How to Vet Your Hiring Manager

Aside from your gut feelings during the job interview, how do you determine whether the hiring manager is someone you really want to work for? While it’s not politic to ask a manager for references, there are still ways to learn about his or her background, technical skills and approach to management.

Determining whether you’re a good fit with your hiring manager is important—if you accept the job, you’ll spend a lot of working hours with that person, so you need to feel comfortable with his or her management and technical skills.

Jeanne Knight, a Boston-based career and job-search coach, describes sizing up your would-be boss as “crucial” because of the impact he or she will have on your working life. “I have more clients looking to leave or who have left jobs because of the manager than anything else,” she said. “It’s vital to get a good sense of them.”

Start Early

Begin checking out the hiring manager early, even before you go in for an interview. In this day and age, the first step is probably obvious: Look them up on Google. You’re sure to find some information, whether a biography on a corporate website or trade-journal articles in which they’ve been quoted.

Other sources can prove equally useful. Darrell Pratt, director of software development at Cars.com, advises checking out GitHub (where you’ll see the manager’s open-source contributions, if any) and the websites of technical conferences (where the manager might have spoken on a panel or given a keynote). When he was interviewing at Cars.com, he found a video of a company vice president giving a talk at a conference; something like that, he said, “Gives you the immediate vibe of the person… You can see whether they have passion or whether their job is just a job.”

Armed with the results of your search, you’ll be able to ask better questions when talking to the manager in person. As Knight points out, interviews serve two purposes: “Half of your job is to sell yourself and your skills, but the other part is to assess whether the job, company, culture and would-be boss are right for you.”

That means it’s perfectly appropriate to ask questions about the manager’s technical background, as you want to understand how the person arrived in his or her current spot. Ask the manager about the company’s technical stack, and, as he or she describes the various features and frameworks, you’ll learn a lot about his or her expertise. “Ask open-ended questions about the stack,” Pratt suggested. “You may have a discussion that’s more architectural than anything else, but it will give you an idea of their abilities.”

What Are You Looking For?

Of course, much depends on what kind of boss you want. Some IT professionals prefer a manager who’s technically skilled, while others value “soft skills” far more. “You want to know they’re your champion,” Pratt said. “Are they growing talent? Do they hire people smarter than they are? You’re looking for a person who’s looking out for the team.”

Identifying such traits during a conversation can be tricky, so your approach here is important. Always keep the conversation light and ask questions in a positive way. Your goal, Knight added, is to begin a dialogue on what it’s like to work for this particular manager.

Start with a simple question: “What’s it like to work for you?” After that, probe a bit more by asking what the manager thinks his or her team likes about working for him or her, and what they might find frustrating. Knight also suggests asking the manager about the ideal characteristics of someone on his or her team. “If they describe someone who’s not you, it’s best not to take the job,” Knight advised.

You can learn a lot about the manager when you talk to team members, although you must phrase questions carefully and maintain a positive tone. For example, Pratt said, don’t ask whether a manager is “hard to work for.” Instead, you can inquire about “cool things you do as a team.”

Whether or not you interview with team members can tell you something. “It’s always a red flag for me when the manager doesn’t have candidates interview with others,” Knight said. “What’s that say about collaboration?”

And don’t worry that you might seem too forward: Vetting the hiring manager like this “is perfectly acceptable these days,” Pratt said. “When I’m interviewing, I tell people to ask me anything.” Managers who aren’t open to discussing their own backgrounds and roles, he observed, “probably aren’t the people you want to work with.”

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Image: Frank Gaertner/Shutterstock.com

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