.
    Describe the structure of the project’s business plan — costs (direct and indirect), incomes, gross profit and net profit. How did you monitor the budget?
    Have you ever had to take tough decisions? How did you share your thoughts and responsibilities with others?

  3. Snarky*

    Interesting list, although I’m not fond of any question that distills down to “what’s your biggest weakness?” It’s asked so many times people generally have a canned answer.

    Fortunately, I’m generally interviewing IT managers and leads, so I can ask technical questions (tell me about your experience working with projects that have a high degree of product orchestration – what are the challenges for the team, you, management? Now offshore 1/3 of the apis – new challenges? Are you in favor of non colocated code/development? Move more that direction? Move it back on shore? How, if there’s upper management friction? How does this impact team dynamics? Does it have a positive or negative impact on team morale – local? remote? How do you manage interaction in that case? If code is owned by multiple groups, how do you ensure performance and throughput? How do you troubleshoot across multiple team lines? Where do your team responsibilities end when an issue crosses those lines?

    A very good list, however. Much better than many of those I’ve dug around in for ideas.

  4. Bhupi*


    These questions dont have fixed/correct answers. The purpose of these questions is to get your thought process going. The best answers come when you have had an experience directly related to a situation catered by a specific question above.

  5. George Davidge*

    Thanks to all who contributed. I am part of an interview panel for a local charitable organisation. I feel equipped now to play a part in that process.
    thanks again.

Comments are closed.