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How to spot a bad boss in the job interview

identify a bad boss

The interview should be a two-way conversation. Here are some questions to ask to spot a bad boss in the job interview.

The job interview doesn’t have to be a one-sided conversation with you in the hot seat being subject to an interrogation. It should be a conversation in which two people are deciding whether they want to work together, albeit with one (or more) in a supervisory position.

It’s not always a realistic scenario with so many people desperate for work right now. But in an ideal situation, if you’re in a position to look for a good job, rather than just any job, that’s how it should be. The interviewee should be determining whether or not the hiring manager is someone they want as a boss. And there are questions you can ask to figure that out.

You already know it’s important for the job applicant to ask questions during the interview, lest they appear to be disengaged from the process. And we’ve written in the past about what those questions should be. You can ask about the company culture and how success is measured in the role, for example.

When it comes to assessing the manager, psychologist Cécile Pichon reportedly suggests asking what makes the person proud of their team and where they expect improvement. Other questions Pichon suggests asking include:

What are the main qualities you expect in your employees?
What would my onboarding and training be like?
How would you define your management style?

You might also consider asking some pointed questions about the manager’s leadership style and ways of handling difficult situations. Below are three questions that will tell you a lot about the person’s management style and weed out a bad boss during the job interview.  

This is not a common tactic, and your interviewer may be caught off guard. So, only do it if you’re comfortable. If you are comfortable, you’re guaranteed to be memorable.

  1. Can you tell me how you would handle it if an employee made a big mistake? Do you have an example?

The answer to this question will tell you if the manager and the company already have protocol for employee errors. Or at least if the manager has given this some thought. If there is an example, and the manager is honest with you, you may learn something valuable about their management style and what you can expect from a working relationship. If they scream at people for mistakes, they won’t tell you that. So, it’s important to also pay attention to how they answer this question and if they even have an answer, rather than just what they say. A potentially bad boss won’t have an answer to this question and might even get irritated by it.

2. Can you give me some examples of when employees went above and beyond and/or truly impressed you?

A good boss pays attention to their team’s accomplishments and efforts, so someone you want to work for should have some good answers to this. They should be able to tell you about the time a team member did an amazing job on a project or planned a great surprise party. They should be able to tell you about the employees who pulled a week’s worth of all-nighters to get a presentation ready on time or found the perfect trade show merch to make the company stand out from the crowd. Any boss who can’t give you some examples of employees doing great things is not paying attention and that is a red flag.

What makes you a good person to work with?

Why not turn around the old “Why should I hire you?” and ask right out? It could be very eye opening to see a manager talk about themselves in the same way job candidates are expected to. Will they say that they are generous with praise and recognition or eager to help with career tracking? Will they say they’re flexible and patient, that they like to lead by example and try never to ask employees to do something they would not do themselves? The possibilities are endless! Hopefully the interviewer can give you a few good reasons why they’re a good person to work with. Obviously, if they can’t think of any, that might be cause for concern.

What do you think? Would you dare to ask these questions in a job interview?

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