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8 Interview Questions/Topics to Ask Managerial Candidates (and Why)

Posted by: Karen Booher on February 16th, 2021

Many interview questions that you ask managerial candidates should be different than for staff-level candidates. Your managers will be supervising, mentoring, motivating, guiding, and evaluating their staff, and therefore need a broader skill set and experience base. Try some of these suggestions from Glassdoor for Employers:

1.  How would you describe the culture in your department? How would your employees describe the culture in your department?

What this tells you: The manager’s reflectiveness, or lack thereof, will indicate whether they are in touch with the idea of building a great culture, or are out-of-touch or don’t think culture is a priority. If the manager is stumped or slow to respond, they probably haven’t given this topic much thought. However, if they respond enthusiastically that their team would describe a positive, empowerment culture where they are safe to express opinions and take calculated risks, then you are probably interviewing a manager who understands the importance of fostering a meaningful and employee-centered culture.

2.  What was one of the most difficult-to-achieve, but gratifying milestones in your career so far?

What this tells you:  This question shows what gives them a sense of growth and satisfaction and an indication of what motivates them in their career.

3.  What would your highest performing employee say about you? What would your most struggling employee say about you?

What this tells you:  This gives you plenty of opportunities to unearth how in touch the manager is with their employees’ development, successes, opportunities to improve, etc. It provides insight into their mentoring and coaching skills, as well as empathy.

4.  In your last 2-3 roles, what was your biggest impact? How did you help the company grow, or gain market share, or increase client base, or improve profitability?

What this tells you: By asking this question about more than one of their recent positions, it helps to uncover a theme. Do they consistently make positive contributions at their organizations and how might they be able to benefit your own company?

5.  Who have you promoted and why? Do you have a process for mentoring and developing your employees?

What this tells you: Again, this speaks to their people management, coaching, and mentoring skills and the ability to respond to their team members’ needs and goals.

6.  How would you describe your management style? How would your employees describe your management style?

What this tells you: This question gets to the heart of the candidate. Where do their words focus – on the employees/teams; on the company; on themselves; equally divided among the three? Are they hands-on; hands-off; a mix of the two; concerned about building a happy place to work? Are their answers to both questions in-sync?

7.  What was the biggest failure you had in one of your recent roles? How did you respond to the situation? What did you learn?

What this tells you: This question will help identify the manager’s capacity and willingness to admit mistakes as well as how they respond to and learn from them which is imperative to their long-term success.

8.  What is your favorite technology and/or digital tool, and why? How has it supported your goals as a manager?

What this tells you: With today’s ever-evolving technology landscape, it is important to assess a manager’s comfortability and acceptance of a broad range of technological tools.

Bonus Interview Question – a Favorite of Elon Musk’s

According to SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, it’s not about what school you went to or your level of education. Musk looks for “evidence of exceptional ability” when it comes to hiring. “If there’s a track record of exceptional achievement, then it’s likely that that will continue into the future,” he said in a 2017 interview.

“Tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.”

The way someone responds to this, and the level of detail provided, gives Musk insight as to whether they are just saying they are the best at what they do versus really having achieved what they said (i.e., are they lying or telling the truth?).

According to Musk, the people who really solved the problem know exactly how they solved it and can (and will) describe the little details. His method hinges on the idea that someone making a false claim will lack the ability to back it up convincingly, so he wants to hear them talk about how they worked through a thorny issue, step by step.


  1. Glassdoor for Employers, “15 Interview Questions to Ask When Hiring a Manager”, by Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Feb 10, 2021.
  2. CNBC make it. “Elon Musk asks this question at every interview to spot a liar – why science says it actually works”, by Tom Popomaronis, Contributor, Jan 26, 2021.

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