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Career Coach: How to Avoid A Bad Boss

For September's "Career Coach," Pamela Kleibrink Thompson follows up last month's topic of dealing with a bad boss with a discussion of how to avoid being employed by one.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

Last month I wrote about how to deal with a bad boss. This month you'll learn how to avoid working with a bad boss by identifying bad bosses during the interview.

During the interview process, the employer is trying to determine whether you are a good match for the company. The interview is a two-way conversation and during that time you must ask enough questions to be able to determine whether you would enjoy working for the company and the boss who is interviewing you. You have to do your own assessment of the company and the supervisor, if you have the opportunity to meet him. Observe how the boss interacts with his colleagues, as well as those who report to him. Does he treat everyone equally or does he treat his subordinates with less respect?

Watch for red flags during the interview. They can tip you off about the personality and potential problems of a future supervisor. I could have avoided several bad bosses in my life by paying attention to the red flags that came up.

The interviewer keeps you waiting and doesn't apologize

During an interview for a copywriting job, I showed up on time and had to wait for nearly an hour to speak to the employer. This should have tipped me off that the employer did not respect other people's time. I told the receptionist that I had to go to the car and put more money in the parking meter and I considered driving away. When I finally met with the employer, she checked her watch several times during the interview, and seemed distracted and disinterested. I should have known it would be difficult to work with her. She was often late to meetings and, when she did attend, her attention often wandered and she had difficulties staying on topic. When an employer keeps you waiting for an inordinate amount of time and doesn't respect your time or efforts, it is a sign that she may not appreciate your time and efforts once you have the job.

The potential boss ignores you during the interview

During an interview I had for a writing job, my potential boss took several phone calls during my interview. She didn't keep the calls brief or offer to call the person back. This should have tipped me off that she did not respect her employees. Although I ended up with the job offer and accepted the job, I constantly had problems keeping my boss focused on the task at hand and later discovered that she drank and took "medication" during lunch. No wonder she couldn't stay focused!

Your potential boss is distracted during the interview

Interviewing is difficult both for the employer and the job seeker, and an interviewer may be preoccupied with other duties and deadlines. The employer may have many demands before him, including finding suitable help. It's up to you to assess whether this harried person is in a temporary state of stress or if this is the normal state of operations. You should ask questions to assess what the typical state of affairs is at the company and with your potential supervisor.

An employee gives you important information about the boss

Don't overlook any red flags given to you by current employees. During an interview at a small animation company, one of the employees informed me that the boss "could be temperamental at times." I should have taken note of this, as well as my observation that the artists all flinched at their desks when the boss walked in the door.

During the interview observe how the potential boss interacts with employees. How does she treat her assistant? How does she treat you during the interview? If an employer does not give potential employees respect, it's unlikely that she will treat employees well.

Make sure you get the right boss next time

One of the best things you can do is to ensure that your boss will be the kind of person you want to work for. To do this, you have to do some self-assessment before looking for your next job. Self-assessment includes not only what skills you can offer an employer, but also what values are important to you. Determine your ideal working conditions and environment. Do you prefer working alone or with a group? Once you know what working conditions are right for you, including the kind of management you prefer, you can find the right match for your temperament.

Determine if you prefer working on your own with lots of autonomy or if you prefer close supervision and constant feedback. A supervisor who is hands-on is likely to want to approve most or everything you do. A supervisor who entrusts his/her employees with responsibilities and decision-making is a better match for someone who desires more autonomy. That boss will get irritated if you constantly interrupt him/her with the minutiae of your projects.

Once you understand the boss's style, you can decide whether you want to work with him/her. Ask questions during the interview to determine what the boss values.

One of the things that employers try to discover during the interview is whether you are a good fit for their company. What you need to do is determine what would be a good fit for you. What makes work both fascinating and difficult are the myriad personalities of colleagues and supervisors. It's up to you to find a boss that is a good match for your personality.

Is it Me?

Once you start working at your new job, I hope you'll discover that your boss is fair and respectful. If he is not and you feel you've made a mistake, take some time to assess before deciding that you need to move on. Perhaps the boss is not a good fit for you. Try to adapt to his style.

Sometimes the boss might be a good boss to some people, but not to you. Check to see if you are the only one having difficulty by asking your colleagues how they feel about working for your boss. Don't reveal that you are having problems. If you are the only one who is having difficulty, it might be that you are too sensitive, or that you and the boss just don't have the right chemistry.

If you are in a job with a boss who is not the right match, and you cannot adapt, realize that the only way to change your boss is to change your job. Your best chance to avoid a bad boss is during the interview. Keep an eye out for warning signs, and you won't have to learn these lessons on the job.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, hiring strategist, career coach and speaker, available for personal consultations and speaking engagements. She recently presented a course at the SIGGRAPH conference called "Resumes and Demo Reels: If Yours Don't Work, Neither Do You." (www.siggraph.org/s2007) If you are interested in her professional services as a career coach, speaker, or recruiter, contact her at PamRecruit@q.com.

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