How to Spot a Bad Boss Before You Start a New Job

August 12, 2014

If you’ve been in the workforce long enough, you know the feeling of having a bad boss. You stay up late, refusing to surrender to sleep because it means going to work the next day. You wake up dreading going to work, hitting the snooze button multiple times before dragging yourself out of bed. You feel an uncomfortable sense of almost magnetic repulsion as you approach your office door. At work, you’re on edge, and can’t shake the sense of imminent catastrophe. Everyone is walking around on eggshells. Weekends become a refuge where put your mind as far away from work as possible and you shudder at the thought of Monday.

Bad bosses are terrible for your career. They’re terrible for companies. They’re terrible for the economy and, in a wider sense, they’re terrible for society. We’ve all encountered bosses who project their own insecurities onto other people by carving out small fiefdoms and ruling them with an iron fist. These bosses are hypocritical in what they demand of their employees verses what they themselves accomplish. They issue orders instead of leading. They micromanage. And they refuse to take accountability.

When you start a new role, it sometimes takes weeks or more before realizing you’re stuck with a bad boss. But is it possible to spot a bad boss before you start a new job? Are there any signs in an interview that can tip you off that you should run in the other direction?

Here are 5 questions you should ask yourself during an interview to help determine whether you’ve got a good or bad boss on your hands:

1. How do the other employees seem when you come in for the interview?

When you go into a new office, observe the body language of other employees in the workspace. If they avoid eye contact, or seem sullen or disengaged, dissatisfaction with the supervisor might be the culprit. If it’s for a more senior-level role, does the hiring manager let you interview with peers? A good boss will be conscientious of building a thriving ecosystem, and he or she will want buy-in from other members of the team before adding to it. A boss who’s overly controlling will isolate the members of the team they supervise. So pay attention to interactions with current employees, or lack thereof.

2. Does the supervisor speak overly negatively of previous employees?

Recruiters and career experts often give candidates the piece of advice that you should never speak negatively about a previous role in an interview. It makes sense. You don’t want the employer to think that you’re going to badmouth this job if and/or when you move on. But hiring is a two-way street, and candidates need to be just as mindful of similar behaviour in hiring managers. A boss who speaks overly negatively about previous employees might have unrealistic standards of behaviour, or they might be overly willing to throw their team under the bus for their own failings.

3. Are they distracted in the interview or overly pushy?

You should have a certain tolerance for outside interruptions during an interview, especially if it’s a fast-paced workplace. But an effective leader will be fully engaged during an interview and won’t be consistently taking calls, answering emails, checking their phone or (we’ve heard this one surprisingly often) leaving the room. This type of behaviour shows a lack of focus at best, and a tactic to seem important at worst. Likewise, does the interviewer let you speak without interruption, and do you feel like you’re being heard? These are questions you should ask yourself as the interview progresses.

4. Have you looked up the company culture online?

When you’re interviewing, it’s important to look at a new opportunity the same way you would look at a major purchase. There’s a huge wealth of information online. So you want to do your homework. Not just in terms of understanding a company and its culture so that you can nail the interview, but also so that you can determine whether it’s going to be a rewarding place to work. You can use sites like which provide employee feedback about various companies. You can also check out the role on LinkedIn. Run a search for the job and evaluate whether there’s been lots of turnover. Are there tons of people with the same role who were there only for a short while? That could be an indicator of a bad boss.

5. Have you asked them what kind of boss they are?

Sometimes, instead of trying to ascertain a boss’s method of leadership indirectly, it’s helpful to just come out and ask a prospective supervisor about their leadership style to see if it jives with the way you like to work.

It’s certainly the case that not everyone is in a position to pick and choose who they want to work for. But a bad boss can be such a drag on your career that it’s worth considering these questions before you go in for a role.

Do you have any stories of being tipped off about a potentially bad boss? Please share in the comments and pass this article on to your network!



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