how can we screen out micromanagers when hiring a new manager for our team?

A reader writes:

I am part of the interview team in finding a replacement for our ex-manager. And our department would reeeeally like this person to not be another micromanager.

Any ideas for questions I could ask? Or any red flags in the interviewee’s answers/demeanour to watch out for?

Often when this topic comes up, people will advise asking the candidates to describe their management style. The problem with that is that most people really suck at describing their management style with anything approaching accuracy.

I interview a lot of candidates for jobs where management style is really, really key, and learned pretty early on that I couldn’t rely on people’s answers to that question. Most people can’t accurately self-assess about what kind of manager they are, especially in response to a broad question like that … and it tends to produce a lot of vague talk about about open-door policies and investing in people and blah blah, and very few specifics.

The better route is to get them talking in concretes about how they actually have operated in the recent past. (In fact, this is pretty much always the way to go in interviews, not just for management roles. You’ll get much more useful information.)

For example, ask them about a big project their team recently handled that they managed but other people were responsible for carrying out. Then ask a bunch of follow-up questions to really dig into what their management of that project looked like:
* What was your role in getting the work done?
* What your process for assigning the work and making sure people were set up for success? (You’re looking here for someone who takes the time to get aligned at the start about what success would look like, so that they’re not having to constantly intervene and correct as the work plays out.)
* How did you interact with your team throughout the process, and at what points? (You’re looking here for set check-ins at particular milestones or time markers, rather than someone who basically swooped in whenever it occurred to them.)
* How did you spot any course corrections that might have needed to be made?
* Was the project a success? What kind of feedback did you give your team?

That’s going to get you the best information about how they really operate, rather than how they think they operate. But here are some other questions you can ask too:

* What kind of structures do you use to evaluate people’s work and give feedback?
* How often do people get feedback from you?
* Tell us about a time someone’s project wasn’t going well and how you handled it.
* What kind of person do you have trouble managing?
* What kind of person doesn’t work well with you?
* How has your approach to managing evolved over time? Are there things you do differently or think about differently now than you used to? (This sometimes gets you much more accurate answers than just “tell me about your management style” because it forces them to go beyond platitudes and buzz words.)
* Given that everyone has something they’d probably like to change about their boss, what do you think your staff members would want to change about you if they could wave a magic wand over your head?

Also! Don’t get so focused on screening out micromanagers that you forget to screen for all the other things that are important too. Hiring managers tend to be haunted by their last bad hire, meaning that they then focus so heavily on avoiding those things with the next hire that they often miss totally different problems that they should also be screening out. So make sure that you’re looking at the full picture of how candidates operate, and not getting so focused on micromanagement in particular that you miss other points.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

    1. TootsNYC*

      This would also be a great set of questions to have, proactively, when you are applying for a managerial position. Answer these questions before they ask them.

  1. Klaudia*

    Love this post!
    Having suffered from a micromanager for 2 years, I’m always making sure I don’t evee have to cross path with one again… in fact, I have walked out of an inteview when a potential boss self-admitted being a micro-manager.
    Why this management style is ever tolerated is beyond me…

    1. Jaguar*

      It’s worth mentioning that micromanagement isn’t always as repugnant as it is to you. I’ve worked with micromanagers and non-micromanagers (as someone that does graphic design as well as programming, I’ve even dealt with both in the same people – people seem to have endless opinions on how an ad or brochure or whatever looks and an almost complete disinterest in how a computer program should work) and while micromanagers are obviously less pleasant, I find them to be easily tolerable. What’s irritating to me is not the micromanagement, it’s the schizophrenic lack of order that seems to often accompany it: the managers who keep changing course randomly and impulsively. If a manager has a clear goal and a plan for getting there, I’m not overly annoyed by them constantly course-correcting me on minor stuff. I suspect there are others like me as well.

      1. Rincat*

        That sounds sort of like a difference between purposeful micromanagement and non-purposeful. I’d tolerate a purposeful micromanager much more than a non-purposeful one, where all the reasons for micromanaging were just ridiculous and arbitrary. For example – if my boss wanted me to email him about each change on a project, no matter how minute – that seems purposeful, it’s annoying but he wants to be informed. Non-purposeful – the former director I had that made my team stay a few minutes past give just because it made her feel bad when we “darted” out the door at quitting time. Arbitrary!

        1. tink*

          People in charge that make you stay behind at the end of class/end of work day/etc. really annoy me. I feel like it’s disrespectful of other people’s time for what has almost always come across to me as a petty, crappy power trip.

          1. sstabeler*

            particularly the “end of class” ones when the reason you need to get out quickly is because the school only gives you 5 minutes to get to your next class, and it takes about that to walk to your next classroom. (the equivalent for the end of the workday is needing to get out quickly to catch a bus or train. I’ve been in a situation before when a couple of minutes getting away from work meant 1/2 an hour’s difference to getting home.)

        2. Jaguar*

          Well, then you’re not really complaining about micromanagement, you’re complaining about poor leadership, which is my point.

        3. Annonymouse*

          I would classify the first examples of both as good managers who are a little too involved in general or on small details and the second to be true micromanagers.

          When you can’t make a single decision or move without them checking, changing it or watching then that is a problem.

      2. Whats In A Name*

        I think this is very much the case. I have had a few micro-managers, both good and (two different kinds of) bad.

        1) Good: Wants to be involved in every step of the process, updated at certain intervals, asks weekly where the status is and how you got there and will roll their sleeves up and “get dirty” with you to make sure something is done.

        2) Bad: You cannot be proactive about anything with this type because your way is *always* the wrong way, even if following their lead based on a previous identical circumstance. Their current way is the ONLY right way all the time – until it’s not, but then it’s the employee’s fault when project goes awry.

        3) Bad: As long as your work gets done your projects are managed on your own time but they own you from 8 – 5. As in, standing in the lobby at 7:59 to make sure you arrive on time, peeking into your Outlook calendar to see your meetings and time off requests and what they are for and back in the lobby at 4:58 to make sure no one is ducking out early.

        I love #1.

        1. mamabear*

          I also love #1. I went from having that person as a boss, to someone who barely seems engaged in our work at all. I would vastly prefer the good micromanager to the laissez-faire boss.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            Yes, I too had to go from #1 to similar before I realized I love and NEED #1 to to my best work.

            I love “laissez-faire” that is perfect term for it.

          2. JustaTech*

            Oh me too! My department went from having a person like #1 as our boss, totally the boss but also 100% willing to step in and do the physical work when we needed more highly-skilled hands, to having a totally hands-off boss. As in, so hands off that I still don’t think he’s ever actually seen the process that we spend all our time developing.
            It was a huge adjustment and a lot of people didn’t respect the new boss because we couldn’t see what he was doing and he didn’t seem to care about us.

        2. Jaguar*

          Well, again in the spirit of “this isn’t a mold that fits everyone,” I don’t consider #3 to be necessarily bad (there’s the hands off manager that lets you work and is available for help, which is fine, and the one that refuses to answer questions or set the parameter for success, which is awful). My favourite managers have all been “here’s what I need, let me know when it’s done” types.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            Yes, I agree.

            I was really just laying it out because I think the term “micromanager” is so broad and that there are many factors to take into account. When OP says “we don’t want a micromanager” explicitly what kind of micromanager do they not want? #3 might be fine for some people and might be fine for OP. I thrive under #1 but that might not be what they need.

            1. designbot*

              I’m not even sure why you’re calling #1 a micromanager though. #2 micromanages the way you do thing, #3 micromanages your time, but #1 just seems to want to know what’s going on.

              1. Whats In A Name*

                Because I worked with plenty of people also under that boss who, when asked about steps of the process or where they are/where they found their research, they felt they should be trusted to produce a finished product without interference and thought our boss was micro-managing their work.

                1. Julie Noted*

                  That’s not a problem of a micromanaging boss. That’s a problem of staff not understanding what management is.

        3. Klaudia*

          Thanks for spelling it out. I had a combo of #2 and #3. In fact, #2 was so predominant that I resorted to ask that all requests came by email. Things never made sense verbally (worst communicator ever) so at leadt in writing he had to think a bit about what he was requesting. And I’d reply with my course of action and specifcally request that he’d “approve” because I got fed up doing everything twice because HE never understood what upper management wanted. When everything was still not done as per upper management’s wishes, at least I had proof that I followed the initial request. Add that to the 5 headcounts working for him, everyone getting equally fed up. Eventually he got fired (ah… so sad…).

          Anyways, I suppose I could deal with a #1. That doesn’t sound too bad.

        4. Kira*

          I just got my first real #1 boss, and it’s awesome. I had previous bosses that might have been #1’s, but their big-boss was a micromanager so it trickled down.

        5. do i have a name?*

          See, I actually dislike #1 when it comes from people who aren’t managers. I’ve known quite a few micromanagers, product/project managers and other similar job titles, who act like this towards me or other team members even though they’re not in charge of me. Because most of those times they don’t need to be involved in every step of the process or have extra updates and status meetings, and doing so actually makes it worse or stretches it out longer.

          Example, I have a coworker like this who is not a manager, but whenever he hands a project off to me he still wants to be part of every aspect and that means I’d have to explain every aspect of my job, which is doesn’t need to know in order to do his. He asks for weekly updates because even though his part is done, he thinks that being on the project team means he deserves to be updated or hold status meetings on things that do not concern him. He just doesn’t want to let the project go since it originated with him, but doesn’t end with him.

          1. Not A Morning Person*

            But why do you have to provide updates to your coworker just because he asks? Could you tell him that his request for so many updates are taking too much time away from your work? Or just plain not do it and if he asks again, say, “Thanks for your interest. But we’re all spending our time working on this project and too involved to communicate with people who have already provided their input.. Maybe there’ll be time to share once it’s handed off/complete.”

        6. Windchime*

          My previous boss was a #2. She would constantly change expectations and processes and would get pissy if the whole team couldn’t instantly pivot and change direction. Priorities would change constantly, often multiple times per week. She would promote people for being rock stars and then discipline them for not being rock stars. It was crazy making. And I hear she has recently been promoted.

        7. Ferd*

          #2 is exactly what I’m stuck with at the moment. Boss has to approve every single thing before it goes to a client, but he’s not in the office most of the time. So I have to wait until he comes back, while the job is not getting done. And guess who gets blamed in the end.

      3. CDL*

        I agree with this – my old manager had micromanaging tendencies (she wanted to be copied on all emails for our projects), but she set very clear direction and was quite fair. My current manager goes between being a micromanager or completely checked out, and the lack of order is super frustrating.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I have sometimes said that I’m a micromanager, but I’m not sure that I really am. I have some seemingly small things that I want done in a very specific way–and then I want people to act on their own in almost all other things.

    3. TL -*

      I have a coworker who prefers a micromanager approach (she doesn’t like making decisions so the more that get made for her the better). Our manager is lovely and willing to be quite flexible on his level of involvement but definitely tends towards – not micromanagement but lots of management :).

      It’s not a bad thing but that’s partly because everyone involved is lovely and it’s tendencies rather than rampantly out of control management styles.

  2. Not A Morning Person*

    As well as asking about the manager’s style of managing the projects and people from their experience in how they’ve handled projects and problems in the past, describe the team’s working style and get more specific with asking the manager to comment on how she has managed similar teams or individuals. So, for example, “Describe a time when you had an individual who was skilled in the project/task/work and worked very independently to accomplish the goals. How did you handle feedback and guidance for that individual (or team)?” or a similar form of that question that gets at how the manager would approach the working style of the team and how the manager would communicate with a team that is used to managing independently when the manager wants to offer guidance, course correction, or suggestions of any kind.
    Good luck!

    1. LQ*

      I think this is good. And gets as some of the variation nature of it. If you have someone who is brand new to the team you kind of want someone who is really hands on and helps them get on board and doesn’t say, hey go have fun good luck. I think I’d ask both about how they work with someone who was very skilled on a task and managing them in that, they’ve done projects like this before, etc. AND how they would manage some one where this kind of a project is a stretch project, or they are struggling, or they are new to the field. If you have someone who gives the same answer to both that’s also problematic.

  3. Questionario*

    * What kind of person do you have trouble managing?
    * What kind of person doesn’t work well with you?

    Curious what kind of responses to this question wouldn’t be red flags? Obviously, “I get along well with everyone” doesn’t cut it.

    Admitting differences, meeting people where they’re at, tailoring communication styles, etc… this is what I would expect people to say they do if they are managing someone difficult, but what kind of answer should one give to just “who is difficult for you to manage?” since that question doesn’t directly get at solutions?

    1. Roscoe*

      I honestly don’t think the first one would really elicit that much that is useful. I feel like most people would have the “I get along with everyone” type of answer if they are being interviewed for the job. However, if an applicant asks that, I think you’d get a better “real” answer, since the manager doesn’t actively want to manage the type that they know they don’t get along with.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s a bad answer though. That’s someone who either hasn’t managed very much at all or doesn’t have the self-awareness/self-reflectiveness enough to have a real answer to the question (or who is being coy about it, which also isn’t great). If someone ducked the question like that, as a good interviewer you’d want to refocus them on it — for example, by saying, “I’m sure you’ve found some people more challenging to manage than others. Tell me about those.”

        1. Feathers McGraw*

          I think the key thing is you’re not asking if they’re incapable of managing anyone but what type of report is more challenging for them. Because there WILL be one.

      2. Tim W*

        I don’t know. Maybe I overshare, but I’d say honestly that I have difficulty managing engineers who like to take a task, retreat for days or weeks, then emerge with a complete solution. When I’ve worked with folks like that in the past, the difficult part has often been cultivating a shared understanding of just how little communication is enough for me to do what I need to do pipeline-wise.

        … is how I’d probably start the answer to that question, at least.

        1. Jaydee*

          See, that’s a good answer. You’re not saying you *can’t* manage engineers who act like that. You’re saying it’s harder or isn’t a natural fit with your style and the info you need to do your job correctly. Being able to explain how you have successfully navigated that challenge in the past shows the interviewer that you are capable of adapting to situations that aren’t a natural fit for you.

        2. Lora*

          My nemesis is the information-hoarders. The ones who run the place on institutional knowledge and never write ANYTHING down lest someone steal their precious secrets, and the secrets aren’t even all that good or anything that couldn’t be re-created within a day either. “I don’t have time to write all that down” makes my head explode. And it’s always announced in this martyred tone no matter what their actual output is or their project load. I have to take away their projects until they turn in a report or SOP or protocol, drawings, contact lists, etc. and then it is usually terrible because they aren’t good writers, so I mark it up and hand it back to them for revision SO MANY TIMES. It’s painful. Agonizingly painful. And I am the Mean Boss the whole time, because I’m making them do something they hate and now that I have all their secrets they figure they will be fired/laid off. Which…hey, if you weren’t a great collaborator in the first place, and you’re bad at doing a basic part of your job (writing up your results), then you’re not my favorite employee ever to begin with.

          Nobody is indispensable, including the CEO. The best defense against layoffs is developing your skills so that in that sad event you can find something else quickly.

          Also the “we’ve always done it this way!” Yep, and I am telling you to do it a better way, because XYZ. “I’ve never done it that way!” Well, you learn something new every day. “But that’s really different!” Mmm-hmmm how about you just try it this once and we’ll see how it works out? I feel like I’m arguing with a toddler who won’t eat his vegetables.

          1. JustaTech*

            I am currently one of the holders of “institutional knowledge” and I am trying so hard to spread it out onto everyone. Like, as in “I know you’re in another department but I really really want you to get trained in this big hard thing because I can’t be the only person who knows how to do it.”

            Indispensable = un-promote-able.

    2. NW Mossy*

      If I were asked those questions, I’d say “someone who chooses not to communicate about their work beyond telling me that everything is fine” and “someone who’s mentally checked out of their work” respectively. They both happen to be true, and if the interviewer thinks, “OMG, that’s basically this whole team, Mossy would totally fail with them,” that’s probably a good thing for me and them.

      I like the questions because it gives you insight into how self-aware someone is. Managers who can clearly identify the type of employee that challenges their managerial skills are more likely to be able to do something about it; the “oh, I manage everyone equally well” person is more likely to struggle if pressed by a particularly challenging direct.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, exactly. Personally, my answer would probably be “someone who’s more concerned about making a good impression than about the real results they are/aren’t getting.”

        There are lots of potential good answers to this — the idea is just to find out what’s true for them, and to listen to how they talk about it, and to consider how that would likely play out in your culture and on your team.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I have some questions I ask people I’m interviewing. And there isn’t any “right” answer. I just want to hear how complex their thinking is about our field.

        2. Jaguar*

          Your answers and NW’s seem like cop-outs to me. Are they really acceptable answers? I’ve managed people who were irritable and obstinate and others that would deprioritize work they didn’t enjoy or whatever. It wouldn’t occur to me, if I were asked what types of people I struggle to manage or I don’t work with to say, essentially, “crappy employees” or “crappy people” respectively. The spirit of those questions, to me, is self-reflection and self-criticism, and that these kind of answers are acceptable is what makes me think (and possibly others?) that there is an “interview code,” which you’ve spoken against.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Well, those aren’t the full answers — you then need to go on to talk about why that’s difficult for you and how you handle it. You have to talk about it with some nuance and specificity.

            1. Jaguar*

              You also seem to be leaning towards saying that people who answer, “I can’t think of types of people I have trouble managing” are unsuited to management, though. Is that correct? Because, at least gauging how I would respond to these and the answers you seem to be okay with,that would seem like you’re giving a pass to people who use it as a platform to criticize others and disqualifying people who don’t.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                That wouldn’t on its own be a deal-breaker, but in many contexts (probably not all) it would be a weak answer that I’d put real weight on. It’s not about criticizing people they manage; it’s about showing they’re willing to be self-aware and reflective. If they have a self-reflective answer, then we’re probably good.

                1. Jaguar*

                  Right, which is what I take to be the spirit of those questions. But the good answer you gave, “someone who’s more concerned about making a good impression than about the real results they are/aren’t getting,” doesn’t strike me as self-aware or reflective. Like, I’ve never interviewed someone for a management position before so maybe I’m way off here, but if I asked them for a personal failing they’re aware of and they told me basically they don’t work well with jerks, welp…

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think that’s at all the same as “I don’t work well with jerks.” I think it’s quite different, in fact!

                  Also, this question isn’t really asking them for a personal failing. It’s not a personal failing to find it harder to work with some people than with others. It’s not seeking out a failing; it’s seeking out a different kind of insight about them.

                3. Astor*

                  Jaguar: does it help to imagine someone else answering “someone who isn’t concerned about making a good impression because they think their results speak for themselves” while interviewing for the same job as Alison? And someone else answering “someone who spends more time communicating to me about their work than they do putting out the fires” for the same job as Mossy? The language might be cleared up for an interview, but the substance is there.

                  The idea is that it’s okay to say “I don’t work well with jerks” when you have a more thorough definition of what you mean by a jerk. The idea is knowing, on both sides, what kind of interaction is necessary for this role and the people that are involved. A good hiring manager will know how much weight that particular answer has in that particular setting, and also knows if the answer is just useful for knowing the manager can be reflective.

    3. LSP*

      A good candidate will add the solutions into his or her answer, like “I’ve had some difficulty with people who tend to take criticism too personally, as I like to give real-time feedback. I’ve dealt with that in the past by doing X, Y and Z.”

      It’s very much the same as answering, “What is your biggest weakness?” You want to be honest (to a point) and also add information about how you’ve worked to address it.

    4. Rob1ofme*

      Some times you should just take people at their word. Stop playing head games ask straight forward questions and get to the heart of the matter. Some people are autotelic they go with the flow, easy going approachable and have skill in dealing good naturedly with all personality types and backgrounds -they are not the problem. People respond to kindness, authority, confidence or professionalism often with aggression, resentment, jealousy or immaturity depending on their level of mental maturity and development, lack of social experiences or personal traumas. These mentalities can be resistant, defensive, contentious or try to undermine authority

  4. kc89*

    I’ve never interviewed applicants before and this post has shown me I am definitely not ready for it yet!

    1. A. Schuyler*

      I had my first interviewing experience with our interns last year. I’m only a few years out from my own internship so it was pretty scary. They paired us for the interviews (my partner hadn’t interviewed before either but at least I had some backup); gave us a very structured approach which took up about 2/3 of the time, after which we were encouraged to follow up anything else that had made us curious in previous answers; and debriefed with the whole group of interviewers who decided on the hires together. It was relatively painless as a first experience.

      1. JustaTech*

        The first interviews I conducted were part of a panel-style interview where I didn’t have to say much beyond the question that we agreed I would ask. The first ones I really “ran” were for a student lab worker. The office manager and I weren’t super comfortable doing them but our boss said he was too busy.

        We asked the worst question “What is your greatest weakness?” and got the best/worst answer ever: “I’m unmotivated.” Uh, thanks for your honesty, here’s the door. (That student also said some blatantly racist stuff about the majority of the lab staff.)

    2. Joe*

      We do a lot of our interviewing here in pairs. Aside from giving an opportunity for more people to meet and evaluate candidates without adding a lot of extra time to the candidates’ interview schedules, it’s also a good way for interviewers to learn from each other and improve the questions they ask or their techniques or what not.

  5. Tomato Frog*

    This is a fantastic post. I recently had an interview where the hiring manager told me about her style of management, and even though she seemed frank and thoughtful, I still didn’t feel like I got anything solid out of it. A lot of it was “I’m not too this, I’m not very that.” I think, as the candidate, I would’ve gotten much more useful information if I’d asked for about how she evaluates people, gives feedback, and assigns work.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Actually, that set of questions is probably something every manager should post on their wall WHILE they’re doing the job of managing. Those are the specific actions that managers should take.

  6. AJ*

    Relatedly, what are some good questions to ask if you’re on the other side of the table? My current boss and I are not at all compatible in terms of management/feedback style, and now that I’m job hunting again, having a good rapport with the boss is one of my top priorities.

    1. Feathers McGraw*

      At interview for my current job, I asked:
      – How is work assigned and what would the process look like for a typical project? (Made sense for my role.)
      – How does the team communicate with each other? (The answer to that one told me loads about the culture and how my manager manages.)

  7. J.B.*

    “Swooped in whenever it occurred to them”…the best description I’ve ever heard of a particular type!

    1. AnonAcademic*

      Yes, the timing of check-ins from my boss seem to be best predicted by the following:

      1. He is lying awake at night worrying about random things (email arrives after 10 PM)
      2. He is traveling and bored, probably in an airport (email arrives at literally any time due to time zone differences)
      3. He walks by my desk and I am there

      As it turns out, worry, boredom, and “Oh hey,while you’re here…” do not create a check in structure with much…structure.

      His attempt to remedy this was to have weekly one on ones with all of us – all 30+ staff – which lasted about two weeks and now we’re back to random check ins.

      Can you tell that my management style diverges from his just a bit? ;)

  8. Allypopx*

    “Hiring managers tend to be haunted by their last bad hire, meaning that they then focus so heavily on avoiding those things with the next hire that they often miss totally different problems that they should also be screening out.”


  9. Regular reader*

    How do you monitor your team’s activities?

    At my last job, we had weekly team meetings, weekly 1-1s, and a weekly written report of our activities and achievements. (Bullet points are fine, says the manager in all seriousness, no need to go overboard with this.)

    At my current job, my manager has a “if you don’t hear anything, assume everything is fine” policy, and she expects the same from us. So we have no regular team meetings and no regular 1-1s. She is available for questions if we have them, which is fine, but was a bit intimidating as a new employee when I had questions about *everything* but didn’t know how to ask them.

    Ideally, you would look for someone who describes behaviour somewhere in between these two extremes. Something like regular team meetings and 1-1s, but not so often that they’re spending as much time reporting on their work as they are actually doing.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      This “if you don’t hear anything assume it’s fine” would NOT work for me.

      Yes, I want autonomy and trust that I am doing my job. I do not want a micro-manager that micro-manages my time either. If we have to assign a label I would say I prefer a micro-manager – but one who is managing my work and checking in once a week to make sure we are on task/on page.

  10. Nobody Here By That Name*

    I’ve had good luck with a question on the theme of “What is your biggest pet peeve about _____?” Where the blank is whatever it is I’m trying to screen the micromanagement for. For example, in one job where I actually wanted someone to be diligent about editing details, I was thrilled to get candidates who told me their biggest pet peeves were reading things that got its/it’s wrong, or people who disagreed with their stance on the Oxford comma.

    In the case of trying to screen out a micromanager, I might ask something like “What is your biggest pet peeve as a manager? What’s something a direct report has done or could do that would drive you up a wall?” I’d then be listening for candidates who answered things like constantly having to redo their subordinates’ work, feeling like their team doesn’t check in nearly often enough, feeling like they constantly have to check their team while at the same time the team never takes any initiative, and so on.

    From there you can ask followup questions to get more details and insight. But I’ve found it makes for a good place to start.

        1. Hellanon*

          We wrote it into our style guide so that things would be consistent. I’m only a fan when meaning warrants it, but there is a certain grace to not having to stop & question whether to use it or not.

          I have banned the use of the word “hence” however.

      1. TootsNYC*

        ooh, I hate the Oxford comma.

        I do, however, find the serial comma to be so frequently necessary that it’s just wiser to always use it.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        I’ve found that, contrary to what Vampire Weekend would have us believe, a lot of people care about Oxford commas.

        I’m glad you’re pro-Oxford comma. I knew I liked you.

      3. Cath in Canada*

        I’m strongly pro-Oxford comma because I hate inconsistency and think it’s better to use it every time, even in sentences where it’s not strictly necessary.

        My sister is strongly against universal Oxford comma use. She’ll use it when it’s needed, but never when it’s not.

        During our third or fourth (friendly) Facebook argument about this, I said something like “OMG, how are we even related?!”. Our cousin pointed out that both of us caring enough about commas to have more than one argument about them is solid proof that we are, in fact, sisters. We’re also united in our scorn for people who double space after periods.

  11. AthenaC*

    As a natural micromanager myself, I was cured of that by being handed a volume of work where I simply could. not. micromanage the way that every fiber of my being was pulling me to do.

    So if you do end up with a micromanager, I know how to fix it! Overwhelm them. They will either: 1) go insane; or 2) learn how to NOT micromanage. #2 is what you want, obviously, but #1 will at least have some entertainment value.

    P.S. I’m kinda joking, but I am 100% serious about how my own micromanaging habits were fixed.

    1. Cucumberzucchini*

      This is partially how my micromanaging was fixed as well. That plus having staff I actually could trust to do their work well and completely.

      1. AthenaC*

        Fortunately, that was the pleasant surprise I received when I stopped micromanaging. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to have faith in my staff and find it was well-placed.

    2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Actually that’s exactly how I dealt with my not-horrible-micromanager boss. She was reasonable just a little paranoid/nosey about small little details that just did not matter (in my opinion – I get it she’s the boss she gets to decide this). She didn’t want me to re-do things/wasn’t impossible to please. She was just very anxious about being aware of every tiny step of the process.

      So I would bury her in info. CCed her on every single email. Sent an email everytime I was about to do something even slightly differently than ever done before. I didn’t enjoy it, but it was the compromise that worked for us.

  12. animaniactoo*

    Love the “don’t look so hard for one thing that you end up at another extreme” – too often people who are at one end of an extreme can’t see why the other end would be problematic, when it almost always is. You definitely would not want to end up with somebody who was so hands off that deadlines were an issue, etc.

  13. Marcy Marketer*

    I don’t think I even know what micromanaging is, much less how to screen for it in interviews! I work in marketing (obviously) and I have gone from having a totally hands-off boss (he was the CEO and I was the head of marketing) to having someone who feels like a micro-manager… but I’m also not sure if that’s just what a good marketing department director does? This is my first large marketing department.

    He will design over the shoulder of our designer sometimes, asking her to add boxes or tweak typography and stuff. He wants to approve everything including web graphics. He also reads every mass marketing email, press release, news story, announcement, etc, and makes a lot of (what seem like) arbitrary changes. I am afraid to make decisions for my area without convincing him first, so I will go to him with what I think should be the decision, get his approval, then document it, and then make the decision known. He is good about sticking with a decision once he’s made one. I don’t know… any fellow marketers want to weigh in on whether or not this is micro-managing? I interact with my boss probably about 5 times a day for approvals.

    1. Cristina*

      It depends a lot on how experienced the staff is and if this is just his MO or if it changes over time. In many companies it’s not uncommon to need to get a lot of approvals for something as major and public as the corporate website. But it would be weird to have to get approval for every word and image on a landing page unless it’s a very high-profile campaign or the staff creating the page is new or inexperienced. When I managed a content team, I would require more or fewer approvals depending on how new/skilled the writers were but the goal was never to have to approve every blog post for all eternity, but rather to address any overarching problems to enable the team to be more self-sufficient in the future.
      If your boss is a bottleneck so that nothing can move forward or if his feedback isn’t adding any value then I would say something needs to change. If he just wants to know where his budget is going, or to understand your reasoning for a decision, that seems reasonable to me.

    2. Manders*

      Honestly, if this guy isn’t creating a bottleneck with your work, he sounds just fine! I’m pretty sure a few rounds of proofreading and tweaks are normal on big marketing projects.

      I’m a marketer with two very hands-off managers. It’s nice that I’m trusted, but I find myself wishing for feedback from someone with more experience than me.

  14. Trout 'Waver*

    Would a question like, “How impactful would a problem need to be before you need your reports to bring it to your attention?” work? Especially if you tailored it to your specific position?

    Or flip it around and ask, “Tell me about a time your team was able to solve a problem without your direct input.”

    Maybe you can get at micromanagement by asking, “Do you prefer to have a second-in-command make the day-to-day decisions when you are unavailable or traveling?” Or, “How often do you check in with your team when you are traveling for work? How about when you’re on vacation?”

    1. fposte*

      I think that’s a good script, especially when based on local specifics. It’s kind of like the “Who do you find hard to manage?” question–you’re trying to find out what trips various triggers.

  15. Whats In A Name*

    I love this post and the questions and am definitely saving them for my own when I am determining whether or not to accept projects from companies in the future.

    I know OP says they want to screen out micromanagers, but I would watch with the blanket “micromanager” term. Do you want someone who is hands on the project side but hands of the time side? In an example above I listed 2 micromanagers I’ve worked for that were terrible, but I still prefer the micromanager.

    Do you want someone who will hold people accountable for work product but not watch their time like a hawk to the minute?

    Will they be expected to provide weekly (or monthly) feedback? Will they be managing a team with individual and team goals to meet or are they in deadline-driven positions?

    Do you want someone who is there to sign off on vacation requests and other than that pretty much let people come and go as they please?

    You might need one of these 3 but not all of them. I’d start with which quality of managing you need them for the most and weed people from there…because some micro-managing might be annoying but necessary.

  16. Anon 2*

    Great post. I also think it’s worthwhile asking about if there any specific duties that the manager perceives as more important than others. I had a boss who was generally very hands off, but when it came to certain things she was the micromanager from hell. The worst part was that you were never quite sure which items she would obsess over and which she wouldn’t. It took several years to work out her pattern.

  17. TootsNYC*

    Ask for references from subordinates. Or, reach out on your own to people who have worked for this person.

    I once was asked to be a reference for a boss, because her new employer required it.
    I thought it was brilliant of them.
    And I was able to tell them some really useful stuff about how she handled an employee who was backsliding, and how she communicated information, and how she handled employee development, etc. (She got the job.)

  18. mf*

    “Swooped in whenever it occurred to them” –> This right here. This is my boss. It’s one of the many reasons I’m looking for a new job. That and she insists on approving nearly every email I send before I send it.

    As the person interviewing for a position, what questions can I use to screen potential bosses to ensure they are not micromanagers? I’m thinking the following might work:

    *How do you communicate with the people you manage?
    *How do you handle it when you see that one of your employees is not performing to an acceptable standard?
    *How do you reward high achieving employees?
    *What kind of person do you like to work with and what kind of person would not work well with you?
    *When evaluating your employees’s performance, you have any pet peeves?
    *Given that everyone has something they’d probably like to change about their boss, what do you think your staff members would want to change about you if they could wave a magic wand over your head?

    Is the third one too presumptuous to ask of someone who is your potential boss? Any ideas for more questions I should add to my list?

    1. mf*

      By third one, I meant last one: “Given that everyone has something they’d probably like to change about their boss, what do you think your staff members would want to change about you if they could wave a magic wand over your head?”

  19. StellaClair*

    Three jobs later, and I’m finally getting over stress symptoms from a micromanaging grandboss that I had. She was the CEO of the company and I was a lowly coordinator for the sales department, and she would literally pop up out of nowhere to randomly check to see what I was doing at any given time. I was constantly looking over my shoulder and was terribly paranoid. Four years later, one stretch of working from home, and now having my back to a wall has finally removed the feeling that I’m constantly being watched.

  20. Argh!*

    Undermanagement is almost worse than micromanaging. You can get someone to stop micromanaging by demonstrating that things do indeed go well without their 2 cents (when they’re on vacation, for example) but getting an undermanager to step it up sometimes reveals an incompetent manager has been phoning it in and relying on subordinates’ skills to carry the load. When there’s a major change or a newbie, the cracks start to show.

  21. unclesamsniece*

    well i certainly recommend a brain scan and lie detector tests ( even though they will pass one) two screen for sociopathy/psychopathy, although someone who has a lot of empathy, could be a bad thing to , depending on the nature of the company

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