Interviewing internal candidates

I’m interviewing some internal candidates for Director PM and Director PD roles. I’d like to structure the interview to help role play some of their coaching skills. Any suggestions for common coaching scenarios I can pose to help me understand how they would approach it in a real world situation?

  1. How do you identify people in your team who are starting to disengage and are going to be leaving within 6 months? What did you do about it?
  2. In what situation do you « give a break » to the people in your team?
  3. What is the last time you helped someone by just being a good sounding board? Extra brownie points if they give an example with someone not directly reporting to them.

Oh those are excellent. I can modify that since these candidates don’t have direct coaching experience, but I can help make it about engineers or designers they work with. Thanks @Karan

  • Tell me about a time when a performance improvement plan (PIP) was a net positive for the individual where their performance materially shifted. What happened? What was your role in that? What did you learn from it? How would you handle it differently if you had to do it again?
  • Tell me about a time when you saw a PM on another team struggling. What was the scenario, what did you do to help them? How did it turn out?
  • Tell me about a time you had someone on the team that was defensive / argumentative / disgruntled / etc… and then you were able to break through and connect with them. What happened? What worked, what didn’t? What advice would you give to another leader dealing with a similar situation?

One thing to keep in mind, most senior candidates are really strong at saying what they should do in a given situation. So framing a question as “How would you tackle X problem…” will almost always get a strong answer. Framing as “Tell me about a time when…” and then using follow up questions to get all the details gives you a better view of what they actually did when they were faced with a tough situation.


Wonderful tips and suggestsions, but I would love to discuss PIP on a 1:1 basis because this is a very sensitive issue.

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Thanks for the suggestions! (Some have not been in a manager relationship directly before, so that’s why I went the scenario route, though I made sure other interviews focused on past experience),Here’s what I ended up using, and each scenario I use follow ups to role play their coaching.

  1. After a few weeks in this role, one of your direct reports asks you about your decision making style and how team decisions will be made. How do you respond?

  2. [based on what they say, I.e., “I look for data and evidence”…]

Fast forward 6 months. The engineering manager on that direct reports team meets with you and says that the team is slowing down and the PM is hesitant to make decisions. They keep citing “I need [rationale for how Director said they make decisions].”

  1. A team is running on all cylinders on a new project – they feel really motivated. They’ve been consistently delivering new features but usage of them is really low. The PM is pointing the finger at Marketing, who should have been highlighting the features in emails. They know these are the right things to build, it’s just that other teams are hiding them from the users.

  2. What questions do you have? What steps do you need to take?

  3. How do they know? – They talked to someone on the exec team, and were told the exec team said this was really important. Said that this would bring in lots of revenue and get the company to profitability. [Does the candidate take the PMs word at face value or dig into what work they’ve done?]

  4. A PM wants to sunset a part of the business. They say its hurting the team in maintenance and wants you to advocate it to leadership, bc they feel like if they say it the Exec team will ignore them. [Do they help the PM advocate and build the relationship? Do they dig into the case being made? Or do they take it on themselves?]

  5. The CPO tells you that the exec team has made a decision, and a product feature you personally disagree with is going to be built. One of your direct report’s teams will need to upend their roadmap to build it. Model the conversation with your direct report to let them know the change in plans.

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