How can you suss out your potential boss during an interview

How can you suss out your potential boss during an interview?

Your future boss will either be a catalyst for your career progression, or an obstacle to it. This person will also have a huge impact on your workplace happiness, engagement levels and overall wellbeing. Needless to say, it’s important to realise that, ultimately, your potential boss matters as much, if not more, than your potential new role.

More often than not, the first time you will meet your potential new boss will be during the interview process. It’s therefore important for you to use your time in the interview room wisely, in order to get a feel for what it really would be like to work for this person.

So how can you discreetly, yet effectively, suss out your potential boss during an interview?

1. Assess their communication skills

A job interview is a two-way street and your potential new boss needs to prove to you that they can communicate effectively and clearly during the interview. Why? Because this indicates whether or not you will have an open and communicative dynamic, should you work together in the future. So, here’s a few things to look out for:

  • Do they show clarity of thought? As your potential boss talks to you, assess how coherently they explain aspects of the business, as well their thoughts and ideas. If they go off on tangents, ramble or flit between sentences, then this could be a sign that, should you accept the role, your new boss will be unable to provide clear instruction and direction, which will ultimately leave you feeling confused on a day-to-day basis.
  • How do they communicate their expectations? What are they expecting from the successful applicant, and why is this important for the wider business? If your potential boss communicates this clearly in the interview, this implies that you will usually know what their expectations are and where you stand if you were to be managed by them.
  • Would they listen to you and take your ideas on-board? As you give your interview answers, observe how much your potential new boss is really listening to your answers. If they nod, maintain eye contact, comment on your answers or refer to them later on in the interview, then they have been listening. Listening is a key part of two-way communication, and having a boss who listens to your input and ideas within the role is essential in order for you to have a productive working relationship.

2. What could they teach you?

Ahead of the interview, research your potential boss online. If they have more skills, accolades, industry knowledge and experience than you, then great, this indicates they will teach you plenty and help you to upskill.

During the interview itself, listen to how well-versed they appear as they talk about their expertise, the organisation as a whole and its place within the industry. Do they seem confident in what they are saying? Do they go into detail? What about when you ask them further questions? If this person is going to train and develop you within this role and company, they need to be highly knowledgeable and happy to share this knowledge with you.

3. Would they support you in your career goals?

And that leads me onto my next point. Even if your potential boss could support you with your professional development, would they be willing to do this?

As my colleague Michael quite rightly puts it in one of his blogs “A good manager can act as a tutor for the rest of your life, whereas a bad manager could act a ceiling on your career.” So how can you gauge whether your potential boss would be ready and willing to help you to progress?

  • How do they respond as you talk about your ambitions? It’s highly likely that at least one of the interview questions you will be asked will focus around your career goals and ambitions, for instance “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” If your interviewer responds to your answers positively, agreeing or giving good feedback, then this implies that they have the capacity to support you with these ambitions. Don’t forget to also look at their body language. If they smile and nod, this is a good sign.
  • Have they helped their existing team to progress? During the interview, ask your potential boss about the rest of their team, specifically whether their roles have evolved and developed. If they have, then this is a positive indicator that your career will go in the same direction should you be offered and accept the role.
  • Do they see successes as collective? What about when your potential boss talks about the successes of their team? Do they talk about what their direct reports did well, and praise them for a job well done? Listen the language they use as well, for instance, do they say “we” achieved, instead of “I” achieved? If so this is the sign of an encouraging boss who values team work and will give praise and further support wherever necessary.

4. Are they passionate about what they do?

Of course, you can’t ask your potential boss this question outright, but you can ask them what their favourite aspect of their job is, and see whether they are spoilt for choice with their answer.

What about when they talk about the organisation and role itself? Do they smile, talk animatedly and seem enthused about what they do and the part they play within their industry? It’s important to assess whether your potential boss actually enjoys being a part of this organisation, as I can tell you now, it’s near impossible to take inspiration from an apathetic person.

5. Gauge how pleasant they would be to work with

Lastly, your interviewer should be doing all they can to put you at ease. But how can you get an idea of how pleasant they would be to work with on a daily basis?

Ask your potential boss to describe the culture of the team. If they use positive words like “sociable”, “friendly” or “motivated” then this is a good sign. If you meet with other members of the team during the interview process, take note of how upbeat they appear; from how open their body language is, to what they say when you ask them what their favourite aspect of working for the company is. The team culture is largely steered by your potential new boss, and reflective of what they are like to work for, so trying to get a feel for this is important.

There’s nothing more motivating than a passionate, approachable and knowledgeable boss who cares about your career progression. One who shares their knowledge and supports you in reaching your goals. Therefore, for the sake of your own career progression and success, use your time in the interview wisely to really suss out your potential new boss – after all, they should have just as much of a bearing on your assessment of the opportunity as a whole as the job itself.

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Rowan O’Grady is the President of Hays North America.

Rowan began his career with Hays in 1995, joining Construction & Property (C&P) in London, on the Trades & Labour desk, before helping to establish C&P in Dublin when it opened in 1996.

He was promoted through to regional manager, and then joined the team that  spearheaded Hays’ entry to the Canadian market in 2001. Rowan left Canada in 2004, to return to Hays in Ireland but returned in April 2009 to oversee all of Canada.