Great expectations: ace the interview question on what you want in a manager

Feb 27, 2023

5 mins

Great expectations: ace the interview question on what you want in a manager
Sophia Constantino

Freelance writer

The interview process has always warranted some nerves from the job seeker. As an interviewee, a candidate aims to present their best self, highlight the assets that prove they are the best person for the position, and show the interviewer that they can be a positive addition to the team. It’s a lot to balance, especially with tricky questions such as, “What do you expect from your manager?”

This question is tough because it requires honesty, without embellishing, which—let’s face it—is something we’re all prone to do in interviews. There’s also no way for the interviewee to know a prospective manager’s management style. You want to be honest, but too specific of an answer might not bode well for your candidacy if it doesn’t coincide with their way of working.

The good news is, we’ve got you covered. We’ve gone straight to the source and asked real New York City managers for some advice on handling that question, what they’re looking to hear from interviewees when they ask it, and even how to use it to your advantage.

Why do managers ask this question?

Jarell Thompson, Brand Content Strategy VP for a firm in Manhattan, keeps this question in his interview toolbox. He says, with many years as a hiring manager under his belt, that this question is essential to understanding the work style of a candidate and how they will fit into the dynamic of the team. If the culture of the company utilizes cross-team collaboration and a candidate prefers to work more independently, they might not be a good fit for the role.

Tips for answering “What do you expect from your manager?”

Preparation is key when it comes to the interview process. So here are our expert tips to help you prepare your answer and lighten the load of pre-interview stress.

Be sincere

The most important thing to remember is, to be honest. Yes, you want to present your best self, but it’s important to be as truthful as possible with this question. Chris Lilley, a Media Investment Client Manager in New York, says his management style is flexible based on the needs of each team member, which makes honesty in this question very important for him. “This question is not meant to trick you, most of us just genuinely want to understand your process and how best to work with you.”

Keep it positive

Whether you have experience working with a manager or not, you may already know what does and doesn’t work for you in terms of management style. This is a great time to bring up things you’ve liked about past managers, along with specific examples of how they helped you achieve your career goals. However, steer clear of negativity. Even if you’ve had a not-so-great experience with a manager in the past, it’s important to frame it as positively as possible.

You want to be honest, but Thompson warns against directly calling out a past supervisor’s mistakes. “Venting might give the interviewer the impression that you are problematic or unprofessional, and as a manager, I’m looking for someone who is a team player.” Instead, he recommends focusing on the positive. “It might be best to explain how past managers have empowered you to do your best and focus on that.”

It’s a balancing act

Though you don’t want to jeopardize your candidacy with a response that differs from a potential manager’s method, it’s important to be specific about your preferences. Keeping broad responses allows you to incorporate different management styles in your response, but if your answer is too vague the interviewer might feel like you’re dodging the question.

Lilley says that as a manager, he looks to be a guide for his employees. “I want to cultivate talent in my team, and I can best do that when a potential employee is open about their management preferences,” he shares. He recommends backing those preferences up with examples from previous experience to help paint a more complete picture of your style for the interviewer.

Example answers for “What do you look for in a manager?”

To get some more insight, we’ve gone straight to the source and asked both of our experts for their ideal answer to this question and why.

  • Lilley’s ideal answer: “Open communication and feedback between team members is incredibly important to me. Although I work well independently, I appreciate regular check-ins with my manager. This allows for open communication, keeps everyone in the loop, and ensures that projects are on track and done well.”

Why this answer works: This is a great opportunity for a candidate to express that they welcome feedback. The ability of team members to accept constructive feedback helps to improve team chemistry and productivity.

  • Thompson’s ideal answer: “I look to a manager to be a guide for their employees, and have a desire to cultivate talent in their team. I’m passionate about my work and very curious when it comes to expanding the boundaries of my knowledge. I am constantly finding facets of the business I would love to explore that might fall outside of typical day-to-day activities, and I appreciate when managers are supportive of my want to learn more.”

Why this answer works: Wanting to learn and grow as an employee is a great sign and shows that a candidate values a sense of longevity in a position. Eagerness to expand knowledge of certain tools—or the industry overall—is a positive trait in potential members of any team.

If these answers don’t fit exactly with your situation, you could also try these options:

  • Sample answer:“I consider myself a very hard worker and I am confident in the work I do. I put pressure on myself to hit deadlines and handle my tasks as efficiently as possible. I appreciate that my previous manager trusted my ability to complete tasks on time and allowed me the professional autonomy to do so.”

Why this answer works: This response shows that as a dedicated employee, the candidate takes responsibility for the tasks they are given and clearly defines their preferred work style. In this way, the candidate uses this question to their advantage by showcasing positive qualities about themselves.

  • Sample answer: “I believe that the best supervisors convey their expectations and any feedback in a clear and constructive way. There is always the potential for mistakes, but I do my best work when I feel supported by a manager who will work with me to understand the things I may still be learning.”

Why this answer works: Here the candidate is displaying their ability and desire not only to receive feedback but also to learn from potential negative experiences. Showing you can go further than just accepting feedback and actually integrating it into how you work is a big green flag for recruiters.

What you should remember when planning your answer

Before you head into your next interview, be sure to keep these tips in mind when preparing to explain what you’re looking for in a manager:

  1. Be honest, but positive: Managers genuinely want to hear how they can best work with potential candidates so it’s important to be clear on your preferences. That being said, stay away from venting about past managers, and instead, try to frame any negative past experience in a positive way.
  2. Keep it broad, but not too vague: Though candidates want their answer to appeal to the interviewer, providing specific examples from past employers and sharing clear preferences helps shape the picture of how a candidate will fit into the team.
  3. Use this question to your advantage: As well as preferences, this question is a great way for a candidate to showcase skills like time management or the ability to receive and learn from constructive feedback.

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