In many ways, moving ahead in our careers depends on our bosses: the people who can motivate us, advise us, challenge us, or — on the other hand — make our lives miserable.
If you've never had a boss who made you miserable, consider yourself lucky. And if you want to wind up lucky in a new job, you need to know something about your would-be boss. That's why you should ask these three questions in your first or second interview to determine whether this is someone you’d want to work with:
What words would you use to describe the people who report to you?
- What you want to hear: A quick answer with positive-sounding words like creative, smart, friendly, or talented. The quickness of the answer indicates a good grasp of the direct reports’ individual qualities. The words, meanwhile, speak more about the boss’s attitude toward them.
- What you don't want to hear: A long pause. Or worse, phrases like diligent, serious, and hard-working. These may indicate that the boss is more interested in getting the job done than in the people who get it done.
If you had a problem with something I did, how would you tell me?
- What you want to hear: A thoughtful answer spoken in a soft tone — something like, "I'd ask you to come into my office, explain why it was a problem, and ask why and how it happened. Then, I'd ask for your ideas on how we can avoid it in the future and if there's anything I can do to help you."
- What you don't want to hear: An abrupt response such as, "I’d email you about it," or a dismissive statement about not letting it happen again (without offering solutions on how to avoid it). This may indicate an unwillingness to open up to you or help you grow on the job.
Mistakes happen, and they're often our best lessons for improving our skills. A boss who doesn't recognize that shouldn't be managing people.
Within my first three months on the job, what are some of the things you'll be expecting to see from me?
- What you want to hear: Reasonable expectations for a new hire, such as that you're mastering the role, you work well with your teammates, you show interest in learning new things even beyond your role, and that you can be trusted to get the job done.
- What you don't want to hear: A curt statement such as "I just need someone to fill the job," or expectations that go beyond what anyone could accomplish during the first few months after starting a new job.
As we struggle to recover from a hard-hitting recession, more people who’ve been stuck in jobs with bad bosses will be looking for something (and someone) better. Savvy employers are aware of that, and recognize that retaining key workers will be increasingly important for their future success. One of the most important ways of doing that is to grow and develop good managers who will help others grow in their work and chosen career paths.
What's the one thing you like to see in a boss or manager? Tell us about it.
Must-Ask Interview Questions
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