How to weed out ‘bad people managers’ in interviews

bad people manager

A once happy workplace is now tense. The department is fragmented. Everyone is gossiping and we’ve lost some great talent recently. It’s starting to look like a revolving door.

Does this sound familiar? It could be the result of a “bad people manager,” someone who is unable to inspire a team, and in some cases, can even make life miserable for others. Such a negative influence can have a profound impact on a work environment and a company’s bottom line. How can you avoid this scenario? It all starts with the interview and the approach you take when looking for managers.

When interviewing someone for a leadership role, we often look for experience and technical skills, but this isn’t always a good measure of a person’s leadership abilities. So what can you do to weed out bad people managers?

Start by looking for confidence and communication skills

According to Elisa Palombi, executive coach and partner at BIGLife Group, anyone can be a leader, but the distinction lies in whether a person is able and willing to step into their leadership capacity.

“Confidence is very important, having that self-assurance, knowing what you stand for, believing in your values – that’s what makes great leaders,” explains Palombi.

Gavin Robinson, president of Robinson Organizational Consulting agrees and says, speaking candidly, objectively, and with integrity is a must for great leaders.

“Relationship skills are much more critical to leadership and a company’s bottom line, than knowledge-based assets. Organizations across the board are gaining an appreciation of that,” he says.

In previous generations, leadership focused on IQ assessments, smart titles, and letters behind your name. If you had an MBA for example, you were deemed to have great leadership potential. Palombi says this trend has changed drastically in recent years. “Today, social intelligence is much more important than an MBA for example, in assessing leadership capabilities.”

Robinson also notes: “You can train someone for a technical skill set, but that has very little correlation to how effective a person can be as a true leader.”

To build organizational leadership, first consider the three leadership pillars that candidates should have:

  1. Relatability (how good is this person at building rapport with others?)
  2. Authenticity (does this person “walk the talk?”)
  3. Transparency (does this person have a “what you see is what you get” approach?)

Here are some tips to consider when hiring someone for a leadership role:

Look for how the candidate treats people at various levels of the organization

Were they nice to your receptionist? Do they treat entry-level talent differently from senior level talent? This can be a good indication of whether they can get people to work together, or if they may have a divisive effect.

Pay close attention to the way they communicate

Does the candidate speak clearly? Great leaders tend to be more clear, concise, and articulate than others. They also tend to have inviting body language – beyond what they are saying, it’s about how they are saying it.

Ask questions about their experience

Behavioural questions can sometimes get you scripted responses, but at the very least, it’s a good opportunity to further gauge an applicant’s communication skills.

Here are some questions you can ask to get a sense of their past leadership experience:

    • To focus on how a candidate brings people together: Tell me about a time when there was a conflict you had to resolve between two different departments. How did you get everyone onside?
    • To uncover a candidate’s leadership philosophy: For you, what makes a great leader versus a not-so-great leader?
    • To dig deeper on a candidate’s own leadership approach: Tell me about a leader in your previous company that you liked. What did they do that you liked and what would you have done differently?
    • To see if a candidate solicits candid feedback from his or her team: What do people like about you in a management role? What have you been told as a manager? Where do you need to improve?
    • To see if a candidate has thought through his or her future plans (because great leaders stay at least two or three steps ahead of their team, and that thinking must start with their own goals): Where do you see yourself in five years? Walk me through your process of how you will get there.

Great leaders need to keep people motivated, so this is the ultimate skill HR and hiring managers need to seek out for leaders in their organization.


Julie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions. After a decade and a half of recruiting top talent, she is a veteran in her field. Fluent in both English and French, Julie also provides bilingual placement and expertise. She works closely with both business and HR executives and job candidates, and can offer insights into the strategies, nuances and psychology of the hiring process.


See also:
Eight interview mistakes hiring managers make
What you need to stop asking in interviews (and what to ask instead)


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