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Having employees interview their potential new manager is a terrible idea. Here's why from a senior leader at Amazon.

Brandon Southern   

Having employees interview their potential new manager is a terrible idea. Here's why from a senior leader at Amazon.
  • Brandon Southern is a senior leader at Amazon and former head of analytics at eBay and GameStop.
  • He writes that its a terrible idea for companies to have employees interview their future managers.

As a senior leader at Amazon and a tech veteran for 20 years, I've been involved with hundreds of interviews across several companies. When a new management position is opened within a company, there's one interview practice that has never made any sense to me — having direct reports interview their future manager.

I've never used this practice as an interviewer, but as a candidate, I've experienced this in approximately 25% of the leadership roles that I've interviewed for throughout my career. While I've received offers from companies that use this practice, I think it's a terrible idea and companies should think twice before using it.

The purpose of the interview is to determine if a candidate can likely perform the duties of the job and if they'd be a good fit for the team. Getting feedback from the candidate's potential direct reports might seem like a good idea.

However, there's a conflict of interest and potential misalignment with the needs of the organization.

One of the interviewees may feel they deserve the position and they could select a bad candidate

When a new management position is opened, it's not uncommon for at least one existing team member to believe that they should be promoted to manager of the team.

Unfortunately, management had likely already evaluated the existing team members and determined that none of the existing employees qualified for the position. This might be why it was opened to outside candidates instead of promoting someone internally to that level. When this happens, there's a good chance the existing team member probably isn't too happy about not receiving the position and they might also be upset that they have to interview a candidate for a job they feel they deserve.

This creates a bit of tension and raises questions about how the existing employees may evaluate the candidate. It's difficult to say if they'd be truly objective and pick the most qualified candidate, the least qualified candidate, or simply someone they like the most.

When picking the most qualified candidate, the current employee will have to accept a potentially harsh reality

The current employee might have to accept that they weren't ready for a promotion. Also, by approving a qualified candidate for the position, the employee is likely confirming that they won't be getting promoted anytime soon, unless this new hire fails at the job. This is the second concern.

Given the potential conflict of interest, the employee may select a low-caliber candidate, creating an opportunity for them to outshine the new manager. If the employee is successful, they may feel that they have leverage to justify when they should replace the manager.

This usually isn't a recipe for success, but there's nothing preventing these thoughts and the potential conflict of interest. But even if there isn't a conflict of interest with direct reports interviewing their future manager, there is another potential problem.

They may select the most likable candidate instead of the most qualified candidate

It's probably safe to assume that existing leaders didn't feel that any of the current employees were qualified to perform the duties of the management position. If there is a lack of qualification to perform the position, there's likely an even greater lack of qualifications to evaluate a candidate for the position.

This means that instead of picking the most qualified candidate, the existing team members may pick the most likable candidate. If this outcome occurs, the company isn't setting themselves up for long-term success.

Interviewers need to avoid bias

Interviewers need to have the proper experience, qualifications, and training to properly evaluate a candidate. They also need to be able to avoid bias and conflicts of interest to ensure that the interview is objective and that the best candidate is selected.

While it's a nice gesture to give existing employees a chance to screen their future manager, it's not a good way to choose the best candidate for the job. Instead, more qualified and less conflicted interviewers should be selected for the primary screening process.

If you would still like to involve direct reports, you can hold informal interviews. This would allow team members to get to know their potential new manager or call out obvious red flags that may have been missed.

Brandon Southern is a senior leader at Amazon and former head of analytics at eBay and GameStop. He also creates TikToks about data analytics and career development.




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