How to Size Up a Potential Manager

How to Size Up a Potential Manager

You spend a lot of time at work. If you dislike a manager, those hours can feel long, frustrating and unpleasant. Managers play a role in determining whether you get a raise, whether you’re offered a promotion or whether you’re assigned interesting projects.

However, until you accept a job, it’s hard to predict how your relationship with a manager will play out. They may seem great during the interview process, then turn out to be incompetent in practice. Conversely, they may seem cold and stand-offish during the interview, then turn out to be a highly effective communicator. There’s no way to know exactly how things will pan out based on the interviews, but you can look for signs, take notes and try to determine whether the dynamic will work for you.

Check out these tips below for sizing up a potential manager.

Look Out for Instant Red Flags

Some signs of a problematic manager are universal. You may not want to work with a manager who exhibits the following:

  • Rude behavior: In an interview situation, typically all participants are trying to make a good impression. If a potential manager is rude under these circumstances, imagine what it would be like on the job. Look out for disrespectful comments toward you or other employees.
  • Self-absorption: Does the manager talk only about him or herself and forget to ask you questions? Or, does the manager badmouth the company? The focus should be on you and your position at the company during an interview. The tone should also be positive. If it’s not, that could be a sign that your manager’s ego and self-absorption will always dominate interactions.
  • A lack of transparency: If the manager seems evasive during the interview process, that may be a red flag. Unless a job is classified, a job seeker should be able to get all of their questions answered. If a potential manager is not transparent with you, that may be a sign of underlying issues.
  • Unresponsiveness. Managers are busy, and they may not always get back to you right away. However, if you notice a consistent pattern of unanswered emails, late arrivals or forgotten appointments during the interview process without any apologies, that may be a sign of chronic disorganization, not to mention a lack of respect for your time.
  • Sketchy profile. These days, most managers should be discoverable online. If you look up a potential manager and don’t like what you see, that could be a red flag. For example, maybe they don’t have enough experience for your liking, or perhaps you don’t agree with their political leanings. It’s up to you to decide whether their online presence (or lack thereof) is a dealbreaker, but it’s usually a good idea to talk to someone in person before writing them off.
  • Inappropriate behavior: Inappropriate or illegal behavior is an obvious red flag. It can span the gamut, from getting too personal to sexual harassment to discriminatory comments. This type of behavior is unacceptable for a manager. Period. If you encounter discriminatory behavior during the interview process, you can notify the Equal Opportunity Commission.
  • Unhappy employees. When you’re interviewing at a company, it can be tricky to assess employee happiness. You can look at LinkedIn or Glassdoor to read employee reviews and to find out if your role has seen frequent turnover. You can also try to gauge the overall vibe in the office if you’re interviewing in person. However, the best way to investigate employee happiness is to discreetly ask an insider, if you know one.
  • A personality that does not gel with yours. In the end, getting along with someone is subjective. If you know right away that you won’t gel with the potential manager, that could be a giant red flag. Only you can decide if their personality is a deal breaker or something that you are willing to handle.


Watch Out for Your Own Blinders

The interview process is not like real life. Nerves are high. Everyone is (hopefully) being ultra-polite. It’s a time when people make impulsive decisions, so it’s a good idea to check for common blinders while sussing out a manager. For example, take a step back if:

  • You are absolutely over-the-moon about the manager. This sounds like a positive thing, not a blinder. However, if you’re absolutely over-the-moon about the manager without reservation, it’s a good idea to take a step back and remember that this might be a honeymoon period, and most managers are putting their best foot forward during the interview process. No one is perfect, and you shouldn’t let a potentially great manager blind you from other company problems. For example, a great manager isn’t going to make up for an 80-hour week if you’re looking to work just 40 hours.
  • You’re desperate for a job. Job desperation is a huge and very common blinder. If you really need a job, you might be willing to put up with anything, including toxic managers. It’s up to you whether or not you’re desperate enough to take the job, but bear in mind that you may not stay very long in a position if you’re unhappy. It might be worth searching for something more sustainable.
  • You’re shopping for a manager that isn’t your previous one. All too often, people have a bad manager at a previous job, so they hunt for the exact opposite type during their job search. This is a huge blinder. Within a few months, you will forget all about your previous manager while your new one’s flaws will be in full view. Try and view the potential manager with a clean slate.
  • You’re making decisions based on personal bias. There is a difference between your standards and your bias. For example, let’s say you refuse to work with a manager who is younger than 40. Ask yourself why. If the answer is that you want someone with a lot of experience, that’s an understandable standard. But many people under 40 have tons of experience. If you don’t respect managers under 40, that might be coming from your own bias and not the reality of the work experience.
  • You’re being short-sighted about your career. Sometimes, an imperfect manager is worth it because you’re building a career. If you’re working in your dream job at your dream company but the manager is annoying, you might want to play the long game and stick it out. You may be able to work with different departments or make lateral moves later on. Also, managers come and go.
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  • December 23, 2022