On the Clock

How To Get the Lowdown on Your Future Boss

Forget salaries and benefits. Investigating the manager at a potential new job can be crucial.

4 min read

Rachel’s offer at a fast-growing tech firm seemed too good to be true: a 20% raise from her current salary, six weeks of paid vacation, and the ability to work from home one day a week. And the office brought in catered organic sandwiches and salads twice a week, to boot. But there was one bit that kept her on edge; the former colleague who had recommended Rachel for the gig warned her, “I’m throwing you to a wolf.”

Turns out, Rachel’s potential boss at the tech firm is a brilliant mastermind and mentor, but a serial micromanager. Rachel’s colleague told her that she’d be pestered by phone calls from her boss at all hours, only to wake up to no fewer than 10 emails from him alone. But if she could put up with it, she’d learn invaluable skills to help get her ahead. Was it worth it?

“The No. 1 reason people leave a job is to get away from their supervisor.”

By the time you get a job offer, sometimes you just want to sign on the dotted line to get the grueling job search over with. After all, you’ve already studied the company to ensure it aligns with your purpose and spent hours sitting through interviews. But experts say when you have an offer in hand is the most paramount time to slow down and do your due diligence. Why? Because the No. 1 reason people leave a job, according to a Gallup Poll of more than 7,000 respondents, is to get away from their supervisor. It’s no wonder career consultants keep repeating the same mantra: People leave managers, not companies.

“People forget that by the time you have done more than one interview, the company usually wants this to work out as much as you do,” says Dev Aujla, CEO of the recruiting firm Catalog. “You have every right to turn the interview around and do your due diligence on the company.”

Sure, you can dig online and look up the person’s LinkedIn profile, Facebook posts, and any mentions in news clippings. But career consultants say it’s more important to get a true sense of the people through, well, other people.

Talk to their current and former direct reports.

Think of it as a reverse reference check. One of the best ways to get a sense of how your potential manager will operate is to discuss his or her traits with current (if possible) and former employees. Beyond the obvious questions—how this person communicates—you can usually dig deep if you are tactful. One of Aujla’s clients had a reference check turn into an informal interview. “The reference was so impressed with the level of research and care that the guy was demonstrating that he invited him to interview for the competitor,” Aujla says.

Ask to attend a meeting.

The job interview rarely reveals a personality, since the manager holds all the cards. One way to see him or her in action is to ask to sit in on a meeting. While some companies may have to decline the request if the nature of the industry or work is confidential, it doesn’t hurt to try. That way, you can get a better sense of the manager’s emotional intelligence and body language. Does he or she interrupt people and brush off others’ ideas—or nod when listening and praise colleagues who come up with decent solutions?

Check out the chain of command.

A lot of bosses are really just parroting their own bosses. Or sometimes it’s the boss of your boss’ boss. So work up the ladder and investigate. What’s more, don’t forget to check up on the company’s own financial health and competitive pressures and any recent C-suite shifts, tech disruptions, or rebranding. All of it can trickle down to middle management and foster unnerving behavior.

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