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How to suss out your potential boss

Posted Rowan O’Grady, President Hays Canada on Friday, May 4, 2018

How to Suss Out Your Potential Boss | Hays BlogOften, the first time you meet a new boss is during your interview. That time in the interview room is key to figuring out if, and how, you’re going to be able to work for, and more importantly with, your future employer. So how do you discreetly, and effectively, suss out what you’re potential boss is really like during an interview?

1. Assess their communication skills

A job interview is a dialogue, and you’re interviewing a prospective company and its employees just as much as they’re interviewing you. Your new boss needs to prove to you that they can communicate effectively and clearly during the interview. If you can’t connect on at least some level with your new boss now, it’s likely going to be hard to establish an open and communicative dynamic once you start working together. Here’s a few things to look out for:

•    Do they demonstrate clarity? As your potential boss talks to you, watch how cogently they explain aspects of the business, their approaches, and any other topics. If they go off on tangents, ramble, or can’t articulate their points, that can be a sign that your new boss will be unable to provide clear instruction and direction down the road.
•    Do they communicate their expectations? What are they expecting from the successful applicant, and why is that important to the wider business? If your potential boss communicates at least that much clearly in the interview, you can be fairly certain you’ll know what their expectations are on a day-to-day basis. And that you’re going to know where you stand with them.
•    Will they listen to you and value your input? As you give your interview answers, observe how your potential boss is listening. Is there nodding, maintenance of eye contact, comments on your answers or references back to you later in the interview? Then they’ve definitely been engaged. Listening and engaging is the key process of two-way communication, and having a boss who not only listens to your input but engages with your ideas 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, that’s great, they’ll be able to teach you what they know and help you expand your skill set.

Then, during the interview, listen to how well-versed your new boss appears as they talk about those same points you’ve researched. Specifically with regard to their expertise, the organisation as a whole, and its place within the industry. Does everything match up? Do they seem confident in their knowledge in person? Do they go into detail? Are they still confident when asked follow-up questions?

If this person is going to train and develop you within this role and company they need to be not only highly knowledgeable, but willing and able to share that knowledge with you.

3. Will they support your career goals?

Even if your potential boss could support you with your professional development, the question is are they willing to?

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 as a ceiling on your career.” How can you gauge whether your potential boss will help or hinder you?

•    How do they respond to your ambitions? It’s highly likely that at least one interview question you’ll get about your career goals and ambitions will be “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” If your potential boss is engaged and gives good, insightful feedback – especially if they agree positively – there’s a strong likelihood you’ll get some level of support for your ambitions. Or even potentially get suggestions for new avenues to plan toward.
•    Have they helped their existing team progress? Ask your potential boss about the rest of their team. Have that team’s roles remained stagnant or have they developed? If those roles have evolved, it’s a good sign that yours can too, and that this is a business that values the kind of progression and personal development you want.
•    Do they view successes collectively? Listen to how your potential boss talks about their team’s successes. How much do they take credit for, and where? Do they mention individual team member accomplishments by name? How do their team members in the room react while their boss talks about team projects? Listen to the language your new boss uses: How often are they saying “we” vs. “I”? How often are they deferring to their team members to take the lead on a point those members know more about?

4. Are they passionate about what they do?

You can’t comfortably ask your potential boss this question outright. But you can ask them what their favourite aspect of their job is. If they’re spoiled for choice when they answer you’re on good ground.

What about when they talk about the organisation and the role itself? Do they smile, talk animatedly, seem enthused about the part they play in their industry? It’s important to assess up front whether your new boss actually enjoys being a part of their organization, because you can’t garner inspiration to do your best by the company and yourself working with an apathetic leader.

5. Gauge how pleasant they would be to work with

Your interviewer should be doing all they can to put you at ease. They’re courting you. But at the same time you need to be getting an idea of how pleasant they would be to work with.

Ask your potential boss to describe the culture of the team. If they use positive words like “sociable,” “friendly,” or “motivated” you’re looking in the right place. And if you meet with other members of the team during the interview, take note of how upbeat they appear. Is their body language open? What’s their response to being asked about their favourite aspect of working for the company? A boss sets the tone of the workplace and informs its culture top-down, so a healthy and productive team often stems from having a focused, sociable leader.

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. So use your time in the interview to make sure that you’re assessing them while they’re assessing you. Still looking to find that next amazing boss? Let Hays find you your dream company and perfect boss.

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