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Smart Research: Check Out the Hiring Manager

By Mark Feffer

As we’ve said before, the hiring process is a two-way street. When they’re checking out potential employers and engaging in interviews, IT professionals should spend as much time considering whether they want to work for the company as they do selling themselves for the open position.

After all, you spend the majority of your waking hours at work, and your interactions with your co-workers and boss have a direct impact on how much you look forward to going into the office each morning. Good pay and benefits are important, sure, but you also want to be engaged by what you do and who you do it with.

Researching an employer is a basic task of job-hunting. Before sitting down for an interview, you want to know about the company’s lines of business, financial health, and the technology it uses.

It’s just as important to do homework on the background and style of the hiring manager. Besides helping you have a more productive and informative interview, what you learn will be of immense value when the time comes to decide whether or not this particular job is for you.

[MORE: 3-Step Proactive IT Job Search.]

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What Kind of Boss Do You Want?

Before you do anything, take a step back and think about the type of boss you want.

Doing so will put everything you learn about the hiring manager into a meaningful context.

For example, if you prefer to work with people who are engaged by technology -- who post regularly on blogs and are involved in the open source community -- you may be leery of a manager whose background is mostly in business.

On the other hand, if you prefer to work through technical problems on your own, you may appreciate a boss who cares more about the deliverable than the path you took to creating it.

Of course, you probably want someone who’s just a basically good boss: a manager who looks out for their team and will take the time to coach you, someone who makes each individual feel as if they’re a part of a greater whole. Don’t underplay those softer aspects of the manager’s job.

Go Online

Once you’ve defined the type of person you want to work for, it’s time to do some basic research. Start by going online, to LinkedIn and Google, specifically.

First, search for the manager’s LinkedIn profile. There, you’ll be able to see their career path, what kinds of technical positions they’ve held, what companies they’ve worked for and what organizations they’re involved with.

Look at their network to see if you have any mutual connections. If you do, they can be good sources of information about the manager’s approach to technology, business and management.

Also, look to see if the manager’s participated in any LinkedIn group discussions. That can give you an idea of their approach to various issues that touch their work.

[MORE: Beyond Networking -- LinkedIn for Company Research.]

You can learn a lot from a Google search, as well. Searching on the manager’s name can uncover intelligence such as:

  • Trade journal articles the manager may have written or been quoted in. These can provide insight into their depth of knowledge and approach to technical challenges.
  • Their activity in certain meetups, working groups or professional associations. Besides giving you insight into the manager’s professional activities, you may also, again, identify mutual connections.
  • Common interests between the two of you, either professionally or hobbies.

[MORE: 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers.]

Also, look on GitHub and appropriate open-source communities to see whether the manager has posted work there. Those are great places to get a sense of their hands-on technical skill.

Ask Questions During the Interview

A job interview should never be a one-way conversation. Just as the employer is using the meeting to get a sense of you and your skills, you should take advantage of the opportunity to decide whether this is a manager you want to work for.

Here’s where all of the research you’ve done comes into play. You certainly want to take the time to ask questions about the company and its approach. Doing so demonstrates that you’re interested enough in the firm to have learned about its business ahead of time.

(But remember: You never want to ask a hiring manager, “So, what does your company do, anyway?” You should have learned that before you ever walk in the door!)

It’s perfectly fair to ask the manager how they run their team and what they expect from employees. Ask them to describe their ideal team member, then see how well you match up. It’s a red flag if the two don’t fit together very well.

To get a sense of their technical sophistication, ask the manager to describe the company’s technical stack. Because their job is to manage, the manager may not be as close to the stack’s intricacies as are members of the development team. At the same time, though, they should be able to discuss the advantages and challenges the team faces in doing its day-to-day work.

Be sure to approach your questions in the right way. Like it or not, the hiring manager is in the driver’s seat during the interview, so you’re not in the position of performing some kind of interrogation.

Most managers expect candidates to ask questions, just be respectful and keep your tone light.

Always pose queries in a positive way. For example, don’t ask what might make the manager a frustrating boss. Instead, ask generally how they approach managing the team.

Ask Questions of the Team

Nowadays, it’s more than likely that you’re going to meet with some members of the manager’s team when you visit the company. No one will give you a better idea of what it’s like to work for someone than their subordinates.

Here again, you have to ask your questions carefully and positively.

Inquire about what kind of team member succeeds with this manager, and get a sense of how the group is run by asking about off-site meetings or team events that the manager might host.

Ask why the team members like working for the manager, but stay away from questions about his weaknesses or what he might do better. The team members’ level of enthusiasm will tell you a lot.

[MORE: Answering Do You Have Any Questions in a Job Interview.]

Bottom Line

Your relationship with your manager is a critical component of your success, not to mention your happiness at work. Take the time to learn as much as you can about the hiring manager, both before and during your job interviews. The effort will be well worth it.

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About the author...

Mark Feffer has written, edited, and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology for leading business and career sites. He is currently writing for JobsinME.com, JobsinRI.com, JobsinVT.com and JobsinNH.com, the top local resources for job seekers, employers, and recruiters in New England.


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Guide to Information Technology (IT) Job Search:

3-Step Proactive IT Job Search:

Succeeding at Job Interviews:


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Using the Traditional Tools for IT Job Search:

Using Technology for IT Job Search:

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