Spotting a “crappy” boss in the interview

“My boss is an asshole”

“My boss is the worst ever!”

“If I had know he was this bad I would never have taken this position!”

How many times have you felt this way? or have you heard your coworkers and friends complain about their managers?

Are those managers really “crappy assholes”?

Certainly some managers are universally horrible and the news media loves the really juicy stories. The sexist “handy” managers that confuse management with the opportunity to get free sexual favors is clearly an “asshole” manager.

Most of the time, managers are just simply average. The “crappy” comes not from the manager but from the manager-employee clash of styles and the manager’s lack of skill or willingness to work on improving their communication skills.

Things work out o.k. if the manager’s default management style matches with how an employee likes to be managed.

For example, a manager may prefer a friendly collaborative style. Employees that like an easygoing manager will find this manager excellent. Another employee who prefers a “decisive” manager, may regard the very same manager as “indecisive”. This employee may prefer a manager that makes quick decisions and sticks to it.

Another factor to consider is the management style set by the CEO or division manager. Managers adopt the management style preferred by the company as a whole. A company run by a cutthroat, hard-charging CEO will have managers who mimic this management style. It is rare that a successful manager adopts a different management style from the style set by the company culture.

In order to answer the original question:

How can I spot “crappy” bosses?

you must know answers to these questions. Keep in mind that there is no right answer, this is a reflection of how you are as a person:

How do you like to be managed?

  1. Do you need/like a manager that demands long hours?
  2. Do you like a manager that is collaborative or stays out of your way?
  3. Do you like to be rewarded based on your individual contribution or more on team results?
  4. Do you like a manager that is parsimonious with praise or do need praise more frequently?

What kind of communication do you want or need from a manager?

  1. “I want to hear from my manager every day, every week, or just once a year to get my bonus and 15% salary increase”
  2. “I need to a personal connection to my manager” v. “I don’t care about his kids.”
  3. “I want to check in daily with my manager to make sure that she is happy with my progress” v “My manager micromanages me because she is checking in more than once a week.”

How adaptable are you to different communication styles or managers?

An employee needs a certain amount of flexibility with regards to management style. However, there are management styles that are too different from your personality for you to thrive under that manager or in that company. This is not a personal failing. This is human nature. A person who can’t stand to be a sales person but thrives as an accountant is not failing because they prefer to be an accountant.

How adaptable is the company and the manager?

Some companies expend a great deal of effort to train managers; other companies expect employees to “be adults and deal with it.”

Knowing this will tell you how much wiggle room there is when matching styles.

In the interview

Once you know your style and what management styles will bring out your best performance, you can now prepare open-ended, innocent questions to determine the company’s management style.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. What kind of manager are you?
  2. Tell me about your best employee, what makes her so good?
  3. Tell me about how you reward employees?
  4. Tell me about how you deal with conflict between team members?
  5. How does an employee get noticed for promotion?
  6. How do you handle a project that is slipping?

Lastly, try not to compromise

If you know a certain management style is going to make you miserable; don’t go to the company. If you are super human, you might be able to “tough it out”. More likely, you will be miserable, underperform, and be fired.

Some times life doesn’t give us a choice and you have to deal with a management style that is not ideal for you. But this post is a starting point for understanding your misery and how you can adapt to your current situation. You might discover with conscious planning that you can thrive in a difficult management situation.

(Personal note: 58minutes to create)

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