Tough Interview Questions: Are You Better at Managing Up or Managing Down? |

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I offer an initial blunt response that makes the answer clear and then go into greater texture.I offer an initial blunt response that makes the answer clear and then go into greater texture.

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I love this question.

Are you better at managing up or managing down?

I'll simply say that questions like this that are framed as “either/or” have a built-in trap because there is no simple way to answer it.

I would start off answering the question by saying something like this. “You don't get to manage down unless you learn how to manage up.” BOING! The truth of the matter is that is a true statement, right? I’m talking to you who might be watching this.

So, you can start by answering the question, “You don't get a chance to manage down unless you learn how to manage up. When I was starting off in my career and starting off with my firm and…” you go back to the time when you were relatively inexperienced. So, if you're with your 4th company, you talk about at your 1st company where you learned that there are times you really had to manage your boss because you or really dependent upon them. You needed something from them that they were not giving you and you learn how to give them gentle reminders.

Then, as he became more experienced, you learned not just simply how to manage up, but you learn how to manage sidewise. That is, in relationship with your peers and, as you become more experienced, it's not just your peers, it might be different business units or representatives of those business units, the head of a specific function in another department so that you are managing them, managing your boss and, as you became more experienced, you had the opportunity manage down.

It all starts with you learning how to manage and you start by talking about yourself. So, I want to take this 1 from the top.

“So, when I was a beginner I learned how to manage up. With time, I learned that unless you know how to manage up, you never have the opportunity to manage down. So, in situations at the beginning when I was just starting out, I learned that there were things I was dependent upon my boss for that, when they got distracted with or became too busy to get back to me, it is going to impact me. As a result, I learned how to give them a gentle nudge in order to get them the information I needed in order to take action.

“As time progressed and I saw that I had more opportunities, I understood that managing myself is really the starting place and paying attention to detail. So, I learned to manage up. I learned to manage the different constituencies I was interacting with, including the different business units I was supported, my colleagues at at the same level and, as importantly, the people who were reporting in to me (Don't use the “down below” thing I almost stepped into. It starts to make you seem like you're the Lord and they are the vassal. So, I continue).

The idea becomes you want to talk about how, at the beginning, you learned the importance of managing up because you were dependent on your boss. As time progressed, you learn just not simply how to manage up, but how to manage sideways with different constituencies that you interacted with and began to have the opportunities to manage down.

Unless you do all these things effectively, you don't really get the opportunities to move ahead. As a result, it really starts with managing up. You got really good at that, but ultimately, I don't want to pin myself down to 1 or the one with the other because they're all ultimately interdependent.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for what more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1100 episodes, “Job Search Radio,” “and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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