How to select your new boss

Aug 17 2007 by Bob Selden Print This Article

Jane had been out of the country for over a year and returned home to start a new job as a physiotherapist in a family run business. She was excited about the new role as the husband and wife team who ran the practice had been asking her for some time to join them as a full time employee.

During the first week, Jane did not have as many patients as others, so she was asked to work less hours. This seemed fair as it does take time to build a personal clientele: However in her second week, it became obvious that Jane's full time job was to be part time. Her bosses were setting her up to work part time hours.

To make matters worse, she also started to get a bit uneasy about her new boss' management styles. Firstly they seemed unwilling to talk about her hours. Then, she found her patient files had been examined without advising her, nor had she been given any subsequent feedback, either positive or negative. Jane is someone who likes to be involved and communicated with. Her ideal job had started to lose its shine.

Have you had an experience where you found out after starting in a new role that your boss was not all that you thought he or she might be? Or maybe you are in the process of applying for a new job right now? Perhaps some of the following will be of help.

When applying for a new job, we are (rightly) concerned about putting our best foot forward and making sure that we are selected. Often we neglect the fact that it is a two way street Ė they select us and we select them. Unfortunately, the consequences of not selecting the right boss only become obvious once we are in the new role.

There is a raft of research, my own included, which clearly shows that people do not leave an organisation, they leave a boss. So it is vital that when you apply for a position, you not only look at the organisation and the role, but you also interview your prospective boss with as much thoroughness as he or she interviews you.

It is vital that when you apply for a position, you interview your prospective boss

But how do you do this, particularly when the focus of the employment interview is the other way round?

Well, before you even get to the interview, it is very useful to jot down what your selection criteria are for an effective boss. You should do this in much the same way as you would if you were a manager selecting a new employee. Everyone's "ideal" will be different, but here are some points to help you develop a profile of your ideal boss. Add your own to the list.

  • Think back to previous good bosses that you have had. What made them "good" for you?
  • Conversely, think of the reasons why some previous bosses have not been so good. Avoid these at all costs.
  • How much autonomy do you like in your job?
  • How much feedback do you like to get about your performance? How do you like this feedback given?
  • How much responsibility do you like to be given?
  • Are you a very practical person, or more creative? How should your boss manage this?
  • How do you like to be trained and coached?
  • How do you like your boss to communicate with you?

When you have drawn up your selection criteria, place them in priority order. This is so that you can make a sound and realistic assessment of your potential boss' ability to manage you in the style which bests suits you.

Once you are clear on your criteria, weave them into the following boss interview process.

Look for clues during the interview

You may get some idea of how your future boss operates by the way the interview is conducted. For example, did it start and finish on time? Is this important to you? How courteous was your prospective boss? How formal or informal was the room? Did this have an impact on you?

Think about what the style and substance of the interview is telling you about the interviewer. Did he/she allow you the opportunity to put your point without talking over the top of you? How well listened to did you feel? Did he/she discuss examples of previous employees in a confidential manner? Did he/she explain the performance requirements of the role? Did you gain a very clear idea of what will be expected of you in the role?

Finally, from the examples and explanations given, what management style do you believe your prospective boss has? Does this match your ideal?

Find out what your prospective boss' ideal employee looks like

When the interview gets to the "Do you have any questions?" stage, here are some questions you might like to ask. The aim here is to get him/her to describe their ideal employee.

For example, you may ask:; "You've probably had some very good employees working for you. What is it about them that made them so good?" Of course, you can also ask about his or her poor employees as well.

These questions may sound as if they are looking at the employee and in fact they are. However, the answers the boss gives will be about the things he or she looks for and judges their employees on and most importantly, how he or she manages them.

Look for signs during their answers that tell you about your selection criteria, such as autonomy, responsibility, initiative, communication and so on.

Assess your boss against your selection criteria

You should have a question ready for at least each of your three most important selection criteria. For example, if "autonomy" is a key need for you, your question may be something like "Autonomy is important to me as I find it very motivating. Can you please give me an example of how you manage the level of autonomy you give your people?"

Or perhaps if "training" is important for you, your question might be "I like to learn as much as I can about the job and the organisation. Can you please give me an example of the training or coaching you provide for your people?"

In all of your boss selection questions, keep asking for examples to illustrate. Examples describe what the boss does and says with his/her employees. With enough examples, you can develop a very good idea of your prospective boss' management style.

Finally, if your interview throws up some doubts in your mind about the prospect of a positive relationship with your prospective boss, my advice would be to "pass" on this role and look for another opportunity.

Try not to become too seduced by the excitement of the role, the salary or the conditions. Ultimately, all of these will pale by comparison with the ongoing relationship you have with your boss.

Keep in mind that it is a selection interview Ė for both of you.

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About The Author

Bob Selden
Bob Selden

Bob Selden, is an author, management consultant and coach based in New Zealand and working internationally. Much of his time currently is spent working with family businesses. He's the author of the best-selling What To Do When You Become The Boss. His new book, What To Do When Leadership Is Needed, was released in July 2022.