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Should Subordinate Employees be Allowed to Interview Their New Boss?

Posted by Bob Corlett on March 25, 2014

When you're looking to hire a new leader for a team, should you let the employees interview their potential new boss and weigh in on the decision?

If you think employees should be allowed to interview their prospective boss, you probably have the goal of being inclusive. After all, they have quite a bit at stake in the decision. The employees are the first to notice (and suffer) if you make a hiring mistake.

You may even think you are demonstrating respect for the subordinates by including them. But it’s not respect. It’s a mistake.

Let’s bring a quick and merciful death to this bad idea. You should never let a subordinate interview their prospective boss. Sure, they should be part of the hiring process, but they should never be present as an interviewer.

Why including subordinates in the interview is awkward

The new manager can’t ask about deficiencies on the team, the subordinate can’t ask tough follow-up questions, and the whole conversation devolves into a kabuki dance of avoided topics.

Maybe you are looking for a new manager because the old one did not hold the staff accountable. And guess what? Any employees who were living on easy street because they were not held accountable will not be happy with a new manager who is dedicated to increased oversight. 

Or maybe you need to enhance your senior management team with a particular kind of skills, leadership qualities, or cogntive style. The subordiate employees may not understand why those traits are necessary to the dynamics of the senior management team. They might be confused why it’s a necessary element of what you deem to be a good hire, and simply find the candidate not to be "a cultural fit." 

Ultimately, what subordinates say about their potential superior should not count for much. The subordinate won’t have the perspective and judgment to accurately assess someone’s effectiveness in the management role. They won’t know where you want to go with the position long term. They won’t understand the details of what you expect in the position aside from what’s written in the job description. 

Subordinates with that kind of judgment would probably be a candidate for the job themselves, and without it, how can their judgment of a candidate be useful? So if you include them, and then ignore their opinion, have you really shown them any real respect?

One area where employee input is valuable

Relying on any employee’s input during an interview doesn’t make sense – except in regard to the simple question, “Do you think you can work with this person?” It’s a very important question for both candidates and their prospective team. 

Luckily, there are simple ways to get the answer without undue awkwardness. Consider arranging either of the following scenarios:

  • A walk-by, standing meeting – “Hey, Joanne, around 2:15 p.m. I might walk past your desk with one of our final candidates so you two can chat for a minute.” This keeps the meeting purposefully brief.
  • A brief conference room meeting with only a few subordinates invited (not a team meeting).

In either scenario, ask your team members to be ready to brief the finalist about a work project and allow some room for a few questions and a bit of conversation about the work. Let the candidate know that it’s not an interview, it’s a briefing. “Linda, let me introduce you to Jane. Jane’s spent the last six months leading the development of our new website. Jane, why don’t you tell Linda where you are with that effort?”

The briefing format is a benefit for both parties. It’s a much closer mirror of an actual work environment than an interview panel. The incoming manager gains insight into the team members and how they think about their job. The team gains insight into how their new manager thinks. And no one has to feel awkward.

 

 

If you want to stop wasting your time on the irrelevant, superficial aspects of interviewing, and start understanding the deeper elements that predict the success of your new hires, read our post on How to Conduct a Job Interview so Top Performers Actually Want to Take Your Job.  And, if this information was helpful, but you prefer your research and information to be more attractively formatted and easier to share, just download our Employer Guide to Interviewing. 

Employer Guide to Interviewing | Staffing Advisors

This article originally appeared in The Business Journal

Topics: Interviewing Executives, Hiring Process