should you accept a job offer when there’s no manager in place yet?

A reader writes:

I was recently offered a sales position. On paper, everything looks fine — compensation, territory, requirements, responsibilities, etc. The negative is that there is no sales manager in place yet. They are being very selective in hiring for that position, so I don’t know who my manager would be.

I’ve decided to turn the job down for fear of the unknown. What happens if my manager’s style is different than mine? What if his/her expectations are different? What happens if we don’t get along? The questions and concerns kept building.

I don’t know if I made the right decision. I’m happy with my current manager but don’t love the product I’m selling. I have had bad managers in the past so I’m worried about that repeating. Once I let the company know of my decision not to accept, they told me, “You don’t get to pick your manager” and “the world is evolving and changing where people come and go — there are no guarantees anywhere.” Who’s right here? Should I have done anything differently?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick

    This OP is long gone, but she dodged a bullet. “You don’t get to pick your manager”? Like hell you don’t, at least at the beginning of the relationship! These people sound like they think interviewing is a one-way street — them picking the candidate they like best — and not realizing that part of an interview is that the candidate is evaluating them right back.

  2. Mimi

    Yeah, red flags all over this one. I was hired once years ago for a director position; I had built a rapport with the hiring manager over months; she recruited me. Just before I started, she resigned (first of many bad signs!) and I met her replacement (my new boss) for the first time on my first day. Long story short – it was a motherbleeping nightmare. I ended up resigning too. Learned a hard lesson there.

  3. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

    I did this and it has been one of the biggest mistakes of my career. They were replacing an entire team and the department head was the last one hired.

    My manager is not good, but I took a job at a place that rallies around senior leadership and doesn’t care about employees thoughts/concerns (seriously, my whole team has offered feedback).

    I will never take another position where I don’t get to meet with my manager before hand.

    1. Adonday Veeah

      I’ve worked in companies where a new manager would come in and replace their entire team as one of their first acts — even the new hires. It would suck to start a new job and find yourself in that position.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        There was some housecleaning and the rest of else have felt as though our jobs were on the line ever since.

  4. Stranger than fiction

    Yeah, my first thought was a good company may even let some of the sales reps be on the interview panel for the manager.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      I’ve never worked in sales, but I’ve certainly been involved in the hiring process for managers before. I didn’t get final say, just input… still, that’s something.

  5. The IT Manager

    Ehhh! Torn!

    I tend to think the LW was off-base but I acknowledge a bias in that I was in the military. I moved every 2-3 years, commanders moved every two years, everyone except the civilians moved often. I lived with this uncertainty. Now that also led to me knowing a problem with a military member was a relatively short term problem because either he or I would be leaving within the next few years. But I also acknowledge that relationships with the boss and co-workers can make or break a job.

    I don’t know that I would have made the decision the LW made because the potential boss was unknown, but I would avoid taking a job for a known boss that was exhibiting red flags.

  6. penelope pitstop

    Yes!–I appreciate the answer to this question. I can think of a specific occasions when I was evaluating two different roles with different organizations and compensation structures. I took the (significantly) lower paying role with the deciding factor the person I’d be directly reporting to. Of course there aren’t guarantees–taking a new job always involves some sort of risk assessment on both sides, but who you’re working for/with is an important part of the equation. Good for the OP for not silencing his/her reservations about that situation.

    Aside from day-to-day chemistry, work environment and leadership style, there’s a longer-term value to being able to learn from and be developed by certain managers who value. The company in this scenario and those like them are shortsighted in several ways.

  7. Managers

    I saw above that this OP is long-gone, but I found this advice spot-on with my somewhat related experiences. Such an astute observation- that yes, people do vote on managers-with their feet.

    In my last job, we’d had 3 different supervisors during my time there. 1 got promoted, 2 smartly bowed-out, and 3 was just a jerk. As to whether 3 was hired to be a jerk or not, that was never made clear. But, losing two of their highest-regarded long-term employees within the span of a year should have told them something. Unfortunately, it did not. Sometimes the higher-ups just don’t care, but I really loved the advice on being able to suss this out earlier rather than later. Hopefully it will help next time I’m interviewing.

    I guess in any job, but particularly in sales, I think the manager really makes or breaks the experience (as has been said before by others). Some sales managers lead by coaching and rewards, others lord over their employees by hanging firing over their heads for not meeting sales goals. Quality of life is huge, and was ultimately why I left my last job.

    1. Artemesia

      People who appoint bad managers are often so defensive about it that they are immune to evidence. They will let their most productive employees be driven off rather than admit a mistake and fix it.

      And almost none of us is as important as we think we are. You leave and the water closes over the hole you made and in minutes there is no sign you were ever there. You leave and they can hire someone less contentious (which those of us stuck with awful bosses tend to be)

      1. Stranger than fiction

        You touched on a great point I’m bummed I didn’t think of it first. That is so true that management does not like to admit when they’ve made a bad management hire and often will bend over backwards to make the person work out. More true the higher up the manager is. This also applies to the board of directors question on the other post/thread today

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          This. It’s so crazy how companies would rather say that the 5 people who work under someone are incompetent rather than admit they hired a bad manager.

      2. ActCasual

        SO true. I was asked about why I was leaving my last job, actively solicited for that information, and so I told the truth. It made very little difference except now I am pretty much guaranteed a bad reference from the reason I left (my less-than-great, insecure, highly inappropriate ex manager) and I so wish I had stuck with the “Thanks for the memories” approach.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          I have a dreams about the day I leave and just giving all the documentation to HR…but I know I’m going to chicken out and just say it was time for a change.

  8. Bend & Snap

    I ended up turning down a job because they introduced a new direct manager post offer. I had a phone call with her and gems included, “I have to like all my employees so I hope I like you,” “I like to be way down in the weeds with my team,” and “I don’t expect you to go off and do things all by yourself.”

    That phone call led me to reject the offer and it was 100% the right decision. She’s still there 2 1/2 years later, heading the whole department.

    I told the recruiter why I was rejecting, which may have been a mistake, and she was pretty rude about it.

    Anyway–I vote don’t take a job without a manager in place.

    1. That Marketing Chick

      OMG I love your name, Bend & Snap! That’s my only comment!!!! And that I know what movie I am watching this weekend! ;)

    2. NickelandDime

      Bullet dodged. I learned a long time ago (the hard way) to listen to what people are telling you CAREFULLY.

      Your almost manager basically admitted: she can’t be professional in her work relationships; she’ll probably play favorites; who she likes and doesn’t like probably changes with the wind; she micromanages people; she doesn’t trust anyone to do their jobs; she doesn’t want to manage or teach, she wants people to Follow Orders.

      Good looking out!

    3. TootsNYC

      Or, if there’s no manager in place, as Alison suggests, investigate the company’s approach to hiring managers, and to managing managers.

  9. tango

    Well I guess I don’t understand why the OP would interview and talk to the company knowing there was no Sales Manager in place if her minimum standard is she won’t accept a job unless meeting and feeling comfortable with her direct manager. It’s possible she didn’t learn until her first (and maybe only) interview there was no sales manager but if so, why not thank the one interviewing her and withdraw from the process further via email follow up afterwards? I could see how the company could be irked wasting their time possibly checking references and making an offer to a person who knew they wouldn’t take the job from the get go because they didn’t have the opportunity to meet their direct manager.
    I don’t blame the OP for declining the job offer. But I also don’t think the company was that horrible in their response. They need a sales person and probably can’t sit around waiting just because another position is not staffed.

    1. So Very Anonymous

      Maybe she didn’t consider it a dealbreaker until she had more time to think about it. I’ve done lots of interviews with places I wasn’t sure about because I wanted more information before I made a decision.

    2. TootsNYC

      Or maybe she found out about their plan during the interview.

      Or, even if she knew before interviewing, she may have thought they would select the manager first, and then let that person choose from the vetted candidates for lower levels.

      Or she may have thought she’d get insight into their corporate culture that would make her feel good about the way they were going to choose the unknown manager. And since they didn’t say, “You don’t need to worry! We are really careful about choosing managers, and we want managers who trust their teams and mentor people, and we’re very transparent,” that sure didn’t assuage any worries she might have.

    3. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      I had an interview process where I went through everything phone/in-person etc., before they told me the person I would be reporting to had given notice months ago.

      And the position I would be taking was in fact, not a new position, but a position being vacated by a member of the team who was being promoted to the department head role.

      Luckily, they allowed me to set-up another call with the person who I thought would be my colleague and would now be my boss before I had to decide.

  10. hbc

    Hey, they’re right, “there are no guarantees anywhere.” So when picking a spouse? S/He might change a lot, so don’t bother finding someone you like from the beginning. Picking a place to live? Don’t worry about whether you like the neighbors or your commute, your neighbors could move out and you could be in a new job next month.

    Or, hiring a sales person? No point in screening to find the right one, people come and go, amirite? Might as well just pick a resume at random and make an offer.

    Unbelievable. I hope these weren’t people in the sales department, because their pitch stinks: “Come work for us, we expect a revolving door of employees!”

    1. YourOwnPersonalCheeses

      You make a good point! The company obviously thinks their preferences matter (since they screen candidates and conduct job interviews), but they believe the OP should just accept whatever comes her way, and not proactively try to choose something that works for her.

  11. BeenThere

    I would absolutely base my decision on the manager and want to meet the manager above. I took a job where the manager left after 3 months, I had 5 managers in the space of 9 months as a result before lay offs. It makes for a good why did you leave this role story and why I can’t really give them a solid reference though original manager is happy to give one even though we only worked together for three months.

  12. Spooky

    Honestly, I’m always pretty skeptical of companies that have multiple open positions (or at least a high percentage.) Any time I see a company post a ton of jobs in the same department at once, it’s a red flag –especially if they’re multiple mid- to upper-level positions.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Yep, my friends used to tease me when I first started working here saying omg they’re always hiring. We used to keep certain postings going, especially for Sales, since we’re in a weird niche and our salespeople are straight commission it’s hard to find good talent. Plus, around the time I came on board we had just rebounded from the recession and were in fact bringing in quite a few people. But we finally stopped doing that.

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      I really, really wish I hadn’t let the recruiter gloss over the fact my entire department was vacant. I should have seen it for the red flag it was, not the quirky coincidence it was described as.

    3. YourOwnPersonalCheeses

      I wonder about this too! Sometimes I see job postings for restaurants, for example. They could be looking for a manager, shift supervisor, three cooks and two dishwashers, all at the same time. I know restaurants can have high turnover, but I see that and think, “Whoa, what happened there? Did everyone get fed up and quit? Were they all helping each other steal and got fired? Are they just wanting applicants on file for later?” And if someone got hired under those circumstances, they could be going in blind. Yikes!

  13. JMegan

    I agree, I wouldn’t consider not having a manager at the outset to be a dealbreaker in itself. But I’d definitely be asking a lot of questions. Why is the manager position vacant? Why is this position vacant at the same time? What’s turnover like in general? As well as questions about the culture, and what they’re looking for in a manager, as Alison suggested.

    But the fact that they didn’t even acknowledge that this was an unusual situation would definitely have been a red flag for me. Stuff happens, and sometimes we have to deal with a less-than-ideal situation when making a decision like this. So they should have agreed that the situation was less than ideal, and pleasantly and respectfully answered the OP’s perfectly reasonable questions about it. The fact that they got so defensive? Something’s up there, and I agree with the others who say the OP dodged a bullet.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Exactly my thoughts, well put. They were all snarky about it instead of offering something that would put her mind at ease.

      1. AFT123

        Agree with this sentiment. I think the potential manager is just one piece of the proverbial pie, albeit a larger piece than maybe some other aspects of evaluating a potential job. However, I’ve had instances where I’ve been very wrong about my impressions of a manager-to-be anyway, so meeting them didn’t do a ton of good in that case. You really just never know for sure if you’re jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. All you can do is take all of the tidbits of information you have and try and make the most informed decision. Generally speaking, when your gut tells you no, I think you should listen.

  14. NacSacJack

    This happened to me. I accepted a job because I had gone to college with the hiring manager. He was going to train me to do his job which was a new skillset for me while he moved up to be the IT Manager. Great! Awesome! Looking forward to it. He put in his notice the 2nd week of my notice. He claimed he called me, but never left a message. His last week on the job was my first week on the job. He said, “dont worry, we have a consultant coming in to train you.” I’m thinking to myself, why would the consultant want to work himself out of the job? Hiring manager left, consultant got a better contract and never came in. I start training under the other programmer in a completely different skillset. CEO hires a CIO. Turns out hiring manager wanted to be the new CIO and was turned down, so he quit. CIO comes in, calls me into his office on Friday and …
    Six weeks of my life flushed down the drain. Another six weeks trying to find a job. Twelve weeks out of my life trying to get out of the skillset that has become my life. (Uggghhh).

  15. Business Writer

    Just came across this post so I thought I’d add my experience: I was hired at the newly formed East Coast office of a West Coast company, and was told after a few weeks they’d be hiring a senior manager in charge of all East Coast operations, who would start a few weeks later. Meanwhile, the HR manager told me she “had heard nothing but good things” about my work.

    The new senior manager started. Several days later I was fired. After some awkward talks, HR admitted that they were only able to get a manager of that caliber by telling him he could bring a protege of his from his old company and give him the job I had, so they had to let me go. As I had only been there about six weeks, there was no one willing to stand up for me. I was given two weeks severance.

    The senior manager last barely a year. The East Coast office eventually closed down, and the whole company ended up declaring bankruptcy.

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