How Mode Intentionally Interviews Managers

People managers, from execs to front-line managers, make a huge impact on culture. Learn how Bailey and the team at Mode intentionally design the interview process to hire excellent managers.



A big welcome to Bailey Douglass, VP of People & Place at Mode! Bailey has been with Mode as they've scaled over the last few years, and had a first-hand look at just how important it is to get hiring right—especially when hiring managers. Listen in to hear:

  • How to design an interview process to hire great managers
  • Why it's so important to evaluate a candidate's judgement
  • What red flags to look for when bringing on a manager
  • The value of self-reflection and ability to recieve feedback when leading people

A big thanks to Bailey for joining us!

Thanks for listening to Start with Who: The Interview Intelligence Podcast! This podcast is presented by —where we're on a mission to make hiring and interviewing more efficient and equitable. Come check out what we're building, or connect with Grace and Ben on LinkedIn! See you next time!


(Transcribed by robots...sorry for the errors!)

Bailey: One of the things about managing instincts are actually wrong a lot of the time, and so what you really want is a level of self reflection and understanding of what needs to be done in that situation. So in a lot of ways, what we're evaluating is actually someone's judgment.

Hosts: Welcome to Start with Who, the interview intelligence podcast, I'm your host, Grace Tyson, and I'm Ben Battaglia join us on our journey as we learn about talent acquisition, hiring and tackle the challenge of building an amazing team. One interview at a time. We've invited CEOs, innovative people, leaders, talent acquisition experts and DIY movers and shakers as our guides would love to have you join us. Welcome to Start with Who.

Ben:  Oh welcome to the start with who podcast, we're so excited to welcome today, Bailey, Douglas Bailey, Thanks for joining us,

Bailey: Excited to be here.

Ben: We are super excited to hear more about what you do at mode. Will you walk us through a little bit about you?

BaileY: Yeah so I have been at Modefor about 5 and 1/2 years, actually a little longer than that, which is amazing thinking about it. I started out in recruiting and I've grown the team and grown with the team. So now I'm the VP of people in places. So my team includes recruiting people, operations. And then employee experience facilities, all of that. So, yeah, it's been really exciting watching the company really evolve. I think being at a company for as long as I have been at mode allows me to get beyond the sort of, you know, I think a lot of the time, a recruiting leader will come in and have to just build the thing. And we've built the thing. And now we're able to take these more thoughtful, progressive stances on how we think about hiring and interviewing and recruiting in a way that you don't get if you don't have that kind of tenure. So I'm really proud of what we've done on the recruiting team to grow our team.

Ben: Awesome and quickly, for those who don't know mode about how many people do you have on your team or what's your recruiting team look like

Bailey: the company is about 120. Currently, our recruiting team is a team of four. We are hiring. And I would love to chat with anyone who's interested in talking about joining the team as a recruiter, either contracts or even potentially full time. So that's just a plug. I think we're going to be growing quite a bit in the next year. I'm really excited about it.

Grace: That is so exciting. And mode is an amazing technology, which we actually love over here as well. So, Bailey, you mentioned to us that mode takes a unique approach to hiring managers specifically. So we'd really love to focus in this episode on the unique differences in interviewing managers versus individual contributors. So what's the approach that takes?

Bailey: So when we think about hiring managers, we do still look for the same framework of things that we look for with individual contributors and that it's skills, values, alignment, aptitude and the ability to be successful in the role we interview on an outcomes basis. So we want people to be joining who are going to be able to be successful in their role. But something that it's surprising to me is unique or a little bit rarer that we do at mode is we really focus on management skills as a component of that skills assessment. And we have a wonderful interview that either I or usually it's josias HR business partner conducts. It's focused on how people manage conflict, hiring, thoughts about unconscious bias and how reflective someone is on that. And then performance management. Ideally, we like to go into a situation where someone hired someone who didn't work out. And they had to let them go. We don't always have that experience. And so we'll tweak it depending on what someone's management experience is, but really understanding how they're going to function as a manager in the managerial components of the role, because that's in many ways, the main function that a manager play is a lot of the time they're less involved in the actual doing the stuff that the team does, and they're more able to sort of help magnify the efforts by the skill with which they build and support their teams. So that's a real focus for us. And we have a very structured interview where we addressed that specifically.

Ben: That's really cool. I love the idea of bringing in a specific differentiated interview for managers. I think that's so important. I want to get into the details of exactly what that looks like a little more and pick your brains of others want to implement this. They could learn a little bit. First, I'd love to know how did this get started? Is this something you guys have always done since the beginning or did it kind of evolve? How did you decide to do it?

Bailey: So we've had an approach at mode since 2016 for most of the time that we've been hiring of structured interviewing and making sure that we're actively assessing the things that we'll need people to be doing based on their actual experience with behavioral questions. As think happens with many startups, most of our managers initially were hired in to head the Department and they were by default in the role. And, you know, there's often great managers who come up in that way. There's also challenges with that. I think it's just that's a known startup. It wasn't until the last three years where we've started hiring more managers independently. And basically the way we came to this is we just applied the same framework that we had for the rest of our interviews with where we looked at what someone needed to do to be successful. We looked at what we had seen our successful manager is doing at mode. And one of the things about managing is instincts are actually wrong, like a lot of the time. And so what you really want is a level of self reflection and understanding of what needs to be done in that situation. And so in a lot of ways, what we're evaluating is actually some of the judgment. And that's. Really happened more recently, but it was just by applying the same structured framework that we have for the rest of our interviews.

Ben: Yeah, that totally makes sense. Both grace and I have been part of scale up stage companies, and I think at least I've recognized where you get past this initial level of original managers who've kind of evolved through the early stage companies. And you need to start to replicate those people or build out the number of managers. And it's hard.

Bailey: That's the other thing is sometimes you put people in those roles and they're not in the right role for them. And it's important to reflect on that and have the same standard of competencies for managers who are in the role and make the necessary change. If someone has moved into a manager role. And they shouldn't have been to give that person feedback to understand how does that relate to their goals. And if that matters, there's a really rigid thing, especially I think with newer companies and people who haven't had an organization grow as much where you just because someone's in a job, that that's their job. I think with companies as they grow and as product market fit happens and you're starting to understand what is the thing that we're doing and how and why the people in the jobs change, even if the title doesn't. And the people in the jobs need to change, too. And that doesn't always mean that they need to leave. It just means that we need to adjust and understand. Hey, you were the head of product marketing before, but actually what you were doing, the sales enablement, like, let's have you do sales enablement. That's a made up example. There's no one at mode who has had that happen to them, but seems credible, right? Yeah, it's really important.

Grace: Absolutely and I want to circle back on something you said Bailey that I found intriguing, which is that when you're assessing a manager's fit in a role, you're really assessing their judgment. How do you do that? What sort of questions you ask? How do you figure out whether someone has the right sense of judgment?

Bailey: Our interview process is three parts. It's 45 minutes and we ask about their experience and situations they've been in and how they've handled it. With structured interviewing. You need to be asking consistent questions. But the way that you address those follow UPS specifically, I think matters the most. And understanding the situation to a degree where you can see how did they handle this. And what were the pitfalls? How are they reflecting on that is really valuable. So the questions we ask, the sort of three parts and by the way, we give everyone the full content of this interview in advance. You can prepare for it, but you actually shouldn't have to like your lived experience. So you start with preparing what team of built. What was the team when you started? Who did you add? How did you go about adding them? What was the process? And there's a lot of follow up questions. And you can sort of see what people think is important by how they answer and where they go. It's interesting. Engineering leaders often will spend less time about sourcing because they're more likely to have had recruiting support. I'm actually not that concerned about the sourcing answer that tells me something, but it's not what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is how do they think about evaluating candidates? And I always hear an answer. And then the follow up to that is, OK, well, how do you think about unconscious bias in that process. And making sure that it's fair, it ain't bad answer is pointing to the diversity of your former team. And saying it's not an issue for you. A bad answer is hemming and hawing for five minutes of just like, oh, that's a good question. That's not success indicates that they haven't thought about it. A good answer is talk about implementing structure. They acknowledge that all of us are really inherently biased. And even if we try not to be, you need to have other people in the process. You need to have checks and balances. You need to be comparing people to each other. Generally, they don't necessarily have to have done it, but they have to have thought about it.

Ben: I think it says something about a manager when they are willing to vulnerably admit, I have bias or I have this self reflection to do it. And that's, like you said, so important for managing people is that self reflection.

Bailey: Definitely well, in one of our values speaks directly to that. So it's really core to I think what makes a person successful at mode is understanding and is a data driven company. You have to be willing to look at the data that is presented to you and realize that your assumptions about that might be wrong. I think that it's a challenge, especially for people. You know, the more senior you are in your career, the more you're used to just presenting a solution and saying, this is the answer, let's just do that. It can feel a little weird to get the push back from other leaders, and people and like, hey, well, why is that? What are we thinking about all of the options here. And things like that? But being able to thrive in that environment will make you successful at mode and also will make your decisions better. It's not just about hiring.

Ben: 100% agree. OK, let's hear part two.

Bailey: Yeah so then we talk about ideally having someone live let go. I ask them to anonymize the information. If they don't, that certainly tells me something about their judgment. Not a good thing. I've actually had that be an issue quite a few times. And that's pretty much a no pass on the. Interview it just like says something about the way that they respect their team and their former teammates, and I think that's really problematic. We then go through what was the issue. I think ability to clearly and accurately outline what the performance problem was is a really big issue. It's surprising to me how much is the hang up, especially because if you were in this role managing this person, you should have been outlining it to them. For executives, often they'll have a great team right below them. And so it'll be about an issue at the step level and how they coached their manager that was reporting to them on that. And that's OK, too. I find that executives are often less able to clearly express what the issue is, which I think is a bit of a challenge that you have to sort of calibrate a little differently in that situation. But you also do want to have executives who can speak to all of the employees of the company, and that's something to notice. And then I don't care that much about the process that they went through to let the person go. I do think that the person should not have been surprised. That's a follow up question I always ask. But different companies have different HR structures that are going to tell them to do different stuff that's not on them. Again, there's a piece that's how did they communicate this feedback? Another pitfall that you'll see a lot here is the managers who have the Socratic approach to feedback or they're just like, hey, how do you think things are going? Like what could be going differently? And instead of giving that direct feedback, I think it's important to have a partnership with the team member where you're saying, hey, this is working, this isn't working. Let's talk about why this isn't working. And getting their suggestions and understanding their point of view. I think that's really valuable. But if it's all questions and there's no like, hey, this is an OK, that's actually doing the person a disservice, no one wants to be a low performer. That's not helpful. So we talk through that. And then at the end, I ask again, the self reflection piece, like, what would you have done differently? How do you feel about that? And see how they've learned from that experience. Some managers won't have a lot that they would change. They say they feel good about that. And if what they described was a clearly outlined situation, I think that's actually OK. I think you can get to a place where you did a good job managing performance and unfortunately, it wasn't, you could do. I also think most of the time. There's places where you went wrong with the hire, actually, or you didn't convey the feedback in the right way or they were in the wrong role or things like that. And I think that, again, tells you about their judgment and degree of thoughtfulness. And then the last one I ask for is a question that works better for executives and managers, but I think matters for both as well, which is talking about a disagreement with a peer and how you got that resolved. So with exactly. This is usually like another department head. And there's the classic like sales wants to sell stuff that engineering hasn't it yet. How does that conversation go? Finance team like, you know how that question's going to get answered. It's going to be something about the annual plan and people not agreeing to the numbers and talking through that with managers. It's going to be more often a disagreement with another manager or something like that. Or I really like hearing about a disagreement with someone who's senior to them and understanding how someone looks at the conflicts, what is their ability to disagree and commit if they don't get their way for all of the people involved. And the way they answer this question tells you about the role that this person will typically play on a team. Conflict is good. And it's healthy and environment where everyone just agrees on "This is how we do business. And this is the thing." like probably you're not doing as well as you should be because you have all these smart people with different perspectives need to be getting them. But if you're not doing it in a way that's open to different ideas, that's willing to accept that you were incorrect or compromise on some piece of it, that's a challenge. And that's, again, with all of these, I have to ask a lot of follow up questions to make sure I understand the situation before I can get too far into it. And sometimes someone will just give me an answer where it's something where, like the other person was obviously wrong and they were obviously right. Like I wanted to bring in continuous integration to our company engineering processes, like everyone does these days. We know that's the wave of the future. And so if that's the answer they're giving me, I ask them to talk about a different conflict. Let's talk about something a little more nuanced. Another thing I think is important here is that at the beginning of the call, I make it really. And it used to be in person. I remember that. But there aren't any more bugs. I make it really clear that, I'm going to stop them and interrupt and say, hey, I don't get it. I have more questions here a lot because I think that can be very jarring. You know, there's this, like, energetic woman just like stopping you. So you've got to prepare them for that.

Grace: One thing I'm hearing you say, Bailey, that I really like is that you essentially don't let candidates just get off the hook with an easy example. And you pushed them to give more details, which I applaud you for. And I think is so important in interviewing, and it's something where a lot of people miss you mentioned a couple of times that in lines of questioning around performance management and also workplace conflict, you also ask them for their learnings, their reflections on it at the end, which I love. How do you index on handling it badly. And the example, they give, but really accurate self reflection on how they should have handled it better?

Bailey: Oh, I think that's great. I don't care if they did a good job in the past. I think it's better if you made a mistake. I've made I've many mistakes professionally.

Grace: Same

Bailey: Yeah, I mean, everyone has. And if you don't know that you have, that's actually worse. But once you've experienced the pain of doing things badly, you're probably less likely to repeat it at mode. And I would love to have you not do that because that will become my problem. The self reflection is more important than the answer. I mean, also with recruiting, some hiring managers on their own have decided that structured interviewing is really important. And those are often hiring managers have a lot of experience hiring. Most haven't. Some people if I talk to people who work really great recruiting companies, they have a great process they can talk to me about that was driven by their recruiter. If they haven't thought about it, they actually are much less likely to be able to replicate it at Mode. And so I think they don't need to be responsible for the whole process. They don't need to have any of it, but they need to be able to think about what's bad. I think one thing I'm terrified me is a lot of the time, especially with more senior people, especially with people outside of engineering, where I think sales recruiting, this is a whole different podcast. I think sales recruiting is way harder than engineering recruiting. And I think a lot of technology and tools and products have been built around tech recruiting. And I think that's great. But it's I would rather be told that I have to hire 15 engineers and 15 salespeople.

Grace: Why is that? Why is it so hard?

Bailey: I think there's a lot of things are just it's more judgment oriented. People want to hire salespeople based more on feelings. It's hard to validate numbers that someone's had. You know, one product isn't the same as another product. One app is sort of like another web app, you know, moedas a very interesting product. But we're not building something that is totally different than anything that's been built before, except in a very specific area of the products. Most of the things that we're doing is feature development. And you can figure out if someone can do that by giving them technical tests. So it's just more nuanced.

Ben: That's great. So we walk through the whole interview process where you talk about it. I want to hear if there's anything outside of that interview process. Is there anything else that you do at the top of the funnel that really helps? You know, like this is someone I want to bring in as a manager candidate, or are there any red flags you hit throughout the process that are like this definitely is like a non-negotiable

Bailey: At top of funnel. I think, unfortunately, you can't really do much other than try to identify whether someone has managed people before. We don't usually hire people into management roles for the first time at mode will promote people to be first time managers. And we do generally have an interview process for that. That takes a modified version of what I outlined and is more focused on how they've dealt with conflicts than it is about how you dealt with having that degree of control. One other thing to note is I evaluate those management skills in my interview. The hiring manager tries to talk about that to the recruiter, tries to get ahead of that as well. Those are built into a lot of our other processes. Also, the engineers who interview them or the IC salespeople or whatever the director part, people have some questions about management and they're basically redundant. But you're trying to look for a pattern here. I think real red flags are: inconsistency is terrifying. I think that's really weird because then you don't know who to believe or how to believe them. And you also don't know what their philosophy really is. And I also think, you know, what people look for in management and the way that you create psychological safety at work is consistency and predictability from your manager. You can have a manager who tightly manages performance, but people know where they stand. And that's what you want. You want someone who's answering questions in different ways because they think different people want to hear different things. I also think and we talked about this already, but like a lack of self reflection, if you look back at your career and you think you did everything great, either you're not being honest or you are going to be terrible to work with because you won't take me back. So those are the things we try to avoid.

Grace: That's great. You mentioned a few times how structured the process is and how important that is. So especially for any hiring managers out there listening. Why is structured interviewing so important, in your opinion, Bailey?

Bailey: Yeah, I mean, in terms of actually evaluating what you need the person to do, you have to understand. First, what is going to make a person successful in this role, what do they have to be able to do? And then you need to test it. And if you test it in different ways, in different times, you can't calibrate off of the different things. You're much more sensitive to your feelings about something and set an unconscious bias or even conscious bias. Sometimes just because you're aware of your bias doesn't mean, it's OK. Some biases exist for a reason. If you see that a candidate has jumped around a lot. And there are rules that can be an indicator of a lot of things. I know a lot of managers have a visceral response to it because they think it's a reflection on the person. Sometimes it is like, let's acknowledge that, but also sometimes it's a reflection of someone having worked in a lot of hostile environments, and especially for women and people of color, that's much more likely to be a thing that happens in multiple places, like asking why and checking your biases. So it really matters. Structured interviewing. I mean, if you want to make sure that your decisions are data oriented and grounded, in fact, you need to be able to compare the facts. It's pretty straightforward, actually. I think anyone who says that they're like a great innate judge of talent, that's another big red flag for me.

Grace: Yes, I love that. It's so true. And you're right. It seems very simple. When you put it that way, how important it is. And yet we hear again and again, how little structure is often adopted across hiring teams. At other words—

Bailey: it's a ton of work. It's expensive. It takes a long time. Building greenhouse templates is annoying and unpleasant. It's a lot of typing recruiters. Generally, you hire because they're great on the phone and they're good at building relationships. That other component of recruiters job is really critical, but it's not necessarily what the superpower will be. It depends. I think our team, again, has our recruiting managers excellent at leading that process. But it's rarer. But the benefit is that you hire people and you understand why you hired them. And what's going to work and what isn't a little bit better when they're joining and are able to help coach them and make them successful.

Grace: That's great. Yeah and you're lucky to have Megan leading the charge there.

Bailey: Absolutely.

Grace: One other question for you on the topic of interviewing and hiring managers, does it change based on the level. And if so, how? Line manager versus an executive, for example?

Bailey: It's always harder to get executives to be specific because they'll just be like, oh, I have so many examples of that. You're like, great, prove it. And then it turns out either the examples are older or they're about managing managers, which is super valuable. Most execs unless you're looking at a new department or a small department or really early stage company or managing managers or not managing and often managing managers of managers, they're not managing individual contributors. And so then it's more about how do they coach the managers. I spend a lot more time with execs trying to be like, OK, but what are the words you used to actually say that? What was the specific problem? Because it is they're used to operating on a higher level. And that's great. That's what you're hiring them for in some ways. But if they're not able to convey the expectations and coaching of these managers to their team, they're not going to be successful at a company like ours. There are companies that are at stage, I think, where it doesn't matter because the executives are so far above and separate from the other members of the team. You can really lean on the directors to do that. But at a company like ours, you're looking at executives who are managing maybe a couple high level individual contributors. Maybe, you know, if you have attrition on the team for some amount of time, they're going to probably be managing some lower level individual contributors at some point. We don't have directors in between. And every single function. And so they need to be able to do that for line managers and more junior ones. I think I alluded to, you know, when we're interviewing people for a promotion, we look more at the managing conflict side of things. And we talk a lot about structured interviewing at mode a ton. And so they've probably been involved in interview processes. We asked them about their experience there and try to see if they understand why we do it. That's more of that thoughtfulness piece managing performance and that being a non if you can't get a signal on it. So we talk instead more about the conflicts. We sort of double click on that. We probably go into a few different conflicts, maybe one at mode and one at a previous job if they have that. Otherwise, we can do a couple at mode and then sort of in the middle. That's kind of the sweet spot for the interview. But every manager that you talk to is like much stronger in one area than the other. The hiring and performance management are kind of like opposite skills. And so in terms of success, you have to look and be like, were there answers here that were impossible for me to accept? What are the red flags and what do we know about this? Then my job is just to communicate to the manager who's making the hiring decision, my assessment overall is a yes or a no on their management skills. And this is why. And if I'm a no. And we still hire them, that means that we know they have these gaps coming in and we need to have a plan for addressing those gaps.

Ben: That's perfect. Thank you, Bailey. I really appreciate you sharing all that with us. I feel like people listening. And for me and grace, it's really helpful to think how different It should look for hiring a manager like the different skills and process that should be there. And we don't do it enough. So Thanks for teaching us a little. I appreciate it. We always close with a speed round, so we'd love to ask you a few questions just about you. So we'll dive right in. Just the first thing that comes to your mind. I know you said you didn't get a chance to look at these, and that's how we like it, just fresh and raw. So the first one is what's one thing that brings you joy outside of work?

Bailey: You know, this year is obviously a little different. I previously did a lot of socializing, which brought me a ton of joy. But now I'm really enjoying just walking in northern California. There's so many beautiful places to go. It's like perfect walking temperature right now with brisk walks. I'm like a Jane Austen character. It's great. I'm really enjoying it.

Grace: I love it. I'm walking a lot more myself, which is great for my step count. OK, you kind of answered this, so I'm but I'll ask it anyway. What's one other thing besides walking in beautiful northern California that you do during COVID that you didn't do as much before?

Bailey: Honestly, I'm watching. I didn't really watch too much TV. And I'm watching a lot of TV now. I got a Netflix subscription recently and yeah, it's been great. I've been watching Schitt's Creek. I didn't like the first season. I tried it. I was not into it. And then. Oh my gosh, it's so good. Now I'm really so great.

Grace: Oh my gosh. Yes, we agree. You hit the nail on the head for us. We love it. But it took a couple seasons for us.

Bailey: Yeah Yeah. I'm in season five. And it's just like exactly what I need. It's amazing. Although I found myself talking like Alexis, if I watch it for too long. And that's a problem. We love that journey for you, Bailey.

Ben: Simply simply the best. OK, well, you are you are really just going question for question, because the next one was once a movie or a book or show you really love. So now you have to think of something outside of Schitt's Creek.

Bailey: I was in such a media in general take her. And before this, but I don't know if I really love it, but my mom and I have been watching The Bachelor together in COVID and I've been recording her comments and posting them on my Instagram story. And she's amazing. A lot of text. And I don't think it's a good show. I think there's a lot of gender issues. I don't like it. And my mom really hates it, which is part of what makes it joyful for me. It's amazing. But yeah, I'm sheltering with my parents and COVID generally. So it's been like another unique delight.

Grace: I love that you both hate it, but you're watching it together. And it's so exciting. Yeah OK, and one last question, valy. We ask everyone. This Do you believe aliens exist? Why or why not?

Bailey: I kind of think they must actually, I was going to say no, but I can't see me if I don't know. The answer is now, like, why wouldn't they? Why would we? It just seems like too random, actually, for us to be the only planet. So I think they might I'm not going to stake money on that. I don't think we'll prove it in my lifetime. But like, there must be something

Ben: that's great. Grace and I have a long running debate. I am not a believer, but grace is a believer, so I'm more believer than not.

Grace: I'm with you, Bailey. I'm kind of I'm with you. I'm with you.

Bailey: I mean, it's just like so egocentric to imagine that what it's like the only ones.

Grace: That's right. Ben,

Ben: go easy there, Bailey. OK, we're coming to interview ophélie Douglas, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate you taking the time. Thanks

Hosts: Thanks for joining us for another episode of start with who, the interview intelligence podcast presented by Pillar. Find out more about Pillar and how to do the best interviewing of your life and build an amazing team, all starting at And if you like this episode, leave us a review or shoot us a note. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.