Eight traits of good hiring managers

Good managers mostly hire good people and sometimes hire the wrong people whereas bad managers always hire the wrong people. This is the conclusion I have come to in my 15 year career. What do I define as a bad hiring manager? – one who does not have good managerial skills, feels insecure and hence tends to hire someone worse than him/her because they feel threatened if their hires are better/smarter than them. I have seen at least four such managers in my career based on the quality and hence the resulting performance of their hires.

So what are the traits of good managers:

1) They hire people smarter than them: The whole purpose of hiring people is to get work done. Good managers don’t want to lose sleep over the performance of their reports. They want people who can work with minimal direction, whose work will reflect their pride, who will go the extra mile to get the job done.They do not micro manage, they allow you to put your artistic touch to your work as long as you meet the business goals. They realize that ownership brings the best out of good people.

2) Their success is defined by the team’s success: They are fully aware that their success is determined by their team’s success. They work to remove the hurdles limiting their team and to ensure that the team is marching forward.

3) They identify and credit their team members in public for job well done: They don’t take any credit for the work done – they identify in public the people who toiled to get the job done. They relish their team’s success. They make sure that their team members get the visibility in front of their superiors or executive management. You will see them use “we” more than they would use “I”.

4) They praise in public and advise in private: People need constant encouragement and direction when things go wrong. Managers work with team members privately to reflect on mistakes and work out an action plan to fix it going forward. They use the feather to slap one’s hand and never the hammer unless they are forced to. They give immediate feedback good or bad so that successes get repeated and mistakes get corrected.

5) They train their replacements: Good managers want to move their career forward. They realize that they cannot do this until they groom someone to eventually replace them in the current job. They realize that they owe it to their current employer if they choose to leave the company.

6) They never treat all of their direct reports the same but fairly: They realize that people are different and hence one cannot treat everyone the same. Some need more assistance than others. It is more important that they are fair and transparent in the decisions they make. They set goals for their team members and reward good performance and more importantly penalize bad performance. The process is transparent and the team members don’t hold any ill will on decisions made.

7) They treat their direct reports as human beings: After all, it is not just all work. They encourage their reports to take time off to recharge themselves. They remind them to get a life outside work. In essence, they care about their team member’s well being because it directly impacts your productivity at work.

8. They cut their losses when they make hiring mistakes: When they make those bad hiring decisions, they cut their losses when it is clear that things will not work out in spite of their best efforts. They are not afraid to admit their hiring mistakes. This sends message to the rest of the team that good performance is valued and everyone is expected to equally share the workload.

So how do you find out during the hiring process if you will be working for a good manager or a total jerk? It is tough because it is easy to hide but you may be able to get some early warning signals. Here are eight ways you could possibly find out:

1) Ask the hiring manager directly about their management style.

2) Ask them about some of the successes of their team – see if it is all “I did this, I did this” and not “we did this” – do they name people on their team while they talk about the successes?

3) Ask others who you would be interviewing with (in an indirect way) including those who would be your peers about the manager’s management style. If someone takes issue with this, it may not be a good place to work after all.

4) They let you ask questions during the interview that let you get a better understanding about the job and about their management style.

5) How much do they grill you to make sure you are the right person for the job? Good managers want to make sure you indeed have the “smarts” or “skills” that you claim in your resume.

6) How well do they talk about the company’s success and work that needs to be done?

7) How long is the interview process? In good companies, interviews are likely to be multiple rounds because the company cares a whole lot about their hiring process.

8. Are they excited when they talk about what the company is doing and what the team is accomplishing?

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4 Responses to Eight traits of good hiring managers

  1. NA Hill says:

    This is interesting, there was actually just an entry posted on How To Be A Good Product Manager about how hiring managers and product managers interact. Must be in the air.

    You make a lot of good points but it seems like there’s a fundamental flaw in your positioning, namely that the “hiring” manager is not always the one who will be managing the team members after the fact (sometimes project/product managers are also hiring managers, but not always). It seems like you use them interchangeably here.

    Really, I think a hiring manager lives and dies by his hiring decisions (obviously); you make the point that good ones hire team members that are smarter than them. The best ones also delegate the task of hiring to those more equipped; some of the greatest hiring managers I’ve worked with have used recruiters or recruiting sites like dayak exclusively. This effectively mitigates the amount of loss when a situation such as in your #8 comes up (good recruiting resources have some kind of “probation” period). But, they also weren’t afraid to admit when they (or the recruiter) had made an error and to do what had to be done to fix it.

    But, from there on out the hiring manager may or may not be involved in a particular team members’ success. It’s funny because some of the best hiring managers I’ve known (the ones that got the best candidates) were somewhat crappy project managers. They could find talent, but they could never seem to point it in the right direction…

  2. markcarter says:

    That was a good read. Well said. You both have good points.

  3. gopalshenoy says:

    In my definition “hiring manager” is the one to whom the candidate would report to. Given this, I will not outsource recruiting of full time employees to anyone if I am the hiring manager. Recruiters can get me resumes, but the final decision will be made by me – I have to make decisions such as does this candidate fill the role I need to fill? how does he culturally fit into the organization? etc. – decisions that recruiters cannot make for me.

    Even if I am hiring a consultant, I will do due diligence, because even though the downside of having to let go a consultant is lesser, enough damage can be done by the consultant if he/she is not a right fit. Plus having to start the hiring process again is added cost in terms of money and time.

  4. Tim R says:

    I’m a little late to the party here (just discovered your blog). But, I would say that nearly all of these points should be seen even more broadly: The Eight Traits of Good Managers (hiring or otherwise). I am particularly biased towards managers who believe in hiring people smarter than themselves, planning for succession and, most importantly, sharing the credit for the team’s work.

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