how to spot a bad boss — before you take the job

If you’ve ever worked for a bad boss, you know how miserable they can make your daily life at work – and how hard they can make it to progress in your career. And if you’re like most people, you’ve probably vowed to avoid awful managers in the future.

But do you really know how to spot a terrible boss while you’re interviewing? Bad bosses don’t usually wear scarlet B’s to identify themselves – but they do give away important clues if you know what to pay attention to. Here are 10 ways to learn more about the person you’d be working for..

  1. Pay attention to the energy in the office. What are others you interact with during the hiring process like, and what signs are you picking up on as you move through the office space? Do people seem cheerful and focused? Or do people seem unhappy, stressed, or fearful (signs of a tyrant manager) or negative or disengaged (signs of an ineffective manager)?
  1. How does the interviewer treat you? Your interviewer doesn’t need to buddy up to you (and in fact shouldn’t), but she should treat you kindly and respectfully. If an interviewer is rude or hostile, denigrates your qualifications, or is dismissive of your answers, BELIEVE what you’re seeing. There’s no reason to think that this interviewer will turn into a kind manager once you’re on the job – you’re likely to continue receiving this kind of treatment.
  1. Can your interviewer clearly describe what success in the position will look like? Beware of a manager who can’t tell you what you’ll be expected to achieve in your first year on the job or how your success will be measured. That’s the sign of a manager who hasn’t thought through what she really needs – and of a manager who’s more likely to surprise you with different expectations than what you thought you were signing up for.
  1. Does your interviewer ask thoughtful questions that relate to your ability to do the job well? Interviewers who ramble on and one without rigorously probing into your ability to do the job, or who ask questions that have no bearing on your skills (like “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?”) are managers who don’t know how to build an effective team – and it’s likely to cause problems once you’re on the job. 
  1. Why is the position open, and what happened to the person who used to fill it? If the person who used to be in the job left after less than a year – and especially if the person before her did too – find out why. Is the workload unmanageable? Are the expectations unrealistic? Is the manager hard to get along with? Hearing about the experience of people in the job previously won’t always be conclusive, but it can give you some insight into what the position might be like.
  1. How does your interviewer talk about how she manages. When it’s your turn to ask questions, probe into what kind of management style she uses. Good questions to ask include:
    1. “What type of person works best with you, and what type of person doesn’t do as well?”
    2. “What do you think staff members would say if asked to describe your management style?”
    3. “How do people you manage know what they’re doing well and where they can improve?”
    4. “What kind of training and professional development do people in this role receive?”

    You’re not listening for one “right” answer, but rather using these questions as openings to get more insight into what she values and how she operates.

  1. Talk to others who have worked with the manager. You’re probably used to having your own references checked, but are you checking references for the person you’re considering working for? LinkedIn is an easy way to see who in your network might have contacts who have worked with the manager in the past. Or, once you reach the final stages of the hiring process or receive an offer, ask if you can talk with some the manager’s current employees. A good manager won’t mind this, as long as you’re a finalist and you ask politely – and if she balks, that’s a danger sign.
  1. Think rigorously about what you want from a manager right now. Different people want different things from a boss at different times in their lives. Sometimes, especially earlier in your career, you might want a boss who acts as a mentor and coach. Later on, you might prefer a manager who’s more hands-off or who can navigate office politics skillfully. By giving some thought to what you do and don’t want in a boss, you’ll be better able to spot it when you find it — and notice when you don’t.

I originally wrote this article for publication on AOL.com.

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. Random

    I really wish I had paid attention to #3!! My manager is a great person but a terrible boss.

    No clear objectives, no idea what goes on in the department when she’s not here, really terrible communication skills with all of her staff. It’s so bad that I decided to leave!

    1. LAI

      Same here! I was kind of thrown when I asked a pretty basic question about how one aspect of the job would be evaluated and got a completely vague noncommittal answer. I took the job anyway and now I realize that my boss doesn’t really understand what I do and is way too busy to invest time in figuring it out.

  2. dmk

    These are great. I just turned down an opportunity to continue interviewing at a company when the highest-level person I met with in the last round looked at my transcript (and BTW, I’m out of my professional degree by 6 years, so why they wanted a transcript is a little baffling), and said, “Wow, you got really good grades. Like, really amazing grades. Does [your school] have a really generous curve?”

    Thanks, but no thanks. That wasn’t the only red flag, but it was a big one.

    1. College Career Counselor

      *bright & cheerful*
      “Nope. I’m just really smart and incredibly hard-working. Like, really amazingly smart and incredibly hard-working!”

      Jeez, was this person not aware that s/he was calling your achievement and intelligence into question?

  3. Just a Reader

    This is great!

    A couple of years ago, I declined a job I had previously really wanted when they threw a new direct manager into the interview mix. She hadn’t started at the company yet.

    Some gems from her:
    “I need to like the people I work with, so I hope I like you.”

    “I like to get really far down into the weeds; I don’t expect you to go off and do things on your own.”

    “Some nights you’ll get to leave by 7, as long as you’re in really early the next morning” (job was for regular business hours)

    Sooo that was a deal breaker. The recruiter was REALLY rude when I declined the offer, because I had previously expressed a lot of interest.

    Actually–related question–when you bow out due to a suspected bad boss, what do you say?

    1. This is me

      I really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me, but after careful consideration I don’t think this position is the right fit for me.

    2. Vicki

      I appreciated the opportunity to interview with BigCo, but after my interview with Tammy, I don’t think the job is a good fit.

      (And let them think on what that implies…)

        1. Ruffingit

          Me too. It’s honest and frankly they should know that Tammy is the problem since that will affect the quality of candidates they get to interview so I see no problem with politely stating it.

    3. Crow T. Robot

      Wow. So, basically, she said “I prioritize the wrong things, I’ll micromanage you, and I’ll expect you to work long hours.” At least she was upfront about it and you dodged a bullet!

  4. Elizabeth West

    I wish I’d known these when I took the job before Exjob. And one thing I might add: if your prospective boss says, “The person who had this job before you was a total incompetent,” watch out. There’s no telling what he/she will say about you when you leave!

    1. Cube Diva

      Agreed! I was told “the person who was here before you burned out. But don’t worry, we changed a lot of the position, took away some responsibilities and reworked the main duties.”

      Unfortunately, they didn’t do as much as they thought. I, too, burned out. It was unbearable.

    2. Not So NewReader

      I agree with you.
      But I did not follow this rule for one job I took. I think exceptions to this rule are rare and I actually did find one.

      The person before me was a disaster. A complete disaster. And I needed to know this because not only was I tasked with learning the job BUT I also had to clean up the previous mess. And BTW- “there’s not much formal training for this job”.

      I took the job because of the thoughtful, insightful things my boss said. She said it was her own fault that this person made so many errors- she did not provide enough supervision. (She gave examples.) She setup a mentor- someone outside our office yet still in our field that could help me. She hammered out methods to handle recurring problems- she told me examples.
      In a second interview she let me know that she had spoken to my references and that went well. (I liked her willingness to ask other people’s opinions and then form her conclusions. She showed me this behavior a few times during the interview conversations. But she showed other times that she could be strong and surefooted when necessary.)
      One factor that was helpful for me to decide to take the job was that I could clearly see that this woman knew her field very well and she chose the ethical/high road repeatedly. I felt that there were enough things right that I could go ahead and accept the job.

      Now, into the job, I can see for myself the previous employee was everything she said and MORE. I am amazed that she contained her upset as well as she did. My boss and I get along very well and freely discuss hard issues in a respectful manner. (Candor and respect are key in getting through what we need to cover.)

      Bottom line: If complaints about the former employee are the only red flags it becomes super important to know yourself. Know what you can and cannot handle. Then find out what will be expected from you to do this job. Find out how big a mess you are walking into. Have you handled a similar big mess before and won? Do you have skills/knowledge the previous employee did not have? Do you think the boss is basically competent in her field? And finally, do you see any ethics issues that are still going on? (ie: does the boss have ethics?)

  5. Laura2

    This is great advice.

    I recently left a company where I saw a lot of these signs during the interview, but really only recognized them for what they were in hindsight (I was also unemployed at the time).

    #1 – There was no energy in the office at all. Actually, it was practically empty.

    #2 – He wasn’t outright rude, but he did leave me waiting for 40 minutes. In hindsight, this was the first indication that he could not manage time at all.

    #3 and #4 – He rambled on for about an hour about the job and the company without really answering any of my questions very well. After about two months I realized he didn’t really know what he wanted me to do, and I didn’t have the support to actually get the things done that I proposed.

    #5 – I wish I’d probed into this a bit more because the answer I got was really vague.

    1. AndersonDarling

      Rambling! Yes, that was what my ex-BadBoss did. He only asked one or two questions then he filled in a bunch of time talking about unrelated/unimportant things about the company (how they want to expand the building, who ran the cafeteria…).

      I found out later that that was his way of deflecting and covering up lies. If he was confronted about a lie, he would say it wasn’t true then ramble-ramble-ramble about anything so no one could get a word in and everyone was to exhausted to pursue the issue.

      It’s something I look out for now.

  6. Brett

    How should you look at managers who might be retiring? (Or can you even figure that out?)

    When I came onto this job, I had a decent manager who retired about a year later. New manager… well, he did not even show up for any of the interviews for the last employee we hired (even when he was in the building, available, and specifically asked to attend).

    1. ArtsNerd

      There are just too maybe “what ifs” in this situation. What if the manager is young and chipper but then moves across the country for personal reasons? Or gets hit by a bus?

      You can only screen for the current hiring manager, not hypothetical future ones.

    2. Chinook

      I think you have to just chalk it up to bad luck if the manager changes after you are hired because there is nothing you could do about it. I took one job as a teacher based on how amazing the school principal was. Unfortunately, he got a job offer over the summer and was replaced with an incompetent idiot of a principal (who managed to drive off 4 teachers before December). Looking back, there is no way I could have predicted that.

    3. Brett

      Or maybe a different take… because in my situation I knew that the hiring manager had been transferred into that position specifically so he could retire from it!
      If you know the manager will retire/leave soon, do you address this sort of investigation differently? Or is that alone a red flag?

    4. AndersonDarling

      If you go through a rigorous and thoughtful interview process, at least you know your future co-workers will go through the same thing.
      If you had a 15 minute interview and were offered the job on the spot- its a red flag that your boss/co-workers will be hired the same way. Not a great situation to be in.

      You don’t know who will be hired, but at least you will know how they will be hired.

  7. Diet Coke Addict

    When interviewing, my boss seemed absolutely shocked that I had answers for his questions. He’d downloaded a bunch of “interview questions” off the Internet and asked me them in order.

    “Did you study or something for this interview?”
    “Ah, I looked into the company to see the type of things you deal with and your scope.”
    “No, I mean, did you look up interview questions and answers? You’re really together.”

    …..I should have seen a red flag that he was legitimately taken aback by someone who was prepared for an interview, well-spoken, and had answers to questions like “Tell me about a time when you experienced a difficult time with a coworker.” So.

    1. some1

      He sounds like he would have been a “Gotcha!” kind of boss who wants to set up people to fail.

      1. Diet Coke Addict

        That’s not the first time someone has mentioned that to me. Good thing this job will not be a long-term thing for me!

    2. Sunflower

      YES! I think that is a big red flag- When there is a generic list of questions that clearly were not thought of by the boss. I understand some companies will require certain questions to be asked but if there aren’t any of the bosses own in there, it’s a sign that either he’s incompetent or the company is

  8. kdizzle

    Good article. I also feel like I’ve dodged a few horrible bosses. One in particular told me during the interview that during the 6 months (!) of “slow season” during the year, that I was permitted to watch America’s Next Top Model at my desk (as long as no one saw me). Granted, that does sound kind of awesome, but she continued on to use colorful vocabularly and ethnic slurs to describe co-workers she didn’t like, and then for two hours without asking one question, asked on the spot if I wanted the gig. This wasn’t for work as a pizza delivery person…I was interviewing to be the deputy CFO for a large non-profit. I thought I was on a hidden camera show. Bullet dodged.

    1. ZSD

      Were you limited to watching specifically ANTM, or could you have chosen to watch Top Chef instead?

      1. kdizzle

        If only I could’ve watched Top Chef! I may have taken that job.

        While she was interviewing me in her office, she actually spun her monitor around to show me the ANTM webpage that was already pulled up on her computer.

        That was six years ago, but that job shows up in my job search feed ALL THE TIME, so I’m pretty sure that she hasn’t found the perfect ANTM buddy yet.

  9. Chocolate Teapot

    Wearing a scarlet B would really be helpful to identify the bad bosses wouldn’t it?

    1. Rev

      As well as a few other types to watch out for:

      Brazen Bitch

      Bible Bouncer

      Backstabber

      Boldface Liar

      Baby Pic Bearer

      You get the idea…

  10. Malissa

    I love the pictures on these AOL articles. Always entertaining.

    Oh how I wish I payed attention to #1 & #2 in a previous interview.

    All that’s missing is a way to screen for crazy, because it usually hides from interviews.

  11. GoodGirl

    Great article!

    I once had an interview where the interviewer couldn’t tell me the specific duties of the job (“I just need you to do stuff.”), what their overall strategy was for the coming year (“We need to do better than last year.”), or what his biggest accomplishments were since stepping into the role a few years before hand (“I can’t get stuff done because I don’t have a good staff.”).

    Bullet. Dodged. Yay!

    1. GoodGirl

      Oh yeah – he was also guilty of #2 and #4. He said I was an “idiot” for picking the interview time that I did. And also asked me what my favorite restaurant in Current City was. Terrible experience at the time, but makes for a great story now! :)

    2. Rat Racer

      That last point “I can’t get stuff done because I don’t have good staff” – SUCH a red flag. I wish I’d recognized it as such before I took my last job. Boss said “I really need to fire about 40% of my staff.” My internal reaction (so high school, so embarrassing) “and she likes me so that must mean that I am smart/competent/not destined to be part of the 40% she wants to fire!”

      She actually ended up getting fired, but I had already quit by then. But not before she totally made me into a basket case for the 11 months I worked for her.

      1. Dodger

        I dodged a bullet once. After flying me out to a company twice for several interviews each time I was given an offer to accept. I wrote a list of the pluses and negatives of newjob/newcity and currentjob/currentcity and really agonized over it. 30% raise in newcity with lower cost of living vs. my first task at newjob was to fire everyone reporting to me at newjob. I declined and learned that the job was previously offered to someone else who also declined to take it.

        Two years later, newjob was out of business. Bullet dodged.

        1. MissDisplaced

          OMG! Dodger! I once worked at a place that gave all employees 10% pay cuts just so they could hire some bigwig guy to come in and “manage” us. His first week there, he was trying to strong arm everyone into working the weekend (we were all salary employees so no overtime). Needless to say, that didn’t go over well.

  12. owl

    One other thing that I’ve learned the hard way is that a hiring manager that seems over-the-top impressed by your qualifications and responses to his basic questions may be because he’s utterly, utterly clueless about your field and the job he’s hiring for, not because you’re that awesome. I’ve been in my field for 14 years so I should have seen the red flag but missed it and spent the next miserable year trying to politely, respectfully tell my boss he was wrong again. It didn’t end well. (But I’ve happily moved on so yay.)

  13. Lily in NYC

    Great article, but I’m not so sure about #4. I’ve had some fanstastic bosses that were terrible interviewers. And had bad bosses that were great interviewers. I just don’t know if it’s a huge indicator of managerial performance.

    1. Us, Too

      You still don’t want to work for this guy because terrible interviewers usually end up making terrible hires. You’ll be surrounded by colleagues who are poor fits, potentially.

      1. Lily in NYC

        I still don’t agree. Personally, I don’t think there’s much of a correlation between being able to judge character/fit and being a good interviewer.

        1. Anonymous

          I used to work for a good boss (pretty young) who knew he sometimes stumbled in interviews on getting the details about applicants, and came off a little awkward, but was a good judge of performance, character and ‘fit.’

          He asked for help! We helped him come up with questions, he brought the rest of the staff in for part of the interviews, etc. It sometimes helped the interviewee to see him interact normally with us, so the interviewee didn’t think he was ‘weird’ which was a danger with his nerves and teeny bit of nerdiness. Working with him day to day was great. I think he felt out of his depth in interviews, partly because he was often hiring people older than he was. Key is that he realized it and asked for help. Which is what good bosses do.

  14. Reader

    I’ve had lots of interviews where I knew the boss was going to be awful but couldn’t afford to turn the job down. Except for the one man who asked “What’s your favorite sex position?” Unemployment was better than that mess.

    1. Laura

      … I feel like I ought to comment on that, but ellipses and sputtering are all I can seem to find. Good GRIEF.

      1. LittleT

        What the hell???

        Geez, and I thought I had a stupid interviewer when I was asked, “If you were a feature in Microsoft, what would it be?”

        I guess I got off pretty easy in comparison to that zinger!

  15. evilintraining

    If you ever think you’ve got the worst boss, and/or need a good laugh, read Robert Sutton’s “Good Boss, Bad Boss.” It made me feel a little better about my own bad situation at Exjob.

    1. Andrea

      Added to my amazon wishlist! That’s the same guy that wrote the No Asshole Rule, which is a great book.

      1. Clever Name

        Love the No Asshole Rule. It made me feel so much better about my last job; my boss was just an asshole, and I wasn’t crazy or a crappy worker. :/

  16. Lurker

    For office jobs:

    If you are see or interview in the office of the person who will be your supervisor and there is no computer on their desk.

    Problems with this:
    – likely not that computer / technologically literate -> will not understand program limitations
    – will want to proof / edit everything long hand

  17. Lanya

    In light of this article, I would just like to say, thank goodness for AAM. In the past, I have had very bad luck with bad bosses. Having been a regular reader on this blog for over a year now, AAM has helped me avoid several potential disasters in my interviewing adventures. Because of content like this article, my standards have become exponentially higher. I can spot a red flag when I see it, and I feel comfortable saying “no way, José,” instead of trying to ignore or second-guess my intuition.

    THANK YOU, ALISON!

    1. Chocolate Addict

      Just want to give you kudos for not thinking “why didn’t I know this before??” (Like I am!) and instead looking positively to the future :)

  18. Mimmy

    Hmm…I can’t say that I saw these exact signs in past interviews (although I do remember talking to one guy on the phone who had such a snarky attitude about what he was looking for). I do recall that when I called to inquire about what ultimately became my first real job, the co-owner who’d answered my call could not really describe the position or answer my questions. She transferred me to the direct supervisor who described the position adequately. I was hired on the spot, but endured 2 miserable years because they seemed unorganized, and the co-owners were beasts to work with.

  19. BCW

    I once had an interview who told me “You are a charming guy, I can see that that’s how you’ve gotten by up to this point in your life”. I was dumbfounded that someone would actually say that out loud. I had no desire to work for that woman. My biggest problem though was that it was a charter school network, and I had an interview at another school the following week, so I had to be pleasant the rest of the interview. I went to that one expecting it to be better. He then said “I talked to Jane at the other school, so I have a good sense of you already”. I knew at that point I was screwed.

    1. ArtsNerd

      Ew, that’s so squicky. How did you even respond to that?

      I’d have to spend a good minute picking my jaw off the ground.

    2. Mints

      I was called “bubbly” in the interview for my current job. I was unemployed and desperate, though, so I took it. I waited like six months before I started job hunting again.
      Other highlights included when he asked if I was familiar with a specific technology, I said yes and explained. He said “Wow that’s impressive. Jane could never do that.” I assumed Jane was the previous person, but it turned out Jane was his wife, who had nothing at all to do with the company.

      I need a new job

        1. Mints

          I know! I think I remind him (I hope subconsciously) of his wife. I kind of look like her, not in a really identical way, but similar coloring and size. I wouldn’t have noticed it if it weren’t for other just off comments, or these types of non sequitors.

          I just thought of another one: “Have you heard of Store? [a home goods store, not really women specific] Company might be doing business with them” “Oh cool. I’ve never been there” “Really? I thought everyone shopped there. Well I don’t but my wife does”

          Not enough for me to rage quit, but enough for me to feel uncomfortable.

          Annnnd I should go trawl job boards now

  20. E.R

    A boss I worked for years ago told me in my interview how he made a series of baseball cards that had pictures of his team on them. In the pictures, everyone looked confused (as in, why is this picture being taken?). I think he was trying to show me he was fun and a team player. Sure enough, whenever I needed him from support, advice, or to attend a meeting or answer a question. he was off making a video about his team to the music of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” for our annual meeting (which featured many more “why are taking this photo?” of me this time). Nice guy, craptastic boss. And for the record, NO other managers were making team videos. They were, um, managing their teams.

  21. Traveller

    Many many moons ago, during my Engineering degree, I was interviewing for co-op jobs (generally expected to be basic level work, related to your studies).

    The interviewer asked me if I knew how to drive a forklift (Answer: No) or wanted to learn (Answer: No). She then proceeded to advise me that she expected me to give that answer “because you’re a girl” (uh, no, it was because I expected to do something related to my degree) and then proceeded to advise me that if I wanted to get anywhere in that company I had to expect to start out working in the warehouse.

    The joke was on me though, because about 4-5 years later as I was searching for a new job, I wound up interviewing at the same company again (I remembered the story but not the company name). That time around, they tried to convince me that travelling alone to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (as a 24 yr old woman) were good reasons to take the job, as I “would never see that part of the world otherwise”.

    Couldn’t run out of there fast enough. At least the true colors were apparent during the interview process.

    1. the_scientist

      I feel like co-op interviews are like, a wasteland of terrible interviewers and bizarre experiences. I interviewed for a co-op position in an academic lab, where the researcher spent 1.5 hours talking about himself, his research, and flexing his muscles in a tight black tee-shirt. No opportunity for me to ask questions, and he didn’t ask me a single question.

      Turned out to be for the best that I didn’t end up there because he straight-up stole intellectual property from two friends of mine by not giving them authorship credits on manuscripts they had done most of the work for. He’s a big name in his field, too.

      1. Traveller

        “a wasteland of terrible interviewers and bizarre experiences” –absolutely!!

        To be completely fair, I was on the other side of that experience too (being the one behaving bizarrely). There was one round of interviews where I insisted on wearing a canary-yellow blazer because it “showed my personality” (and hey it’s a ‘suit’). I was too naive to register just how horrified my interviewers & the woman in the career center was!

        Oh, the advice I could give to my 18-year-old self!!

        1. Vicki

          Better than the canary yellow two-piece jogging suit someone wore to an interview once (my friend was the interviewer and told the story later).

          The guy was interviewing for a system administrator job but no, we weren’t that laid back.

  22. Juni

    For my last two jobs, I’ve emailed or called people at organizations my prospective boss and/or VP worked at before their current one at the place I interviewed. It wasn’t hard to find someone who worked with him/her who could either share their experience or direct me to someone who could. After all… a smart hiring manager is going to call people who aren’t on my reference list. Why wouldn’t I do the same?

    I dodged a really big bullet doing this once. Got a former direct report who gave me a really detailed reason why I should avoid working under a person. At my current job, I was warned about the VP, but the warnings were things I thought I could live with. The warning were accurate, and my perception the same; she’s got a lot of problems, but I cope with them okay. You just have to talk to people!

    1. Sharm

      Wow, I never thought about doing this. Though I don’t disagree with you — candidates SHOULD be able to check references, just like the prospective employer — I would worry that my due diligence would come back to me. That is, the people I check in with might tell the prospective boss that I was calling around asking for information on them. Or do you think that wouldn’t be an issue? Though I suppose if they DID get angry about it, that’s a sign right there.

      1. Juni

        Well, I never phrased it as looking for dirt or anything. I was pretty magnanimous about it. I’d call or email and say something like, “I’m considering taking a job under Jane Smith. I understand you’ve worked with her before. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience?” I made it nice and neutral. Those who had nasty things to say are obviously not still in touch with said boss, and those who had nice things to say were probably impressed that I was doing my due diligence. If that made it to the boss, that was okay.

      2. JM in England

        +1 Sharm!

        Many posts on this site have iterated that the interview process is a two-way street. So basically whatever they can do you should be able to do it right back! :-)

  23. LibrarianJ

    I ran into #2 at my very first interview out of school. It was for a position in a college admissions office, and being a fresh grad my resume still had a lot of academic stuff on it including a (reasonably prestigious) scholarship I had won. When I sat down with the person who would have been my boss for phase 1 of the interview, the first question out of their mouth was, “So what makes you think you’re qualified to work with students who might struggle to pay for college, seeing as you had yours handed to you on a silver platter?”

    That probably would have been a huge red flag had I been offered the position, but that combined with my underpreparedness to answer such a question (I would have been better off had I been an AAM reader back then!) were mostly just a red flag that I wouldn’t be getting the job.

    1. lavendertea

      WOW, what an ass. If they was so offended by (their perception of) how you paid for college (which is a stupid thing to be offended by anyway) why did they call you for an interview?!

      1. LibrarianJ

        You know, to this day I still don’t understand why they called me! The only thing I can think of is that I had previously (on the advice of my campus career center) done an informational interview with someone else in the office (as it turned out, the person who left this position vacant) and, again on the advice of the career center, name-dropped in my letter. But I don’t see why that would override what was clearly a huge issue with my resume.

        It was a good learning experience, at least. I was much better prepared the next time I got an interview.

    2. Not So NewReader

      “The same way you are qualified to counsel while owning that $60K car of yours.”

  24. manybellsdown

    My last interview was full of red flags. The company was terrible at communicating. I know, they’re not on my timeline and all, but when they email me asking me to interview on Friday but don’t tell me WHERE the interview is going to be until late Thursday night (and then only because I emailed the interviewer’s supervisor because I never heard from the interviewer!) … that’s a warning sign to me.

    Still, I went to a second interview when they asked. I was told “after the holidays we’ll contact you to come observe a class.” Never heard from them again.

  25. straws

    As an interviewer, I’m curious if there are any really good/concise ways to get these points (especially #6 & #8) across. I like to try and cover these types of questions without being asked, especially for entry level jobs where the candidates may not think to probe deeper. It benefits me just as much as them if we’re all on the same page! Any thoughts/suggestions?

  26. Marina

    It’s funny, I had a hiring manager hit like three of these, but he turned out to be a boss I worked really well with. (Me: “What are your goals for the next year or so for this position?” Him: “Huh. That’s a really good question. I have no idea.”) I think the last point is maybe the most crucial. I thought very carefully about what I could tolerate and what I was looking for, and decided that a hands-off boss sounded pretty good. Turns out the red flags were absolutely accurate–that boss was “encouraged to resign” a year later due to terrible communication issues–but he and I always got along very well and I have to admit I’ve missed his hands-off style since then.

  27. Sascha

    I’d like to add one – be wary if your interviewer says things about the company or job like “I’m not supposed to say this, but…” My manager does that all the time. Many times they are sensitive things that should not be shared with non-employees, and it has taken us by surprise he shared that to interview candidates (we do group interviews). I have seen over the years how he can’t keep his mouth shut about anything juicy, or anything that might make him look important.

  28. Carrie in Scotland

    When I went for the interview for the job I am currently doing, my manager wasn’t even there – it was her manager and someone of the same position – based in an office 50 miles away.

  29. Dodger

    I was laid off and looking for a job for months so I was willing to take almost anything and had an interview with a hiring manager (VP) who hit bulls eyes on almost all these when I interviewed for a manager position. I got a call from a recruiter and did research on the company so I knew it was a legit company. I took the job fearing the worst but never stopped searching for something new. My fears were justified.

    1. Pay attention to the energy in the office. My interview was in a Starbucks and the hiring manager wouldn’t show me the office until my first day on the job. Red flag!

    2. How does the interviewer treat you? I was treated fair enough but kept feeling like the hiring manager was hiding things, especially since I wasn’t allowed to see the office or anyone who worked there. Red flag!

    3. Can your interviewer clearly describe what success in the position will look like? My hiring manager worked out of his house and only came into the office once a month so he expected me to figure out what the job was and then do it. There was no job description for my position or for anyone in my department and I created all those after I started. Red flag!

    4. Does your interviewer ask thoughtful questions that relate to your ability to do the job well? Considering my hiring manager didn’t know what my job was, no thoughtful questions were asked of me. After I started all the issues became very clear and I wrote the hiring manager a very long list of issues that were obvious on day 1 and needed to be addressed. I later learned that hiring manager was the cause of the bulk of the issues so that’s why I received a response of “I don’t see it that way.” Red flag!

    5. Why is the position open, and what happened to the person who used to fill it? I got a very nice response to my asking this question but it turned out the smooth answer was a smooth lie. After the fact red flag.

    6. How does your interviewer talk about how she manages? I got a response something like “as long as everything is going smoothly I expect you to handle everything.” The reality was that the hiring manager had no backbone and I had to handle everything with no management support…ever. After the fact red flag.

    7. Talk to others who have worked with the manager. I couldn’t do this because I didn’t know anyone and LinkedIn was just starting out. It didn’t matter because I needed a paycheck and would take anything.

    8. Think rigorously about what you want from a manager right now. I wanted a paycheck right now. Starting on day 1 I learned how dysfunctional the company was and who the office psychos were but that’s a story for another day.

  30. Jill

    Amen to looking at whether Manager can define success in the position. I wish I’d’ve known to ask this back when I interviewed for Current Job. I’ve been here six years and my managers STILL can’t give me clear benchmarks or expectations. Criticisms in my performance reviews have been all over the map every year, as if pulled out of random Twilight Zone episodes.

    And yes, I am one of those people whose job title in no way describes what I actually do which is, of course, NOTHING that was listed in the original job description.

  31. Sal

    I got scolded vehemently and with relish during an interview (for pushing back EVER SO GENTLY on the interviewer’s response to something I said in the interview). Got the job anyway, much to my surprise. Had to take it for family etc. reasons. I still work there and just try to avoid that interviewer whenever possible. Luckily, that interviewer is one of a few high-level supervisors and not my direct supervisor. It was not anomalous behavior, let’s just say.

  32. Ello

    Our company recently had a merger and I aquired a new boss. One day she told me (or let slip) that she looks to hire people who are less qualified for the job that they’re applying to so they feel a sense of obligation to her for giving them an opportunity. I put in my 2 weeks notice, shortly after that statement. Best move I ever made!

  33. MeganO

    Thank you for writing this, Alison! I’ve been caught by some of these before and I’ve been wondering what to do differently to avoid the same problems in the future, so this is timely for me :)

    I had a boss at a previous job do #1, #2 (sort of), and #5 – although I didn’t see the office first (probably a red flag of its own), the energy in the interview room was all over the place, and terrible from her. Re: #2, when she called to offer me the position, she could not remember what my current position was – and I had a fairly memorable job at that point. When I asked about #5 (why the position is open), they told me something technically true; however, I didn’t have the experience to dig deeper and find out that position had pretty chronic turnover. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of downsides to the job that the interviewers failed to mention.

    In my current job, I knew I was seeing some problems with how employees were assessed and potentially with management style, but I was so desperate to get out of the job with the hidden downsides that I came aboard anyway. I don’t know that I regret my decision exactly, but I am currently looking to move on.

    Thinking rigorously about what I want from a manager right now is exactly the advice I needed right now – I need to move from my laundry list of grievances to something more specific and concrete.

  34. Maybe It's Me

    Unfortunately, even with all of this you still can’t tell. Working with someone day-to-day is not exactly the same as when they interview you as I’m finding out. I think my boss is overall a nice person, but she can’t seem to make even the simplest of decisions. There is also a lot of micro-managing to the nth degree, especially about the wording of even simple social media posts, and spending lots and lots of time on what should be small no-brainer type of stuff (and little planning of big items!).

  35. Another Teacher

    Pay attention to your gut feelings and try not to let “needing” the job get in the way of “wanting” the job. In the interview with the worst boss I’ve ever had, I had a weird feeling. She was charming and treated me well, but there were hints at an attitude of negativity about the organization. This attitude played out in how she *didn’t* do her job (e.g., little support for professional development, inattention to progress in our field, no evaluations). We also had to overcome how she had treated colleagues in other departments and work harder to prove that we were capable.

  36. HM in Atlanta

    In my last job search, I had 2 telephone interviews with this company that looked great. The interviews were a kind of odd, but nothing I could put my finger on. I was surprised when they contacted me for an in-person interview, but I went. I should have listened to myself.
    – Said they were finishing up a meeting and would be 10-15 minutes late. (No problem). Put me in a conference room that was in the middle of a walkway between to areas. (No problem) Interviewing exec walked around and talked to people for almost 25 minutes, occasionally stopping to ask me if I was ok. In hindsight, I should have left then.
    – Asked the receptionist to join us for the interview. (Not bad, but seemed odd considering the positions would have little to no interaction.)
    – Asked me 2 questions, and argued with each answer. (I didn’t argue back, but each response was basically why my answer was wrong).
    – Then proceeded to go through my resume line-by-line and question style choices, for example, “You shouldn’t have used bullet points here.”

    At that point I did leave, and he laughed at me as I left the room. I still cannot figure out why he even invited me for an interview. (And that poor receptionist who was stuck in this walkway meeting room with us.)

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