Validating Character during PM interviews

Quick question on hiring PMs and the interview process. If you were to interview PM candidates to validate for character. What questions do you usually ask in order to find out if a candidate is a jerk?

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I find it useful to ask about a time they were wrong, and how they handled it. Gives a sense of their level of humility & ability to admit mistakes.

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Always helps to see how they respond to :point_down:

How would your current or last engineers / designers / manager / peer PM describe you?

It also helps to poke into their stakeholder management skills.
These questions might help:

  1. How did they handle delivering some bad news to their team?
  2. How did they handle conflicts within the team?
  3. How would they deal with a non performing team member?
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Though we are fully-remote, before the pandemic we would invite the candidate over for an in-person interview, just to get some of the softer things. This would include a full day of interviews, mixed with lunch with potential future team mates. (this is for any role, not just PM).

During this, instead of just relying on the interview itself, we would pay a lot of attention to how the candidate behaves with others, not just those who are hiring them but someone potentially junior to them, even the housekeeping staff. Maybe the restaurant waiter if we go out for lunch. It’s amazing how much you can know about a person when they don’t think they are being evaluated.

This is tricky though - because we also don’t want to just hire “likeable” people who might not be right for the job. The aim here was not to find the most polite or nice people, but just to filter out obvious jerks.

On the work side of things, trying to understand how they allocate blame/credit for work done in the past, especially in things that obviously need team work for success. The worst candidates tend to take up all the credit and place all the blame on other team members for any failures.

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Someone once asked me: What factor has luck played in your success? That is generally my go-to. It gives them a chance to reflect on all the people/circumstances that have helped them along.

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Great questions. Especially when you ask them about past behavior, which predicts future behavior, I will start with how you work with X (X is the stakeholder, e.g., Engineers).
Let them answer the Q. Then, ask them about the past behavior.
If there is no congruence, then there is an issue.

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I think it’s also worth listing out the qualities and behaviours you want to see in a person.

Different companies have different cultures and might encourage different things. So what might be a jerk to you may be accepted behaviour elsewhere.

For example Twitter’s head of Product recently was profiled in a NYT article as being very blunt or hard-hitting in his feedback and some people did not appreciate that.

Maybe also think through edge cases. Neuro diverse people may present or emote differently which may make them appear to be a jerk when in reality they might not be.

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As a smaller team we like to do a “Christmas party” interview with the wider team. It’s a more informal 20-30min chat where the team can ask about their interests and they can ask about the culture and people.

The gauge at the end (discounted for bias and diversity) “would you want to sit next to this person at the end of year function?”

It’s not a perfect measure, but ends up picking up a whole bunch of softer things and gives the candidate a good sense of how the team members engage.

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@PriyaVarma, +1 on this question. To build on this, there’s a top-grading technique which helps you get more candid responses. The conversation goes like:

  • Who was the [tech lead/manager/other PM] that you worked with?
  • What was their name?
  • What were they like to work with?
  • If I was to ask [name], how would they describe what you were like to work with?
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Through this line of question you not only get insights into them that are easily verified with [name], you also see how they talk about other people. If there were issues and they are avoiding talking about it openly, it’s a red flag.

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When evaluating potential employees, it’s important to consider not only their qualifications but also their personalities. If an applicant has stellar credentials but isn’t honest or doesn’t work well with others, she might be a detriment to the team instead of an asset. During the interview, throw in a few questions designed to assess her character and provide a glimpse into her values and morals.

  1. Body Language. Nonverbal cues can tell you as much or even more than an applicant’s words.
  2. Interactions With Others.
  3. Response to Stress.
  4. Behavioral Questions.

Job interviewers ask assertive behavior questions to learn about a candidate’s level of assertive verbal and physical behavior in past employment situations. This information helps the interviewer predict the candidate’s level of confidence and likely future behavior. Although there are various types of scenarios that interviewers can explore, many review assertive behavior as it relates to three types of common workplace behavior.

  1. Proactive Behavior
  2. Inspiration Behavior
  3. Confrontation Behavior
  4. Additional Purpose