When It’s Not Love at First Sight: Spotting a Poor Manager in an Interview

Between polishing up your resume, dishing out a healthy serving of applications, and studying to become some kind of interview-slaying champion, it’s easy to forget that the interview isn’t meant to be a one-sided interrogation. Evaluating your potential employer is equally as important as selling your candidacy, as it allows you to gain invaluable insight into the culture, internal workflow, and your overall compatibility with the company. Topping the list of details you should be probing for, is whether or not you will be working for an impactful leader or an ineffective, ‘bad’ boss. Here’s some guidance on how to detect a bad boss during your quest to uncover what type of manager you are potentially aligning yourself with.

Understand Your Work Habits and Preferences

There’s no definitive checklist, 3-part webinar series, or encyclopedia of attributes that characterize a poor manager. Classifying someone as a bad boss is highly subjective; you may place a particular boss in the ‘awful’ category while another person naturally synchronizes with that boss’s type of management style. Thankfully, we all harbor unique taste palates when it comes to our professional lives. Otherwise, everyone would pursue the same career.  Imagine existing in a world solely comprised of lawyers? We’d live in a perpetual state of court proceedings and debates, the economy would deteriorate, we’d starve, and cue the zombie apocalypse.

By constructing a mental portrait of your ideal boss, you’ll be able to better identify which traits complement and harmonize with how you work. While you may feel a bit uncomfortable when it comes time to inquire about management style, asking questions will help you uncover your level of compatibility during the interview rather than leaving it up to chance after you’ve already been hired. Some questions you can ask include, “Do you typically supply the team with detailed, step-by-step instructions when it comes to executing a particular task or project? Or, do you allow employees to take the reigns and figure out a solution on their own?

Your style preferences will ultimately dictate which option equates to a bad boss in your mind. However, one universal indicator that you’ve got a not-so-great manager on your hands is when the individual is unapologetically rude or is blatantly agitated by you posing these questions. 

You Can’t Photoshop Personality 

Working for a boss who values transparency, shows humility, and is relatable on both a personal and professional level is paramount for creating an environment that’s conducive to your success. Having shared beliefs builds chemistry – your boss will be communicating in a language that naturally speaks to your career aspirations, drives your progression, and encourages you to thrive.

A great way to get a feel for your potential manager’s personality is to engage in a little small talk. The individual can certainly pre-prepare for what they’ll say in the interview, but when you begin a casual, unpremeditated conversation, their true personality will be put on display. After all, would you really want to inherit a boss that can’t chime in on their latest Netflix obsession or share their thoughts on a trending news story? You want to report to a manager that shows versatility, versus one whose native dialect appears to only include business-related vocabulary.   

Do your best to emulate Olivia Benson’s sleuthing skills in Law and Order and survey the boss’s desk and surrounding work environment. Are you tempted to contact A&E to film an episode of Hoarders? Would it take a hazmat suit to remove the discarded crumbs and moldy remains of old food? Is their space decorated with family photos or is their office practically empty? Taking note of these details will give you some non-verbal cues as to what type of culture you may be signing up for.  

The Inside Scoop

Many employers will schedule some time for you to meet and/or shadow your prospective teammates. Observing the boss’s interpersonal skills and how they interact with other employees will allow you to catch an inside glimpse of the type of internal ecosystem they’ve created. If you detect arrogance, a lack of accountability, or notice they squash ideas and discourage innovation, you may be dealing with a fractured, even oppressive culture. Dysfunctional family gatherings are for Thanksgiving and birthdays, not the workplace. You can even use more casual encounters between your potential boss and their colleagues, like how they treat others they pass in the hallway, to assess their behavior and management style.

Hold Them to Their Own Standards

Would you expect an employer to hire a candidate who lacked energy or had a blasé attitude throughout the interview? Fat chance. As an equal participant in the conversation, you should expect the same caliber of interest and enthusiasm from the interviewer. The manager’s body language and how focused (or distracted) they are during the interview will tell you a lot about how much value they place in their employees. Likewise, if they clearly didn’t prepare for the interview, ask generic questions, or repeat themselves because they aren’t truly present, it’s a pretty strong indication that you’re sitting across from a poor leader. Effective bosses can adequately and passionately explain the company’s values, mission, and future vision for growth and development.

Many unpracticed or newbie job seekers forget that an interview is a two-way dialogue. While an employer is evaluating the compatibility between your skill sets and the needs of the role, you should simultaneously be exploring if your potential boss and the culture they’ve created is a fit for you. Despite how enticing the salary or daily free lunch may be, don’t turn a blind eye to red flags that crop up during the interview. A large portion of your future success with a company boils down to your boss’s management style and their level of commitment to driving your progression. You should never feel obligated to accept a job offer, especially if your experience during the interview left you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Michele Loizzi Written by:

Michele Loizzi is the Director of Recruitment Marketing Services at Human Edge.

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