By Gemma Morris
18th July 2013

Is a less-than-perfect boss the ‘price of admission’ for an otherwise promising job opportunity?

Maybe you have your foot in the door at a great company. You’ve interviewed for a job that aligns perfectly with your skills and career goals. Everything seems in place and you’re even starting to envision a future for yourself there. There’s only one problem: you‘re not sure you like the person you’d be working for. It’s an uncomfortable – but not uncommon – situation that can cast a shadow over an otherwise positive interview experience. However, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker if you find yourself mulling over an offer.

First step: talk to your recruiter

Beyond being skilled at matching a candidate to the right role at the right company, a good recruiter should take the time to listen to your concerns. He or she should have some insight into the company, and perhaps even be familiar with the reputation of the hiring manager. Maybe other candidates have reported similar concerns with the interview style, but have found that the boss is actually really nice to work for. Perhaps the recruiter has feedback on internal goings-on at the company – e.g., the boss could be interim only, or maybe there’s a pending restructuring which would mean you wouldn’t be reporting to him for long.

Your recruiter should be able to provide you with post-interview feedback as well. It’s possible hearing what the potential manager had to say about you can clarify any ambiguous feelings you may have. If they were very impressed and spoke highly of you, then it’s quite possible you could co-exist happily and respect each other as professionals. But if the feedback indicates that the manager did not listen, did not learn anything about you, or did not take the time to give constructive comments, it could be a red flag about what kind of boss he would be.

One thing we all know about first impressions: they can be wrong. I recently spoke with someone who found a manager’s interview approach polite, but disconcertingly aloof, almost disinterested. As it turned out this was simply because, having read her CV, he was confident she had the skills and experience to do the job. His demeanour in the interview setting was indicative of his management style: professional, pleasant, and perfectly happy to let her carry on doing her job with minimum oversight.

Next: ask yourself some questions

It’s important to pinpoint what it was you didn’t like about this potential manager.  Be honest with yourself – this is actually an effective way to gain some insight about yourself, about what will and will not work for you as you continue your job search. If you find your answer is something along the lines of “He kept me waiting for 15 minutes,” or “She was constantly checking her Blackberry,” you may want to consider cutting them some slack. It’s possible they were up against a huge deadline, or were scheduled into three meetings at once – and that any apparent distraction was in no way a slight against you. Another thing to ask yourself: is it possible you were nervous, or lacking confidence, and let that colour your impression of the experience? In short – you need to decide if you are reacting to something on a personal level and could overcome it, or if it was something more substantive.

The Bad Boss: Dealbreaker

So you’ve decided it wasn’t something you were taking too personally, but that fundamental differences – whether in values, approaches to work, attitude to work/life balance, etc. – would make working for this person a very, very bad idea. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Numerous studies show that a negative working relationship with the boss is a leading reason employees leave their jobs. In fact, some studies say it’s the number one reason. Make no mistake, a difficult manager can have a tremendous impact on your professional life – and can even start to have an impact on your non-working life, as well. If alarm bells are ringing in your head, in response to specific qualities or statements revealed in the interview, you’d do well to heed your instincts.

Your boss is not your job

That being said, there are a lot of mitigating factors to consider. It’s entirely possible your boss would have a negligible role in your day-to-day life. Try to get as much information as you can on the following:

  •  How much time would you have to spend with that person?
  • How much say would they have over what you did?
  • Can you find another mentor at the company?
  • What are your chances for advancement, and what is the timeframe?

Again, ask yourself some questions:

  •  Do you have it in you to adapt, to be flexible? Do you know how to “manage up”?
  • Could you envision yourself in the boss’s job, and are you willing to work through adverse conditions to advance?
  • What is the cost of a lost employment opportunity versus the potential emotional toll?
  • Did you respect the manager’s knowledge of the business, and feel that your skills were understood in turn?
  • Is the company large and flexible enough that you could move to a different reporting structure in six months?
  • Could this be a valuable opportunity to grow professionally and strengthen your interpersonal skills?

In summary, be honest with yourself, trust your gut instincts, and do your research. Discuss your concerns openly with your recruiter. The good ones will do their best to get answers, guide you accordingly, and not force you into a situation you’re less than comfortable with.

Bad boss

Have you been in this situation? How did it impact your decision?  Leave a comment below.

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