Avoiding a bad boss – and joining the right team

by Guest Author, Rachel Loock

When interviewing for a new job, remember that you’re assessing the company and the team you’ll be working with as much as they’re interviewing you. Start by researching the company and key players through their website, LinkedIn, online news articles and databases.

But while online sources can be helpful, the best source of information about a new team and boss is through conversations with current and former employees. Along with understanding the company’s mission and values, you’ll want to get a handle on the culture.

Ideally, you’ll have the chance to discuss team culture and dynamics and the boss’ management style through conversations with your professional or alumni connections, outside of the formal interview process. But if this isn’t possible, ask about the culture during the interview process.

Specifically, probe to see if the team you’ll be working with is a good fit – and that includes the boss. Understanding how employees work together and your new supervisor’s management style is critical to ensuring the work environment aligns with your personality and values.

Know Yourself

Before reaching the final interview stage, determine what cultural factors are important to you. Reflect on positive experiences with teams you’ve been on in the past and strong working relationships with current or previous bosses. For example, do you prefer working in a highly collaborative environment? Do you like to work within the broad outlines of a project and determine how to execute it, or do you want more detailed guidance? Is recognition for a job well done important to you? Self-awareness about your preferences and past successful (and unsuccessful) working relationships can help to inform what will work best for you in a new role.

Ask the Right Questions

Asking the following questions during the interview process can help you assess whether the team and boss will be a good fit.

For the team:

  • How do you all work together?
  • How is performance feedback provided?
  • How is conflict resolved?
  • What do you like about the team culture?

For the potential boss:

  • Who are the people I will be working with most closely?
  • How is work/life balance encouraged/supported?
  • What does success look like for this job in the first six months?
  • What’s your management/working style?
  • Why is this position being filled?
  • How many hours a week do you expect your top performers to put in?
  • What has been the staff turnover rate in the last two to three years?
  • What traits do you value most in your direct reports?

Body language of the interviewer(s) may also provide additional clues about team dynamics. Evaluating cultural fit can be subjective and difficult to quantify.

One person’s dream team and culture may be a nightmare for another. In addition to asking questions, here are a few red flags to be aware of that might indicate a less than ideal fit:

  • Indirect/vague answers to questions posed.
  • Inconsistent/different answers from team members as compared to the boss or HR.
  • Supervisor position (for the role you’re interviewing for) is vacant.
  • High turnover.

Bottom Line

Do your research through every means available to you before and during the interview process to ensure your new team and new manager are the right fit.

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About the author: Rachel Loock is a career and leadership coach with the Office of Career Services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

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