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How to Spot Good and Bad Bosses in Your Job Search

Take time to evaluate your future manager

With employment opportunities improving, now could be the perfect time to apply for a more fulfilling position. But your next job should be the right job, and being proactive in evaluating your prospective boss can result in positive, even life-changing results. When searching for a great job and boss, you must become a bit of a sleuth.

Your Pre-Interview Checklist

• Before your interview, research the prospective employer and boss thoroughly, and include social media, networking and phone calls to get an inside perspective. What is the turnover rate? What are bloggers saying?

• Be prepared to ask questions that speak to the company’s culture, as well as your potential boss’s work style.

• Try speaking to employees, with your hiring manager’s permission, to get an overview of the culture and the manager's general expectations.

How to Evaluate Your Prospective Boss

Here are some tips and warning signs to help you sort out tyrannical (Terrible Office Tyrant - TOT) bosses from terrific ones—saving yourself a major misstep.

Tyrant: When you arrive for the interview, the receptionist appears disinterested, curtly says to take a seat and you wait for seemingly an eternity.

Terrific: The receptionist is warm and welcoming. The interviewer comes out to meet you, shakes hands and introduces himself, then escorts you to the office. You pass by friendly people who smile.

• What is your first impression? Are you treated politely, with respect and a friendly demeanor? 

• Does the hiring manager extend common courtesy? When you arrive for the interview, are you kept waiting in the lobby, 15 or 20 minutes past your scheduled appointment? If so, is the manager apologetic and armed with a reasonable excuse for the delay?

• If he or she is careless with your time, you can expect more of the same once you're hired.

Tyrant: As you walk toward the interview office, employees avoid eye contact. There’s little or no interaction among staff.

Terrific: As you walk toward the interview office, the boss is friendly toward others, and you feel an air of upbeat energy and respect.

• When you walk through the office, are employees slumped in their chairs looking bored? Are they laughing? Do they seem content? Are they collaborating?

• Ask your hiring manager for the opportunity to speak with one or two other peers to get a feel for the work environment. Most companies encourage this practice. Start with general questions about their positions, and then work your way to the more sensitive ones about culture and your boss’s work style. Is it a team environment or more individualistic? What are the typical work hours in the department? Engender a feeling of trust before you begin your inquiries.

Tyrant: Frequently checks his watch or e-mails, looks at his cell or allows others into his office as you sit patiently. He seems antsy or preoccupied. (If you see a framed cartoon depicting him as The Big Cheese, consider going back to the proverbial drawing—or job—board!)

Terrific: Looks you in the eyes and projects an interested attitude. Asks about your goals and long-term career path. Her office includes items that show the team, versus solo accomplishments.

• If your questions during the interview are met with brief answers or evasive responses despite genuine interest in you, you can expect a manager who is not readily available. On the flip side, if you have so many questions fired at you in succession that you have trouble remembering all of them - you may have a micro-manager on your hands. A good manager is interested in your long-term growth (not just short-term corporate needs) and will spend the necessary time to respond.

Keep in mind that asking hypothetical questions can help you figure out the subtleties of a manager's approach—but diplomacy is key if you take that path.

• Is his general demeanor consistently relaxed and professional? You want a thoughtful, even-keeled manager who can be the calm before, during and after the storm.

Tyrant: Seems to be doing her job, but not passionate about it.

Terrific: Explains the company’s mission with enthusiasm. Makes sure all your questions are answered.

• Does the hiring manager talk incessantly about himself? Assume your future boss is on her best behavior during the interview. 

• Those who chat incessantly about themselves, as opposed to being good listeners, may not be good mentors or be available to you.

Tyrant: At the end of the interview, mispronounces your name, over- promises advancement opportunities: “Chances are you’ll be considered for a promotion in a couple months.” Starting dates and perks are vague.

Terrific: Sets a reasonable hiring date. Says how and approximately when you will be notified. On your way out, the receptionist makes eye contact and projects a positive attitude.

• Over-promising in an interview should be a red flag: if it sounds too good to be true, it often is. It’s up to you to ferret out hyperbole in the job interview.

• If everything checks out and you feel a sense of positive energy at the company, then show genuine enthusiasm for the position. Ask what your next step should be. You'll get straight answers if you're dealing with an "anti-TOT."

Your next job can change your life significantly for the better (or worse). A little investigative work upfront is well worth the effort.

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