Bonus Question: Where do you relate best: up one level, down one level, or with peers?

Why Ask This Question?

As a rule, the younger an employee, the more comfortable he or she will be dealing directly with peers. It will naturally be more of a challenge dealing with supervisors (up one level) or subordinates (down one level), because earlier-career workers are learning how to navigate the subtleties of interpersonal communication and corporate etiquette. Still, some candidates may surprise you in their responses, both in terms of their selections as well as their justifications.

Analyzing the Response

If a candidate responds, I'm probably most comfortable dealing with peers at this point in my career,'' you might ask: ''What is it about peer relationships that makes you more comfortable?'' and ''How would you intend to develop that same level of comfort with supervisors and subordinates?''

A typical candidate response might sound like: Well, I think it takes time to get to know people and to get them to trust you. People respect competence, and over time, I would hope that both my supervisors and subordinates would respect the work I do and develop a trust in my abilities so that they could feel as comfortable with me as I would feel with them. Bravo! That's a very enlightened response.

Be a bit wary, however, of earlier-career candidates who respond that they're more comfortable relating to supervisors and/or subordinates, as there may sometimes be some gratuitous intentions in their response. First, keep in mind that a candidate who responds that he is most comfortable dealing with his supervisors (one level up) may indeed have a thoroughly good reason for doing so. ''I tend to focus on my work when I m in the office, and I don't do a lot of gabbing with my peers, so I've always seemed to have a stronger relationship with my boss than my coworkers is a perfectly reasonable response.

Likewise, if someone answers: ''I've always had the strongest bond to my subordinates—I love managing and leading others as I consider myself a natural-born teacher, and nothing gives me more satisfaction than putting their needs above mine while watching people thrive and grow, you may very well have a natural leader on your hands who feels protective of his staff and encourages their growth and development.

On the other hand, other responses may throw up red flags that require additional vetting via a reference check. For example, ''My bosses have always loved me and said that they didn't know what they d do without me is an arrogant and self-aggrandizing response that smacks of brownnosing. Similarly, ''I enjoy supervising because I m a leader, people love to follow me, and that s where the company gets the greatest value out of me sounds a bit pretentious and bombastic. Someone with that high a level of self-esteem may get in the way of the teamwork and camaraderie that you re trying to build in your workplace.

Likewise, you might follow up on your initial question by discussing contemporary sociology in the workplace: ''They say that millennials get along well with baby boomers but have a hard time with Generation X-ers. Have you read much about that or studied generational politics in the workplace? If so, I d love to hear your thoughts about that.

In any case, asking how a candidate sees himself in light of those above, below, and beside him in a workplace context may reveal aspects of his business maturity, social well-being, and natural communication style. More important, your conversation may lead to insights in terms of how he sees himself creating harmony in the workplace and building strong interpersonal ties with those around and above him (people of different generations)—a critical link in the hiring process for a generation that is known to suffer from a lack of developed face-to-face communication skills.

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