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Why You Need to Give Potential Managers a Realistic Job Preview

Why You Need to Give Potential Managers a Realistic Job Preview

by Ben Wigert and Ellyn Maese

Story Highlights

  • People often jump into management without knowing what it's really like
  • The manager experience is rewarding and hard, people need to see both sides
  • A realistic job preview can help people know if management is right for them

Do people really know what it takes to be a great manager?

According to a Gallup study, seven in 10 managers say they were promoted into their role primarily because of their success in a previous nonmanagerial role.

The reality is that a lot of people probably don't know what they're getting themselves into when they throw their hat in the ring for a management position.

The result is that many managers are miserable and unproductive, and they pass that disengagement and ineffectiveness along to everyone around them. If they had known what real management responsibilities and experiences are like, it may have saved them (and their employers) years of grief.

For many struggling managers, a realistic job preview probably would've helped.

Some examples of really good realistic job previews include immersive learning activities, like job shadowing, listening to the experiences of great managers, asking employees about what interests them and having a follow-up conversation about how those interests may or may not align with important management responsibilities, or even a video that shows a typical day or week in the role.

Some technology companies are even experimenting with virtual reality to create an immersive experience that allows people to try various workplace scenarios before they make a decision.

At its best, a realistic job preview is helpful for both a candidate and the employer. After getting an honest look at a role, candidates may realize they are not a good a fit, or they may get even more excited about the opportunity. Either way, both the candidate and the employer win.

Realistic job previews for managers are especially important because many employees think that getting promoted to management is their primary route to career advancement. People may doggedly pursue a manager-level position for years, without asking if they would be happy or effective in the role.

Not to mention, the best individual contributors are too often promoted into a management role that does not play to their strengths -- causing talented employees to drift away from where they excel and the employer to lose one of their most productive individual contributors.

So, What's It Really Like to Be a Manager?

Gallup studied more than 50,000 managers from 2014 to 2019, asking them over 500 questions. The results paint a clear picture of the challenges and perks of being a manager.

Challenges and Perks of the Manager Experience
Challenges Perks
Unclear expectations Voice and involvement in decision-making
Heavy workload and distractions Autonomy and control over their work
Job stress and frustrations Collaborative work environment
Less focus on their strengths Opportunities for development and career advancement
Frustrating performance reviews Motivating pay incentives

(For a full breakdown of these items, see our recent perspective on The Manager Experience: Top Perks & Challenges of Managers.)

As you can tell, being a manager can be very fulfilling and have its advantages. Managers are positioned to call the shots, collaborate with others, make their opinions known, and build mentoring relationships with coworkers. Organizations invest in their development and connect their performance to pay incentives.

However, being a manager also entails more stress, ambiguity, complexity and frustration than being an individual contributor.

People may doggedly pursue a manager-level position for years, without asking if they would be happy or effective in the role.

The most successful managers see themselves as a coach, one who continually develops and recognizes team members rather than a command-and-control boss. They gain a lot of satisfaction from unlocking the unique talents of others, identifying what motivates them and cheering them on as they achieve new heights of performance. The best managers establish expectations collaboratively, routinely provide future-oriented coaching, and they focus on achievement-oriented accountability.

Before You Hire or Promote Your Next Manager, Have a Frank Conversation

Many organizations still select their managers primarily based on high individual performance and length of tenure. Gallup has found that these factors are often misleading when it comes to assessing whether an individual contributor would be a good manager.

Particularly if you are promoting someone into their first management role, it is essential to paint a clear picture of the role. Consider whether they are a good fit for the key responsibilities and biggest challenges of being a manager. And give them the opportunity to decide if being a manager sounds like a great job or a burden.

Remember: The goal is not to fill an empty seat. The goal is a successful hire in which both the employer and the employee get the best outcome. Managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement. A rushed decision can lead to a cascade of negative outcomes for an entire team.

Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Talk about the hard stuff.

Even if you are excited about a potential candidate and want to win them over, give concrete examples of the kind of problems they are likely to encounter as a manager and ask how they might respond.

2. Connect candidates with great managers.

Introduce candidates to your top-performing managers to give them a preview of what the best managers do and let candidates ask questions. Consider having a panel of top-performing managers interview candidates. Having multiple experts interview candidates is a proven method for more accurately identifying future stars.

3. Use scientifically validated tools to identify and evaluate manager talent.

Hiring managers are not good judges of who will be a great manager if their evaluation is based solely on how the candidate "looks" and "feels" to them. Employers need an objective tool that identifies innate traits and consistent behaviors that are highly correlated with management success.

They need a tool and process for identifying key experiences with proven importance and relevance to the job. These scientific tools remove a great deal of the subjective bias and fairness problems from the hiring process, as well as unearth hidden potential that can't be identified during a short, in-person interview. Gallup's suite of talent-based hiring assessments do exactly this by matching a candidate's natural talents and prominent behaviors with the demands of being a great manager.

Want to learn more about what it's really like to be a manager?

Download Gallup's perspective paper The Manager Experience: Top Perks & Challenges of Managers to learn what more than 50,000 managers have to say about their role.


Ben Wigert is Director of Research and Strategy, Workplace Management, at Gallup.

Ellyn Maese is a Research Analyst at Gallup.

Ryan Pendell and Rachael Breck contributed to this article.

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