Be Alert for Signs of a Bad Boss-to-Be

President,  Berman Larson Kane
President, Berman Larson Kane

Be Alert for Signs of a Bad Boss-to-Be

Many job applicants ignore warning signs about their boss-to-be. Yet recognizing the type of person you will be working for is one of the most important factors that should be considered when deciding whether to accept an offer, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

So keep a sharp outlook during a company’s courtship for hints that your hiring manager will morph into Ivan the Terrible Boss. According to the article, here are some common warning signs:

Easily Distracted: He arrives late for your twice-postponed interview. He can’t find your resume in his huge pile. He frequently interrupts you to take calls, check email or glance at his watch. Clearly, you or your coveted position isn’t his highest priority.

Poor Interaction: She offers a limp handshake, scant eye contact and shallow answers to your detailed questions about business. She stays seated behind a huge desk, arms folded cross her chest, and relegates you to a lower couch. This isn’t exactly someone committed to collaboration.

Me, Me, Me: The hiring manager talks solely about herself, giving current and former associates no credit for their accomplishments. The head of one major Philadelphia non-profit group spent much of his 30 minutes with a prospective fund-raising manager bragging about his feats there. When the newly-hired employee began work at the organization, she found the boss abusive. “He would scream at me in the middle of meetings in front of board members,” she told the newspaper. “I went into a very bad depression while I was working there.”

Negative Buzz: The fund-raising manager had checked out her would-be-boss with other community groups, but ignored their hesitant responses. She now believes that “if references aren’t effusive, that’s a warning sign.” It also helps just to look around the office. If no one appears happy, think twice before pursuing the job any further.

Wrong Line of Inquiry: Your interviewer wants to know your marital status, but he doesn’t ask much about your relevant skills. Intrusive personal questions could signal problems ahead with discrimination or workplace harassment. Meanwhile, a lack of serious talk might mean an aloof boss.

Stress Overload: How well a boss-to-be copes with stress during your interview speaks volumes about what it would be like on the job. Melissa Payner once turned down a middle management post with a New York retailer because the frazzled hiring manager repeatedly barked orders to his assistant, the article noted. “I felt as if he was looking to me to be the solution to his stress—almost to be his savior,” recalled Payner, president and CEO of, an online fashion, accessories and home furnishings concern in New York.

Melissa Dantz, an advertising professional, missed signs twice that a hiring manager would be a bad boss.  She accepted a job at a Boston-based ad agency, even though the owners failed to divulge their marriage to each other until after her job interview. She left after nine months, largely because she was expected to cover for the owners when they fabricated staffer names to show potential clients the tiny agency was larger than it was.

The following year, Dantz took a job with a suburban Boston event-production firm even though the officer interviewing her disparaged the prior incumbent. At work, that supervisor acted condescending toward everyone. Dantz quit after seven months. “The toll on my self confidence from the bad boss experiences was tremendous, and in retrospect avoidable,” she told the newspaper.

Despite the difficulty at times in recognizing bad-boss types, there are ways to hone your bad-boss detective radar. If job seekers “were just a little more attentive, they could save themselves a lot of grief,” suggested Dory Hollander, president of WiseWorkplaces, an executive-coaching firm in Arlington, Va. The Wall Street Journal article offered the following guidance issue:

  • First and foremost, prepare a list of ideal traits you would want in your next supervisor, and a second list of what bothers you most about your current one. Keep both in mind while quizzing present and past staffers about the boss-to-be. During your hiring interviews, ask direct questions about the boss’s leadership style and philosophy.
  • Trust your gut. If your stomach aches throughout the interview with your boss-to-be, share your feelings afterward with a coach or friend so you can separate bad-boss anxiety from routine job jitters.
  • And finally, don’t let job-hunt desperation cloud your radar screen. Melissa Dantz, now an international marketing manager for a shoe manufacturer, vows to never again let financial pressure “dictate the necessity of accepting any job offer.”