Dear Lifehacker, I just got a new job offer, and I'm excited to join the workforce again, but I don't want to end up with a crazy boss. Before I take this new position, can I do anything to figure out if my new employer is a total nut job, or do I just have to take my chances? Sincerely, Worried Worker
Dear WW, With every job, you have to take your chances to some extent. Knowing the territory and the people who inhabit it come with time. Additionally, you could wind up with a great boss and one crazy employee who spoils the job. When you take a new position, you end up with a lot of variables, and you can't prepare for them all. However, you can find out a few things about your boss that will help you determine what you're in for.
Know What Kind of Boss You Like
Sometimes bad is subjective. Other times, bad is universal. One manager may work great for someone else but not so much for you. For that reason, before you do anything, you should know what you want (and don't want) in a boss.
Most people don't appreciate micro-managing, constant nagging, bosses who talk too much or bosses that are unavailable. Know what bothers you before all else, because those problems will weigh on your more than anything else. Additionally, figure out how you like to work with you boss. Do you appreciate someone who spends a lot of time working with you and helping you do better work or do you like to only hear from management when it matters most? When you know your preferences, you know what kind of boss to look for and what kind to avoid.
Talk to Employees About the Boss' Management Style
When you rent an apartment, you should always talk to existing and/or former tenants before you move in so you know what to expect. The same principal applies to new jobs. Before you accept an offer, ask to talk to an employee or two to get information about your potential working environment.
How do you know what to ask? Familiarise yourself with different common management styles so you know which ones encompass your preferences. Not all employees will know the difference between a laissez-faire and paternalistic style, but if you do you can use the definitions to figure out what questions to ask and find the answers for your self. For example:
- Does your boss like to have a hands-on approach?
- Does your boss take a more hands-off approach and act more as a mentor and helper than a manager?
- Does your boss make unilateral decisions without consulting his or her workers?
- Does your boss listen to you? Does he or she ask a lot of questions, or just kind of walk around and try to pick up information throughout the day?
- How much input does your boss allow employees to have? Do you find this is useful, or does it waste time?
Some bosses mix and match styles too. For example, you could have a laissez-faire and paternalistic boss who will mentor employees and let them manage their work (laissez-faire) but makes a final decision on their own when time runs out or the employee(s) can't come to one on their own (paternalistic). Personally, I prefer this combination and believe it works best in creative jobs. Others may prefer different management styles. For example, a bank manager could not use this style effectively, because banks require strict rules to prevent costly errors. It not only helps to know different management styles, so you can looks for the ones you like (and avoid the ones you don't) but also know what to expect in different fields. That way you can figure out a line of questioning for existing employees.
Talk to Former Employees About the Boss' Problems
You can't ask existing employees what they don't like about their boss and expect to get an honest answer most of the time. Generally speaking, employees don't want to badmouth their boss even if they don't like them, because, as you might imagine, that could lead to all sorts of potential problems. Former employees, on the other hand, don't have that issue.
How do you find former employees? Don't ask the company for contacts. While you might get a few, and some companies won't mind this request, others will find it suspicious or disconcerting. While that risk might seem worthwhile, it's unnecessary thanks to the internet. Using sites like LinkedIn, you can search for a specific company and find former employees. Contact them and see if you can ask a few questions about the boss. They have less to lose and can provide you with more honest answers.
Don't Talk Yourself Out of a Job
When you dig hard and long enough, you'll inevitably find problems with your prospective boss. Most people don't like most people, and also don't know them, so you can quickly find ways to feel like you don't like a boss you barely or don't even know. When pursuing a negative objective, like learning about your prospective boss' sanity, keep the positives in mind as well. If you don't try to weigh the pros and cons of a boss objectively, you might talk yourself out of a good job. Do your research, but don't drown yourself in negative thoughts. Taking a new job means taking a small leap of faith too.
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