Why asking about your management style is a poor interview question

at some point it will claim your soul for good
Creative Commons License photo credit: bsdfm

Asking about a manager’s management style is necessary to determine if you are okay with the job or, if you are a manager, your management style fits in with the company.

But if you ask “Describe your management style” in an interview, you will fail to discern the real management approach. Seriously, how many managers will tell you, after asking for their management style, that they micromanage the daylight out of the team, scream at them when they make a mistake and think that career development is something only loony people do? Not many.

Instead, you’ll get that great “work with the team” and “open door policy” crap you hear on Corporate Speak all the time. And you end up hiring an unknown management style or working for someone where you really don’t know the management style. Even though you asked. Then you pay for not asking the right questions.

Management style needs specifics

You can’t ask a general question and get a specific answer. Instead, you need to figure out some specific questions that you can ask that will reveal a manager’s style. You need to develop them along the lines of what managers are expected to do in the company (if you are interviewing a manager) or how you like to be managed (if you are interviewing to work for a manager).

Without the specifics, you’ll never get to the real management approach to employees and company problems that will help you know what you are getting from a candidate or hiring manager.

Ask about situations to get to specifics

Instead of asking the general question about management style, place the manager in specific situations and then ask how this person would handle it. Situations like:

  • Tell me about a time you had to give difficult performance feedback to one of your employees. How did you handle it?
  • If I told you your first major task was to layoff 10% of your employees, how would you go about determining who to lay off?
  • One of the challenges the department faces is too high of expenses. Tell me, how would you go about trimming 5% off the current budget?
  • Tell me how you track employee performance and then deliver performance reviews.
  • Tell me when micro-managing an employee makes good management sense.

Much tougher to give you one of those “communicate with the team” kinds of answers, isn’t it?

Delve deeper for good answers

Knowing the management style of the manager you are interviewing or the manager you would work for is very important as it matches up your best way of managing with the person you are interviewing. But you can’t ask the general question; you must ask questions that put the manager in a position to describe the actions the manager would take to resolve the situation you present.

Figure out the situations that will reveal the management style you need. Then ask about how the manager would handle the situation. Asked. And answered.

6 Responses to Why asking about your management style is a poor interview question

  1. ed han says:

    It's such a simple concept, I can't believe I didn't think of this myself!

    I'm guilty of asking “what's your management style?” We're all familiar with the behavioral interview question format and turning it around just makes sense. Excellent!

  2. Scot Herrick says:

    Interviews are stressful situations, though, so even though this may seem simple, people don't think if it. Instead, they are more concerned about answering questions instead of great questions to ask the interviewer.

    It's a good flip — but you have to know how you liked being managed so you can construct good situations for you.

    • amanuel says:

      Sometimes it’s really hard to answer such management style because in reality we have different style in managing our own office. It’s a case to case basis, and it depends on the people you have. You can be strict if it needs arises, same as do for lax if on a certain situations. Answering such is hard, that’s why when employer asks regarding this, applicants alike are groping for their answers because really there’s no right answer for the questio

      • Scot Herrick says:

        But you would prefer to operate one way versus another. Sure, you can micromanage — but is that what you prefer to do with a team? Yes, you can be strict with a team, but is that what you prefer? Asking a management style question is only one part of figuring out how a manager operates. Asking straight away what management style is in use doesn’t aid your cause too much because it is too theoretical and doesn’t bring out what actions the manager uses in situations — “How do you approach an employee whose performance is sliding?” Much better because the manager has to show actions.

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