This Is the No. 1 Sign of a Boss You Don't Want to Work for, Says Career Expert—and How to Spot It

Pattanaphong Khuankaew | Twenty20

During job interviews, candidates spend too much time trying to understand the specific responsibilities of a position, instead of what it will be like to work for the direct supervisor.

But no matter how qualified you are for a position, you'll have a hard time advancing in your career if you don't have a healthy relationship of trust and respect with your direct manager.

While you'll never truly know a person until you start working for them, there is one question you can ask during the interview to get a sense of a boss' leadership style and work principles:

"Can you tell me about the most successful person you ever hired, and what they did that impressed you?"

Let's say you're interviewing at a company that claims to prize work-life balance, but then hear: "The best person I ever hired was Jim. He was one of our hardest-working sales employees; first one in, last one out. Not only did bring in a ton of new clients, but he always responded to emails quickly and arrived to meetings ahead of time."

Does that sound like a good work environment to you? Probably not. A total disregard for work-life balance is the biggest sign of a toxic boss.

I've seen so many people end up burned out and miserable in their jobs due to a boss who expects high quality work delivered in an unrealistic time frame.

A boss that's a good fit will describe an employee that you feel is similar to you.

So a more reassuring answer might sound more like: "It's hard to pick! Everyone on our team is so great. But I'll use Sonya, who was recently promoted to a senior position, as an example. She's never afraid to continue sharing ideas — even though they don't always work — and try new things that have helped us gain more clients. I just love her positive energy and enthusiasm for what we do."

Here's why this answer is indicative of a great boss:

  • She began her answer by acknowledging the entire team. There will always be favoritism in the workplace, but a good leader makes it clear that every team member is valued.
  • She offered a road map to success at the company. It's clear what qualities this boss is looking for in a hire: Someone who is forward-thinking, goal-oriented and works well with others.
  • She encourages growth. Employee promotions are always a good sign. You don't want to work at a place where your career will remain stagnant for years.

Other ways to spot a good (or bad) boss

1. Check LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

Use these websites to research things like how long employees stay at the company. High turnover is always a red flag.

2. Observe the work environment.

If you're going to an in-office interview, pay close attention to how employees interact with each other. Do they seem happy and energized? Or stressed and serious? Are they comfortably talking with each other? Or are they glued to their desks with their heads down?

3. Observe communication style.

Don't overlook unprofessional or rude behavior, such as emails that aren't returned for a long period of time (or, when they are returned, without any apologies), or constant interrupting during the interview.

4. Ask behavioral questions.

A few examples:

  • How would you describe your management style?
  • How have you dealt with a difficult or under-performing employee in the past? 
  • How have you rewarded an employee's excellent performance and hard work?

Hiring managers always ask a series of behavioral interview questions to get a sense of what type of employee you'll be. And it's essential to do the same when it's your turn to ask the questions.

J.T. O'Donnell is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, an online platform dedicated to helping people solve their biggest career problems. She has more than 15 years of experience in hiring, recruiting and career coaching. For career tips, follow her on TikTok @jtodonnell.

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