Questions during a job interview

Foto Credit: Gülden Kiraz Media


Three questions during a job interview –

Imagine that you are in a job interview as a manager and hear the following question:

1️⃣ “Under what circumstances are you willing to praise me in our cooperation? What must have happened for that to come true?”

It’s a good question, because it’s a reminder for me not to forget to praise! And if there is praise, please be specific about what triggered the praise.

As site director, I had offered my direct reporting employees, for example the plant managers, the opportunity to work with an external coach on topics that are personally important to them in connection with their professional situation as a training measure. Completely for them without any expected feedback to me. Many of them responded to the offer.

It was agreed with the coach that I could describe my view of the respective employee to him, but of course all topics worked on between him and the employee were confidential between the two and that feedback should only be given to me at the express request or suggestion of the employee.

What happened then –

After a few weeks, the coach approached me.

“Bernd, may I ask you a question?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Do you feel that your employees are loyal to you?”

“Very loyal, even.”

To which the coach replied: “Do your employees know that you think this way?”

Now the scales fell from my eyes. My employees were loyal to me and they were very proud of it. I appreciated this behavior very much, but I had never reported it back personally in a 1:1 conversation. What an omission. I took it for granted. But it’s not.

To this day, I am very grateful to the coach for drawing my attention to it so nicely, so indirectly and yet so clearly. Now I was able to make up for what I had missed and I did.

Back to the question above. Often, the lack of praise is not an expression of dissatisfaction, but a failure on the part of the manager to express his appreciation accordingly.


Coming to the next question –

2️⃣ “When you look at your team, what are you satisfied with and what would you like to change?”

First of all, the nice thing about the question is the expression “team”. Because this already addresses what is important to me personally. I would like to work with a team and not with a collection of individual performers.

Each player in the team has his role and his strengths and his weaknesses. I can live with that, because I know them. It is important that the interaction is right. And that’s my job, to make sure that works. Like a conductor with his orchestra.

✳ I am satisfied when the team players practice in a disciplined manner and with a strong will.

✳ Then, when identified dissonances are resolved together,

✳ and then, when the focus is on the upcoming performance and not on the backward-looking blame when something goes wrong.

And by the way, this also applies to me as a leader. Mistakes can and will happen. That’s human. I myself want to create an atmosphere where you can feel safe to take a risk and want to play a solo, even if you still have a lot of respect for it. A good error culture is just part of it.

And change?

This happens situationally, adapted to the events that are coming at us from the outside. Or when I realize that a change of strategy is necessary. In this case, there may be major changes. But don’t worry, all employees will get on-boarded right from the start.


And there is one more question, and this is a real difficult one –

3️⃣ “I’ve met toxic leaders. Ok. But there are also toxic employees. When do you define employees as toxic and what do you do then?”

First of all, I have to briefly reflect on what could be meant by this.
“Do I understand correctly that a toxic leader is a person who exerts a lasting negative and harmful effect on their employees through their behavior, attitudes, and interactions?”

In my role as a manager, I put together my own teams and made sure that I avoid bringing such toxic people into the team from the very beginning. But of course, there were also situations where I took over a team and I needed to redesign it accordingly.

In this situation, I didn’t want to and couldn’t rule out parting ways with employees. These were not easy talks with those employees, for which I prepared myself accordingly carefully. I distinguished between two categories.

1️⃣ I took on employees who no longer fit into the team, who were perhaps a bit overwhelmed and who noticed it themselves. The conversations were not easy, but they always went well because we developed follow-up solutions together. And they worked.

2️⃣ I also took on the one or the other employee who could be described as toxic in the sense defined above. This was unmistakable in crisis situations, when the team had to make coordinated decisions quickly and in a stressful situation. Then a breakup was unavoidable for me and the separation process was a really difficult one.

How I prepared for breakup interviews and what I learned in the process is another story. More on that another time.

➡ As a manager and leader, what questions have you heard in job interviews that impressed you?

Thanks Martina Frahn for those excellent questions and the inspiration for this post, see



Q4, Guiding Principles for Intercultural Leadership –

Imagine that you are an executive in a job interview and ask: “What other questions can I answer for you?”

And then you hear this:
4️⃣ Tell me about an employee you’ve developed and you’re proud of.

The appointment of a site leader was pending. As a global manutacturing leader, that was my responsibility. But of course, when filling this dimension, coordination with headquarters and the CEO was necessary. And from there came the proposal to send an expat with great development potential from the headquarters there. As a developmental step, so to speak.

Cultural training was the order of the day. Not because this is a company-wide process. No. But because I see it as a mandatory prerequisite. To the surprise of the employee, who had not expected this.

It was also about the – from my point of view – important four guiding principles that facilitate intercultural interactions:

✳️ Inclusive use of language. This is about clarity and simplicity, not about the most versatile vocabulary possible.

✳️ “Cultural mapping” against prejudices. This is not a contradiction.

✳️ Learning together as a team. It’s a process. Creativity is required.

✳️ Recipes and ingredients, how to lay the foundation for cultural success factors. Creating connections. Small talk is big talk.

“Bernd, I thought that the site would be very proud to have a delegate from the foreign headquarters as the site leader, because it would be tantamount to upgrading the plant. But the fact that I had to expect that I would be critically eyed and possibly perceived as a foreign body for exactly this reason surprised me. The training made me sensitive to these expectations and therefore really helped me in the first few months.”

I was very pleased with this feedback from the employee after the first hundred days in the new role. And he performed the role of the site leader very successfully in the following years.

➡️ What would you do before a stay abroad or how would you prepare one of your employees for it?



Q5, Leadership shortage –

Imagine that you are an executive in a job interview and ask: “What other questions can I answer for you?”

And then you hear this:
5️⃣  Have older employees in your management team. If so, how do you foster and encourage them at work?

Honestly? When I took on a job as site leader at the age of 40, the production unit and department managers who reported to me were all older than me, some of them much older. I had great respect for this challenge.

I observed that the critically connoted “operational blindness” was contrasted by the huge wealth of experience of these employees. In addition, I observed how much heart and soul was put into the development of their own department, their own unit. In part, it was a piece of their life’s work.

Tact was necessary and at the same time the opportunity to use this huge experience. I really had a stomachache from time to time when I thought about the situation of losing these employees to retirement. Some important measures:

✳️ Make work attractive for older employees. Perceiving and appreciating their opinions and, above all, not putting a corset on them, but allowing and promoting degrees of freedom.

✳️ Appreciative succession planning, started on time. This can be, for example, a transitional position with knowledge transfer. Or direct succession is regulated by a generational tandem that fits together on a personal level and gives the older employee the feeling that his or her “life’s work” is being further developed.

✳️ Evaluate ways to stay in touch. Be it personally or through marginal continued employment on a part-time or mini-job basis.

These are my TOP 3, which of course also depend on the individual situation. You certainly have other ideas. Hence my question:

➡️ What possibilities do you know of how older employees can be encouraged?



Q6, Growth Mindset despite Cost Leadership –

Imagine that you are an executive in a job interview and ask: “What other questions can I answer for you?”

And then you hear this:
6️⃣ I am aware that you need cost leadership at your site in your industry, i.e. you need to save costs. How do you still manage to think about growth and develop a growth mindset in your team?

An exciting question. A topic about our analytical laboratory to support the production facilities a few years ago comes to mind. When I – new to my role as site leader – asked the department manager for an interview and asked about his strategy for his laboratory, I felt his discomfort.

“Yes, I know, Bernd. I have just implemented a cost-cutting project. Painful and difficult. But I know that we have to continue there. At the moment, I don’t have the ideas for that.”

“No, I don’t mean that. For me, it’s about occupying the fields of the future and exploring what is necessary for this. In one of our production units, we have successfully introduced online measurement methods. What about the other units?”

A short pause and his surprised expression told me some of his thoughts: “Yes, may I think of growth?”

“Yes, of course,” I answer, “it just has to pay off.”

We quickly agreed on a follow-up meeting in a few weeks and a small budget for external coaching expertise for this, which has developed into a viable future approach to automated measurement methods. And for the implementation, we gained an IT-experienced technician with laboratory experience, the first employment in this area in a long time.

Of course, word of this approach quickly spread throughout the site. And I provided more examples of this kind. This radiated optimism and confidence and is the basis for a sustainably positive development.

➡️ Innovations despite cost pressure or precisely because of it. What is your opinion? Do you have any examples?


I am Bernd Scharbert and my job as a mentor and facilitator for leaders is to pass on my experiential knowledge after more than 30 years of leadership experience in the corporate world. If you are interested, please feel free to follow me at LinkedIn, #prepare4landing or contact me directly.

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