How to Hire an Operations Manager With People Skills

Sep 29, 2014
6 Min Read

Hiring an operations manager means finding someone with the right technical skills and abilities to fulfill the job description. But if that’s your only criteria for making a hire, you could be in for big, big trouble. 

When it comes to hiring an operations manager, it’s pretty clear from the resume whether the person has the necessary technical expertise to do the job. An interview is likely to confirm the person’s knowledge and skills, and if the salary is acceptable to the candidate you may be ready to offer the job.


Before you sign up someone who appears to be a great candidate, make sure you’re hiring someone with not only the right technical skills – but the right soft skills.

If you don’t, you may be sorry when the person is so ineffective in the position you either have to let him or her go in a year, or you have star talent walk out the door because the operations manager can’t seem to get along with anyone.

But how do you assess whether a candidate possesses the right people skills? The key is going beyond the standard Q&A and trying to launch a conversation that will reveal more about the person’s work ethic, communications style and ability to engage and motivate others.

Try asking questions such as:

  • Can you tell me about a time you had a very talkative, extroverted team member? How did you ensure you were communicating effectively?
  • Describe a time when an unhappy worker came to you about problems with a colleague and how you handled it.
  • What are issues with customers that really frustrate you and how do you handle them?
  • How do you deal with an underperforming team member?
  • Who is the best leader you ever worked for and what qualities did you admire most?
  • Describe a time you made a mistake in judgment and how you responded.
  • What has been your experience with delegating work?
  • What are some methods you use to coach workers?

These questions and others are aimed at assessing how an operations manager can handle challenging personnel situations, from the two co-workers who argue about who is responsible for a missed order to the talkative team mate who dominates meetings and overshadows the more introverted colleague.

An operations manager must be able to help those who are struggling, manage multiple projects at one time, stay calm and focused, make tough decisions with sometimes limited information and persuade those with different points of view to work together. All the technical knowledge in the world may not mean much if the operations manage can’t get cross-functional teams to collaborate or make dynamic presentations to higher ups.

Lou Adler, a recruiter and trainer at The Adler Group, suggests that more employers need to assess these non-technical skills earlier in the hiring process, “rather than leave this critical assessment to the very end.”

That means early in the process you need to look for candidates who have shown a history of working in collaborative environments, who have given compelling presentations at industry meetings or even those who have provided mentoring advice through alumni groups or non-profits. Has the candidate written articles for blogs or other publications that demonstrate an ability to communicate clearly?

Further, organizations need to focus on these soft skills if they want an operations manager that has the executive presence necessary to lead. Specifically, the Center for Talent Innovation finds that leaders need:

  1. Gravitas.  A leader must have the ability to show confidence and credibility and get others to cooperate when times are difficult.
  2. Communication. A person’s body language and speaking ability must convey his or her confidence and authority.
  3. Appearance. While we’d all like to believe that appearance doesn’t matter, science has shown time and again that people who do not present themselves well can damage their ability to lead.

Employers should keep in mind that they can no longer afford to just hire for technical skills and hope that an operations manager has the right skills to motivate a company’s most important aspect – it’s people.

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