Hiring a Boss: 5 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

by: Paddy Padmanabhan

The saying goes that you don’t get to choose your parents. While that is true, you do get to choose practically everyone else on the planet – especially the people you work with.

A lot gets written about how to hire sales people, software engineers, and so on. The underlying assumption here is that exercising choice is a one-way process. In this article, I ask the question: how do you hire a boss?

Most hiring situations typically play out like this: the boss is hiring and gets to choose whether the job applicant gets hired. This thinking goes back to the command and control structures that originated in the days that civilizations set up armies and recruited soldiers who were expected to follow the command of their superiors. The world of work  is no longer about hierarchical chains of command but is more about fluid collaborations between skilled knowledge workers who get together to execute “missions” and may go their own separate ways. This is particularly true in the tech world which I live in.

This independent, free spirit style of work imposes serious interdependencies between the participants that requires, among other things, that managers and their teams work well together in a spirit of mutual respect and support. There is also an intergenerational shift in attitudes between the boomers, the Xers, and the millennials that is driving much of this.

Recent research has shown consistently that when people leave companies, they do so for one overwhelmingly common reason: their managers. Voluntary employee turnover impacts employee morale, lost productivity, company image, and the bottom line of companies.

If we were to flip the problem on its head, we could say that if employees and prospective hires did their research on their managers before accepting a position, we would have increased the chances of a productive and fun workplace, and not have the levels of voluntary turnover and employee dissatisfaction that is endemic in large and small corporations.

So, I boil it all down to one simple suggestion: recruiting is a two-way process, so be careful about choosing your boss. This will not only help you, but will help your boss, his or her management, and the company’s shareholders. In other words, you—the employee— will influence value creation from the day you choose to work with your manager.

Here are 5 things that you can do to hire the dream manager that will bring you (and him/her) long-lasting professional satisfaction:

1. Before you start interviewing, find out who you will be working for. Large companies routinely check the LinkedIn profiles and Facebook pages of prospective employees. Do the same for your prospective manager. Find a connection, maybe something like a common charity, church, or grad school you went to. This will ensure a certain alignment of values that improves teamwork and “chemistry.”

2. Assess the way your manager treats you during the interview process. Is she respectful, collegial, and friendly—or is she intimidating, condescending, and reserved?  Does she ask all the questions or does she encourage you to ask questions? These are signals that will tell you what it’s going to be like to work for this person.

3. Do you want to work for this person? This is the professional equivalent of choosing a life partner. What kind of person do you want your manager to be? If you’re a self-driven individual who communicates mainly through email, you may prefer a hands-off manager who is happy with email contact.  Ask the questions you need to ask at the time of the interview to assess not just compatibility in work styles, but also whether your manager is going to be a positive influence on your career. If he is a guru in some field that you want to be in, he may be the person who leads you to excel in the field and become a valued professional.

4. Is the manager honest? Much is written about things like resume fraud by job applicants, even at CEO levels. Invariably, these stories are slanted against you, the job applicant, because it is assumed that you will say anything to secure the job. Almost nothing is written about things that hiring managers say during interviews—such as the vaguely worded promise about a promotion within a year, the (not so) high-growth revenue numbers of the business, or the exact nature of your responsibilities. There’s not much you can do about someone who deliberately misleads you. However, there are some signs that indicate if your manager is basically honest – such as whether she will put down commitments in writing before you accept the offer.

5. What’s your manager’s track record? This is arguably the toughest question. How he became a manager (did he excel at something, or is he just related to the Founder/CEO?), how he treats team members, or how he has helped them grow professionally.  If you’re interviewing for a company where you don’t know anyone, this can be very hard to assess. However, you can look at sites like Glassdoor to learn about company culture, pay, quality of work, and individuals in leadership.

We see an enormous amount of wasted talent and energy in the workplace today that can be traced to the quality of the relationships between managers and their team members. The research lays the blame squarely on the managers. This is not to say managers don’t deserve the blame. However, if employees and prospective hires did their due diligence as rigorously on their managers as companies do on their recruits, we may be able to move the needle towards a better future.

Unfortunately, individuals are limited in their abilities and resources to conduct the type of due diligence that companies can and do. But then, we live in whole different world today where everyone leaves a digital footprint. So go ahead, be your own sleuth. Investigate and evaluate your manager thoroughly before you accept a job. Start by asking the simple questions. You will be doing yourself and your potential manager a huge favor.

About the author Paddy Padmanabhan @Technori
Paddy is a keen observer of technology-led business model innovation. During the week, he runs a healthcare analytics business. During the weekends, he plays guitar and sings in a classic rock and blues band. You can find him on www.linkedin.com/in/paddypadmanabhan99/, or follow him @paddypadmanabha.

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