3 Ways to Spot a Bad Boss in an Interview, According to Harvard

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
May 24, 2024 at 10:19PM UTC

It's no surprise that one of the most significant factors in determining your happiness at work is your relationship with your manager. In fact, a large reason people quit their jobs is because they don't get along well with their managers. That's why it's hugely important for you to determine whether or not you and your prospective manager will have a good working relationship.

While you can't make assumptions based off of one interaction with someone, first impressions do speak volumes, and you can and should always trust your gut about people. That said, it can be difficult to assess whether or not you'll like your new boss, especially when you're hyperfocused on getting them to like (and hire) you.

"Being laser-focused on getting the job can sometimes cloud your judgment," Harvard researchers write. "After each step, ask yourself whether this is the job you want and the manager you want to work for. Did you get a good feeling from the person? Is she someone you can imagine going to with problems? Or someone you could have a difficult conversation with? When the stakes are high, it’s best to trust yourself."

Because that's easier said than done, here are three simple steps you can take to gauge what your working relationship might look like from the interview alone, according to the Harvard research.

1. Have an idea of what kind of boss you want to work for.

First and foremost, you should know what kind of boss you would prefer to work for. Ask yourself who you typically get along well with, and what qualities those people have. Then ask yourself if you think the person interviewing you may have those particular traits. If they don't, the chances are higher that they'll be a bad boss for you.

"Is this an honest person, offering you a sustainable job for which you have something unique to contribute?" the researchers ask. "You might also spend some time visualizing the kind of relationship you want. Are you looking for someone who will stand back and let you run with your work? Or are you hoping for someone who can be an involved mentor? This will give you some criteria against which to evaluate your potential manager when you’re in the interview."

2. Probe the interviewer strategically.

Ask your interviewer questions that may be able to give you the answers you need to determine whether or not they'll be a good boss. While you shouldn't just directly ask about their leadership style, as it can suggest hesitancy on your part (and the interviewer is trying to sell you on the job, so they may not be super honest), you can ask questions that help the interviewer to visualize you actually on the job. This way, they can explain how they'd handle different scenarios, without you having to explicitly inquire.
“What will I do on a day-to-day basis?" and "How will I learn?" are two great questions you can ask, according to the researchers. 
"Phrasing your questions as if you already have the job will help the hiring manager create a mental picture of you in the role," they explain.

3. Do your own research.

You should always do research before and during an interview. Your research can help you spot a bad boss before they become your own boss.
"One of the greatest mistakes you can make is failing to do your due diligence," the researchers write. "Don’t go into a job with your eyes closed."
You should study up on the company and its culture, as well as the interviewer and their experiences. This way, you already know what you're walking into and you have some idea of how the manager may be if you were to work for them — you only need to confirm or dismiss your suspicions. 
"Do a Google search on your potential manager — check out his online profiles, as well as those of people who used to work for him," the researchers recommend.
By doing this, you can tell whether or not people under this manager tend to stick around or if there's high turnover. If you find people who've used to work for this manager, you can also reach out to them and ask them questions about what it's like working for that manager, too. Likewise, you can reach out to your potential future colleagues and get the same questions answered from them.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.
This article was written by a FGB Contributot.

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