Last week, I spent several hours sitting in a conference room alongside my colleagues, interviewing potential candidates for a high-level position in my organization.
In the professional world, this is nothing new. Many organizations conduct extensive and thorough searches when they’re trying to fill top jobs. Once the field is narrowed down to a few final candidates, they bring them in to meet and interview with various members of the company or organization.
I have spent many hours participating in such interviews over the course of my career. But for me, this one was a little different. As we left the room at the end of the interview, a colleague from another department tapped me on the shoulder and said “Wasn’t that a little weird for you?”
“A little,” I admitted with a smile.
He was referring to the fact that I had just participated in interviewing candidates to be my own boss.
The job search and career guides don’t always prepare us for this situation. We’re used to sitting on the other side of the interview table, trying to convince the person who might become that we’re the best choice for the job. Few and far between are the instances where we’ll be helping to choose our own boss.
But obviously, these scenarios aren’t unheard of. In certain organizations, particularly if you are in a management role yourself, you may end up involved in selecting a replacement for your own supervisor if he or she leaves or retires. It is a unique, tricky, and interesting situation. On the one hand, you’re helping to choose the best candidate for the job, just as you would with any other search. On the other hand, it is almost impossible not to think about your own personal needs and wants in a supervisor when you’re meeting and talking with candidates.
In addition, you can bet on the fact that the candidates will be sizing you up as a potential employee even as they’re trying to wow you and your colleagues. After all, when you’re thinking of making a career move that will involve inheriting a staff, the work and personalities of those people will have a major impact on your success.
So, how do you participate in the hiring process for a potential boss and help your company choose the best candidate while looking out for your own needs and leaving that person with a positive impression of you?
Be Appreciative of the Opportunity
The first thing you’ll need to do is get yourself into a positive mind frame regarding the whole experience. This can be difficult, particularly if you fear change or have a good working relationship with your current boss and hate to see her go.
The easiest way to gear up for the experience is to realize that in many ways, you’re quite lucky. Your organization is giving you a voice in selecting the person who will lead your unit or department. As stressful as getting a new boss can be, isn’t participating in the process better than just having the higher level executives make the selection all on their own without considering feedback from those who will be impacted the most by the decision?
Treat each interview or meeting as a chance to learn as much as you can about the candidates, and to leave them with the best possible impression of you. Remember that it is important to put your best face forward to all of the interviewees, regardless of your initial impressions of them. Any one of them could end up being your next boss, and you’ll want to start out on a positive note.
Give the Impression That You View the Upcoming Change as an Exciting Possibility
Your relationship with your current boss will impact how you feel about someone new coming in. If you feel your current boss is unfair, too demanding, or too lax and ineffective, then you may be welcoming this opportunity. Or you may find yourself so jaded that you have trouble believing things could get better.
On the other hand, if you’ve found your current boss to be a strong leader and mentor, then you’re going to be experiencing sadness and fear about his departure. It will be difficult to imagine that someone new can come in and fill his shoes.
Whatever the case, you’ll need to present a hopeful and excited face during the interview process. If it comes up in discussion, it is okay to express loyalty to your current boss and even show that you’re saddened by his moving on. Being aware of your bosses’ strengths and value to the organization shows the newcomer that you value a good leader. But you should also make it clear that you are looking forward to working with someone who has new ideas and visions, and want to do your part to help them transition as they take the helm.
Be Positive About the Organization
No one knows the quirks and challenges of an organization better than those already working there. As you interview a new boss, you may feel almost obligated to warn her about issues and problems. Or maybe you want to put your department’s ongoing struggles on the table to see how she’ll react to them, as a way of seeing whether or not she’ll be able to handle the pressure.
But now isn’t the time to bluntly express your frustrations about understaffing or lack of resources. Remember that the potential boss is assessing you even as you’re forming your impression of her. You want to come across as positive and willing to work towards creative solutions, not as frustrated and looking for someone to “fix it” all for you.
It is okay to try to make candidates aware of issues and talk about how they may handle them. Just put a positive spin on your discussion. If you want to know how she would lead an understaffed, under-resourced organization and still manage to get things accomplished, talk about how your teams works hard to overcome circumstances and works towards creative problem solving, and ask about her experiences doing the same.
Talk about what you like as well as what may concern you about your workplace.
Ask Questions About the Candidate’s Goals and Ideas
Why does the candidate want to come into a leadership role with your organization? What goals would he have for your department? What are his ideas about running an operation such as yours, and how will his experience help him along the way?
These are types of questions you’ll want to ask your potential bosses. Beginning these conversations both opens the door to learning more about his visions for your workplace and gives you the opportunity to show that you have your own thoughts on what the goals of your operation should be.
Be Prepared to Answer Questions About Your Own Goals and Responsibilities
When you go on a job interview, the questions you ask of those who are interviewing you are almost as telling as how you respond to their inquiries. Those competing to be your boss will be well aware of this and want to put their best foot forward. With potential employees, this usually means trying to learn about what they do, what challenges they face, and what goals they have for their own work areas.
Come to your meetings prepared to discuss these things with your potential bosses. Answering these types of questions thoroughly, clearly and positively will go a long way towards making a good impression.
Show Your Own Leadership and Communication Abilities
How you carry yourself during a meeting with a potential boss is just as important as what you say.
Be warm, receptive and make eye contact. Smile and do your best to make her feel welcome. Introduce her to other colleagues in the room she may not have yet met. Take a lead role in asking relevant questions and fostering discussion. Take notes on her responses. When she asks general questions of the group, be among those who chime in with thoughtful answers.
Avoid Being Unintentionally Confrontational
In an extensive search, you’re almost sure to run into a few candidates you don’t overly impress you.
Maybe a candidate had a very strong resume and managed to impress your organization’s leaders in his initial phone interview. But faced with a group in a face-to-face interview, his communications skills fail him. You’re sure that if he can’t even handle a meeting with your committee without fidgeting, stammering and constantly referring to his notes that he’ll never be able to be the advocate your department needs in a boss.
Or maybe he comes in blustering and full of radical ideas for drastic changes in the way you do business, and leaves you feeling that he’d steamroll you and the others in your unit.
Either way, your initial impression is that this candidate isn’t the best choice for your organization. It can be tempting in either situation to challenge him with barrages of difficult questions, putting him on the spot. It can be almost impossible to avoid showing your concern in your own body language. Avoid doing so. Ask the same questions of all the candidates you meet, and be equally warm and professional to each of them.
Your chance to share your concerns about a candidate will come later, when you’re providing feedback to those who will do the hiring. Remember that in spite of your negative reaction, the person in front of you could end up being your next boss. You don’t want him to perceive you as uncooperative or resentful before he even sets foot in his new office.
Look at the Big Picture
When interviewing a potential boss, it is hard not to focus on the needs of your department and what you’re personally seeking in a manager above all else. But remember that there’s more to your supervisor’s role than the day-to-day issues and operations of your unit.
When forming an overall impression of a candidate, also think about how she’ll be able to relate and interact with customers, other departments and the executives in your organization. A leader is not only a team-builder and mentor on the inside, but an advocate on the outside.
The candidate who shows potential to be well-received and taken seriously by executives may be the one most likely to obtain needed recognition and resources for your department. The person with a solid reputation in your profession will be best able to attract customers and establish trust in your business community. Their understanding of day-to-day practices and ability to manage staff and operations internally is critical, but these other factors are also worth considering.
Give Fair and Professional Feedback
If you’ve been asked to participate in interviews, you’re going to want to follow up with the person or people who will actually be hiring your boss.
Whether your feedback is delivered in writing or through a face-to-face meeting, be sure to discuss the pros and cons of all candidates. Be honest in your concerns, but express them fairly and professionally. Try to find something positive to share about each candidate, even when sharing concerns. Be very clear about the fact that you will recognize the strengths of and work to build a cohesive team with whoever is eventually chosen.
Remember that the way you deliver your feedback will greatly impact how seriously it is considered by the hiring managers. Back up your thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate with your own expertise about the needs of your department.
Being involved in the hiring of your boss is an interesting but also awkward situation. When you find yourself facing it remember that you’re there because your opinion is valuable part of finding the best candidate for the job. While assessing the candidates, remember that they’ll be forming first impressions of you. Whatever the outcome, you can’t go wrong by presenting yourself as a positive and proactive member of your organization, and a leader in your own right.