How to spot (and avoid) a horrible boss

How to deal with horrible bosses

A couple of months ago I wrote about what I look for when interviewing a job applicant. Now it is worth considering what you, the applicant, should be looking for.

No matter what stage of life or career you are at, as an interviewee, it really is your responsibility to be an investigator. Digging beneath the surface is often required to uncover the true culture of a business and the personality of the person sitting across from you. Clues abound, but they will be of no value to you if you are not looking for them.

Every moment of my working life I sum up clues about people’s character, authenticity, motivation and whether they’re going to be easy to collaborate with. This mindset is very beneficial in interviews. Here are my tips to help you make an informed decision about the potential new job and boss:

1. Keep an ear to the ground

From the moment the interview begins, study whether your interviewer(s) is actually listening to what you have to say. More to the point, ascertain whether they are exhibiting a genuine curiosity and interest in you. If they don’t in the interview, it is likely they won’t in the job. Is that the sort of person you want to work for? Signs a company has a culture problem.

2. Honest eyes

One of my tried and tested techniques is to determine whether a person’s eyes are in alignment with what they are telling me. The eyes often tell a contrary story to the voice. When in doubt, I trust the eyes. So, are the interviewers eyes and what they are telling you consistent?

3. If it is “I” before “we”, reconsider becoming an employee

As a potential employee you want to feel part of a team with a common purpose. You need evidence during the interview that such a team might exist. One of the ways to form a reasonable view is to listen carefully to the language being used by the interviewers. A natural team leader will comfortably use the word “we” when discussing the workplace. The interview should never be about the interviewer’s personal achievements or goals. Sure, they might slip these in occasionally, but proceed cautiously if it is always “I” before “we”.

4. The Dominator

In almost every interview there is a dominant interviewer – this is often the most senior person in the room. This scenario provides you with a very good opportunity to note firsthand the comfort of the other staff in the presence of their boss. Do they nod nervously in agreement? Are they shy to engage more broadly in the conversation? Are they seeking approval after they speak? Look for the signs of the world you might be signing up to. Are you a bad boss or do you have one?

5. Throw in the culture question

Ask the dominant interviewer to describe what they view as the culture of their organisation. More often than not you can expect one of three responses.

One, a generalization of the behaviours expected within the business. Two, a dispassionate articulation of structure and protocol. Finally, and the one most of us want to hear, is a passionate explanation of the positive and sustainable culture that has been built over time. Whatever the response, if it is genuine, you should note a positive change in the body language of the responder and his or her colleagues.

Developing complete certainty about a new job is impossible to achieve, but through a well thought out investigation, paying attention to the clues, you will be able to obtain a degree of confidence that the job is right for you. I wish you all the best.


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