5 Ways to Spot a Bad Boss During an Interview


A bad boss can stymie your professional growth, destroy your self-esteem and send you running for the exit. According to one study, three out of every four employees reported that their boss was the most stressful part of their job, and 65 percent would take a new boss over a pay raise.

Can you spot a bad boss during a job interview? While it’s not an exact science, here are five warning signs that your future boss could be a nightmare.

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Being Disrespectful

He’s late to the interview, multi-tasks on his phone while you’re talking, and doesn’t return your calls or emails. “If he’s disrespectful during the interview, he won’t solicit or respect your opinion on critical business matters,” said Pamela Skillings, president of Skillful Communications, LLC, an interview-coaching firm based in New York City.

“He’s the type who will commit to a deadline, budget or specific deliverables without consulting his team,” she added. “Project managers in particular need to consider others’ opinions, act as a go-between and advocate on behalf of their team.”

Overly Self-Focused

She refers to her staff as “my people” and uses “I” instead of “we” to describe her team’s contributions. In fact, your entire discussion revolves around her needs and priorities instead of what’s best for stakeholders and the IT department.

Managers who are concerned with their own power tend to be control freaks and credit grabbers, said Paul Glen, Los Angeles-based co-author of The Geek Leaders Handbook.

“A manager who says ‘I, I, I’ during an interview is asserting their status,” he said. “Watch out—because he’ll take credit for your ideas.”

Transmits a Negative Vibe

Are others open and honest in front of your future manager, or do they clam up when he enters the room? If your prospective co-workers sit silently on the sidelines, it means the manager isn’t interested in their input.

“They’ve learned that there’s a safe way to do things around here,” Glen said. “You expect a certain amount of diplomacy in front of the boss, but people should be able to talk without fear of reprisal.”

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Oversells the Job and the Company

Naturally, you expect a manager to point out the merits of the company and the position. But if he acts like a used car salesman from the outset and doesn’t seem interested in your goals and preferences, it’s a bad sign.

“If he has to oversell the opportunity, something is wrong,” Glen said. “It means you’re a fungible commodity and he thinks of you as a bucket of skills instead of a human being. That company or IT department probably has very high turnover.”

However, some IT managers may be uncomfortable asking about your preferences or what you need from a manager, noted Patty Azzarello, author, blogger and CEO of Palo Alto-based Azzarello Group, Inc., an executive-coaching firm. So job seekers need to broach the subject when the time is right. “If he seems disengaged or dismissive of your ideas when you bring them up then he won’t appreciate you or your contributions,” she said. “You’ll just be another cog in the wheel.”

Engages in Trash Talk

If she complains about the company and upper management, or blames others for her mistakes, she’ll throw you under the bus, too.

“Managers who constantly complain are impossible to please and tend to be nitpickers,” Skillings said. “They’d rather play the blame game than accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. There’s no way to make them happy.”

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9 Responses to “5 Ways to Spot a Bad Boss During an Interview”

  1. jelabarre

    I remember an interview like that. As soon as I got to the office, there was someone talking to the receptionist complaining about something going on at the company. Immediately, even before talking to the owner I already had a very bad vibe about the company. And yes, the boss was very full of himself, and later I found out he outright lied about things in the interview. Unfortunately, I took the job and spent the next 2 1/2 years regretting it (I had been out of work for a while, and wanted to get back to working again). Last I heard they had gone out of business 10-15 years ago.

  2. 30+ years of IT

    Interesting. I agree with some but not all the points. In particular, I prefer a boss who will “trash talk” about the firm. This shows honesty and a willingness to show the bad along with the good. I find those bosses less likely, not more, to back-stab you. The ones who only speak well of the firm are blowing smoke you-know-where and will push blame down on the team rather than admit that management forced bad decisions into the requirements. Never trust a boss (or interview team) that pushes for how willing you are going to be to join the “rotation” for 24/7 coverage. That means they aren’t willing to listen to ways to improve the process to eliminate late night calls. They want the inbound $ NOW and screw the customer who waits 2 months for a refund of overcharges.

  3. another casualty

    Another giveaway is if you don’t interview with the one who will be your manager. It’s often because others there know you would never take the job if you knew what you were getting into. It happened to me more than once — I thought I *was* interviewing with the one who would be my manager. Fool me twice…

  4. SmallTalk

    This brings up the company PSI in wood dale illinois. I went into the interview and immediately felt that this guy , either woke up on the wrong side of the bed or is generally the type with a stick up his @ss. This guy honestly believed that everything I told him was a lie. He said he liked to keep his interviews short. So he said “I am going to ask you a question and that I shouldn’t think about it to much. So I sat there and waited for him to ask me “I have 7 ip phones. What do I do?” First of all. Being from an IT background , I naturally said ,” you need to connect the phones to either the PC or the port in the cube. Apparently that was wrong . Turns out that he wanted me to say all the steps I would need in order to get the phone set up. So I answerd to the best of my abilities and he had the audacity to say that “any good IT person would have said…” Right to my face . He abruptly apologized to me for saying that . This was a very frustrating interview. Suffice to say I didn’t take the job and told my recruiter about this idiot. Avoid this fool like the plague and look elsewhere.

  5. overworked_and_underpayed

    i worked at a “help desk” for 3 and a half years, the manager i had was decent until i got transferred to another account on the same floor due to the company i was doing support for moving its help desk services to India, the first day on the new account was hectic, i had 3 people telling me to do 500 different things, and nobody knew what anybody else was doing, the 2nd day i met the operations manager for the new account, she was a nice lady, but she had some family issues come up and had to take a leave of absence, well i guess the old adage of “you will always be promoted to your highest level of incompetence” came true because we ended up with this real fool that covered her position while she took care of her family matters, in that time he decided we had too many people and did a layoff of 50 people, “its for the good of the company” he kept saying as he was handing out the pink-slips like Halloween candy, rather, passing it off to the /new/ H.R. supervisor, you know the Dilbert cartoon where there is catbert the evil director of H.R., that is this lady personified i swear, anyways, 50 of us get called to the Quality Assurance office, where we are told we are to do further training, we’re standing around for about 20 or 30 minutes before catbert pokes her head around the corner, takes a quick count of heads then disappears back into her office, makes a phone call, and we are all crammed butt-to-gut like sardines in a tiny 10×8 room and we get told “the police have been called, turn in your headsets and badges, and vacate the premises immediately”, needless to say I’ll never work for another call center again after that load of bull, and to top things off, the new Operations manager, was a manager i had as my 2nd manager after being transferred because my first manager resigned (should have been my warning to cut-and-run right there), word to the wise, if you are considering doing telephone help desk, and its not an “internal help desk” avoid it like the plague if your boss turns out to be a complete fool and/or incompetent in management/operations and you have an evil soul-sucking H.R manager who sees you as a “seat warmer” instead of a person

  6. How about this? In the interview they attempt to ask you “generic” questions. In one interview I was asked the question: “How do you handle situations in the work place when people or managers are yelling at you? Give us an example of a conflict you encountered at a previous job and tell us how you resolved it.” That should have told me right there that I was walking into a job where management did not view you as a coworker or team member, but simply as a mindless drone. Basically, they wanted to know if I was ok with having management yell at me. This manager that I ended up working for was prejudice, condescending, and definitely a credit thief. She would yell at her staff as though they were incompetent and she played favorites. She wrote all kinds of lies on my annual review and when I refused to sign the review and wrote a rebuttal requesting that she provide documented proof of her allegations, she couldn’t do it. That of course resulted in me having to meet with the HR manager–which was pointless because management always stick together. Shortly there after I discovered that the HR manager had the same management style as my manager. They were both very demeaning, quick to make assumptions and criticize the people that worked beneath them. The day the HR manager retired a lot of her direct reports jumped for joy. My manager was eventually fired because the new Director discovered that the one who was incompetent was actually her. She was giving me her job to do on the under and passing the work off as her own to the Director.

  7. Joe Jobseeker

    I interviewed at a company where my sister worked. The horse’s a– who interviewed me, and would have been my boss, started out with the question “So, you couldn’t get a job in your field and that’s why you want to work here?” Good judgment kept me from responding “No, I figure if this company hired you, then anyone could work here.” Instead, I responded with the usual polite answers then left after a brief discussion of the job. I called the recruiter and told her to take me out of contention. She responded that the jerk wanted me to come in for another interview, because of my qualifications. I told her it would be a cold day in Hell if I ever worked there, and that idiot was too small and puny to act like he did. My sister told me that everyone disliked the guy, and if she had known I was going to interview with the troll, she would have warned me off.

  8. Listen to your gut. It is usually right. Look at the faces of those employed by the boss you will be working for and you can tell how they feel about the job, the boss and the company.

    At one particular job interview, I noticed a tension in the people interviewing me. The boss had invited her creative director to sit in on the meeting. The creative director was young and seemed scared to open his mouth. Later, after taking the job, I realized that I had picked up on the right messages. I had been desperate for a job and took the offer anyway. Only to be let go 30 days later.

    The boss ran a department with fear. She did not give feedback for a job well done. Instead she criticized and set rules that she was the only one you could ask questions of if you needed help. You could not interact with those around you or she came down on you. If you took initiative to do something that you knew needed to be done, she jumped all over you for not asking first. Wow!

    This is one time in my life I was joyful that I got fired! Later I found out that his company had extremely high turnover. No wonder.