Supervisory skills

This class of questions is very relevant to employers. Some people can handle having authority in a job, others can't. These questions are really checking out your management style.

Leaving out the blue sky version of employment psychology, your management style is very much part of your organizational role as a supervisor. It's not about being Politically Correct, it's about how you function as part of the machinery of the business.

The questions are a bit more personal than they might sound.

You're being tested on your professionalism to a large extent, but it's also a personality test. Any experienced supervisor will tell you the job itself is a character test, and it's one you have to pass, to do the work effectively.

Considerations at the interview

It would be nice to say that these questions have a series of simple answers where you can just stick to basics. That's not really the case.

These interviews can be very tricky, and these questions about your management style are often based on what the management wants to hear.

The fact is that your interviewers, who are representing management, also want a particular management style. Some want tough supervisors, others want saints.

The interviewers may actually be your future managers, so you can assume they're very interested in your answers.

To give an idea of some of the possible scenarios:

This question is about discipline:

What do you do with someone who you find is out of their work area?

There are a few possible answers:

  1. Provided I know they're there for work reasons, it's OK.
  2. Unless I know for sure they're supposed to be there, I'll take disciplinary action.
  3. I'll report them to the manager, and note their absence on their performance review file.
  4. If the person's a chronic offender, I'll take immediate action to recommend their termination.

Obviously Answer 1 is the rational response. The others are overdone to varying degrees and from a supervisory perspective, asking for trouble.

Answer 2 might be justifiable in some cases.

Answer 3 could, and probably would, cause a grievance dispute, or a lawsuit.

Answer 4 is just silly, because the person is described as a chronic offender, meaning the supervisor hasn't done anything about the problem until now. The reaction would also lead to a lawsuit in some cases because the employee had no right of reply, and was penalized on principle, without any information.

Now the other problem:

Some managers have a real bug about staff management issues, particularly discipline. People may have good reasons for being out of their work area, but Answers 2-4 might sound good to the manager.

(Younger readers may not know this, but this is an old management style, involving treating adult workers like school kids. It's now been largely laid to rest, but it still escapes from the museum occasionally. It causes a lot of problems for everyone.)

Your problem, as an interviewee, is that this is the workplace culture and management approach you'll be working with, if you get the job.

One thing you need to know:

You don't have a choice in your answers, even if you want to say what they want to hear.

Your answer must comply with employment law.

As a supervisor, you can find yourself in big trouble, if you do anything that doesn't, and you can get fired by the same managers, however hypocritically, in the process.

So you don't go nuts with your answer. You have to make it clear you're aware of the law. That will get attention from competent interviewers, because most of the other candidates won't have a clue.

Your answer will be something like this:

All disciplinary matters are covered by employment law.

In any situation where there's an apparent breach of discipline, I'll investigate the facts of the matter, and proceed according to management guidelines.

I'll also advise management of the issues related to any individual case, and take any additional action required by management.

They can't actually argue with this answer. You're saying you work by the book. This is the strictly correct answer, where you discharge your duties to the extent of your authority as a supervisor, and report to management, as you're required to do.

Note that expression, to the extent of your authority as a supervisor.

That means what you're entitled to do.

Any more than that, you're overstepping your authority. You can't fire the person, as a supervisor. You can suggest it to management, write a report, or take disciplinary action like warning them what you can do about breaches of discipline.

Management can take a real dislike to people exceeding their authority. Answers 2-4 are cases in point, where the supervisor goes beyond their authority in creating the situations for lawsuits and grievance disputes.

In theory, the original question, which could relate to an office worker walking down the hallway, could cause a million dollar lawsuit, simply because the supervisor overreacted.

Supervision skills

Here's a very open question: How do you supervise your staff?

You won't be asked that question directly, but most of the questions are about this issue.

You're quite likely to be asked this question in some very oblique ways:

  • Do you train your staff personally?
  • How do you structure workloads for your staff?
  • What level of input do you want from your team members?
  • What level of oversight do you think is appropriate for new starters?
  • When do you think people should be entitled to do higher duties?

These questions fall into two basic categories:

  • Are you a micro manager?
  • Do you know what you're doing?

Supervisors get a lot of attention from good managers, because they're the people who are responsible for getting the work done properly.

Micro management isn't very popular. It involves in some cases supervision by literally watching people work. It also seems to involve extreme inefficiency, taking much longer to get things done, and making staff nervous. Micro managers are loathed by some managers.

Basic supervisory competence is something the interviewers must see, and plenty of it, with these questions.

You have to prove you know what you're doing.

The answers to those questions are indicative:

Do you train your staff personally?

I do if it's necessary. I like training to be structured, and staged. That way staff get a fair chance to develop each facet of the job to the point of having some confidence. They're usually trained with a senior staff member helping out, as part of the team environment.

Meaning you're not a micro manager, you're a realist. Training staff is one of your top priorities as a supervisor. It's extremely important you have well trained people working for you, for your section to function. It's also one of the standard measures of a supervisor's abilities that they know how to train people effectively.

How do you structure workloads for your staff?

Depending on circumstances, the workload is structured on a team based system, some work is rostered, other work is assigned on the basis of skill levels and complexity. The bottom line is turnover time and staying up to date. Occasionally during the busy season we'll do a team approach to large amounts of work, everyone pitching in, including me, to ensure we stay on targets.

Translation: The emphasis is on getting the work done on time, and maintaining our targets.

What level of input do you want from your team members?

I encourage input from everyone, on any subject. We do that on a daily basis, so we all know what's going on. It's good to hear ideas, or concerns, and get a strong level of participation. I advise them, they advise me. It also keeps me informed of the team's morale, any problems they're having, and it's particularly useful for our newer members to get them up to speed on our various issues.

Meaning, again, you're a realist, not a tyrant. You're staying in touch with your people, letting them get a word in, and getting information. That means you're a very good supervisor. The Office Tyrant is also loathed by good managers, because Office Tyrants are actually terrible managers, and their staff turnover is appalling, and expensive. Some tyrants create virtually independent parts of organizations in the process, where nobody but the supervisor knows what's going on. Modern managers distrust Empire Builders, too, so you're proving you're working for them, not yourself.

What level of oversight do you think is appropriate for new starters?

New starters have to get oriented, and settled. I make sure they're not put under stress, and are getting guidance from the other team members as they go through the structured training. I find it better to let them familiarize themselves with the work and the processes, and build up from there. I make it clear that if they have any problems they can come to me, and keep things on a good, friendly basis.

Translation: Yes, you do know what you're doing, and you've probably trained a lot of people before. New starters can be driven to distraction by too much supervision. It's far more important that they learn systematically, and orient themselves to the workplace, than suffer nitpicking about minor details of work they've only just started. At this stage they've barely even had the opportunity to ask any questions.

When do you think people should be entitled to do higher duties?

When they've been trained to the right level of competence in higher duties, I make a point of ensuring all team members are given higher duties, with some support from me, and other staff. We try to make sure we're doing things properly, and giving everyone their entitlements and opportunities in this area.

Your answer means you're a born supervisor.

This is a legal question, as much as a supervisory question.

Under equal employment, everyone is entitled to opportunities for these roles, as long as they can do the jobs. It would be a real legal grievance, were someone with the experience and training to be deprived of the opportunity to do higher paid work, which qualifies them for promotions.

As a supervisor, you must know the law.

Management will expect you to know it, and you can expect a few questions on the subject at your interview.

You can see why management is very picky about supervisors.

Good managers will recognize your abilities, and the bad managers, believe us, you can live without.

Learn your role, understand your role, and you'll find these questions are very easy, and you'll get the jobs you want.