how to answer “what do you look for in a manager?”

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A reader writes:

I was recently asked in an interview, “What do you look for in a manager?”

My honest answer is “consistency.” My last boss was fine – but she was renowned for changing her mind. I challenged her about it at times. She admitted that sometimes she changed her mind because she hadn’t thought things through. Other times it was because situations changed. Other times she denied saying one thing and was now saying something else. She had many good points but was frustrating.

But this is not something to talk about in an interview. I can deal with a crabby boss, a moody boss, a lovely boss, someone who delegates and someone who micromanages. But I do like a bit of consistency.

In any event, in the interview I talked about wanting a boss who was supportive, who delegated work and who communicated. So – sorry to ramble – but what should I have answered in the interview?

Well, it depends. If you want to be sure you don’t end up working for a boss like that again, then I’d be honest. Don’t go overboard of course, but if you really don’t want to be in that situation again, it’s fine to say something like, “I’ve found I work well with a lot of different management styles, but one thing I’ve found challenging is someone who reverses their own decisions a lot. Obviously, sometimes situations change and there’s nothing that can be done about that, but otherwise I like to make decisions by thinking through a situation and considering pros and cons, so that I feel confident in the decision and can stick to it, and I like to work with people who work that way too.”

By being forthright about it, you’ll screen out jobs where you might find yourself with exactly the sort of boss you don’t want. In other words, don’t focus on giving the answers that will get you a job offer, any job offer — focus on giving the answers that will get you a job you’ll like.

But, on the other hand, if the reality is that this is more of a nice-to-have than a must-have for you, and you’d want the job even if you knew your boss would be as inconsistent as your old one, then I think the way you answered was fine. It really comes down to how important this is to you.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    I once was told that if you really want THE JOB, then try to figure out and sum up a person sitting in front of you as an "ideal boss". However, I agree, at best, trying screen your new boss the fist time you're seeing them at the interview is like buying a cat in the bag. Bosses come in all possible varieties and until you work with one, you never know. However, if the situation permits, I do like to ask when it's my turn ("Do you have any questions for us") what's their management style and values are and what are they looking for in the ideal candidate. One manager said that she was ambitious and an overachiever, and boy, was she ever!… I guess I haven't heard it well when I should because I really wanted that job, not the manager (that comes in the package, of course.)

    Another thought is that we tend to base our wishes on the previous experience – like, if the boss was wishy-washy, it would be nice to have a new one who acutually manages or vica versa… However, from my personal experience, one extreme not always any better than another.
    So the hope for us all – job seekers – remains that those who are in the managing position would actually have enough qualifications and qualities to occupy that seat. Big sigh…..

  2. Office Humorist

    Great advice about being honest. I think one people lose sight of in interviews is that many times the questions are structured in a way that should help to find good fits for that job.

    If you find you have to lie or try to pick the "right" answer instead of your answer, will you really be happy in the long run?

    That's not to say that interviewing is perfect, or that was the case in this letter, but just something for people to keep in mind.

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