Instead of Trying to Handle a Bad Manager, Avoid Hiring One in the First Place

April 23, 2018

Some people just aren't cut out to be managers because they lack communication and listening skills. These bad managers can lead to decreased morale, lack of productivity, burnout, stress and ultimately turnover. But can you avoid hiring a bad manager in the first place? Are there telltale signs during the hiring process that can tip someone off to a job candidate who may end up making employees miserable?

Clues in the Resume. Before you meet a candidate for a managerial job, you may be able to tell if the candidate is a bad boss if there are multiple managerial positions that seem suited to their skills, but they had a short tenure in each. The applicant should use language in his or her resume that reflects a tone of teamwork. If possible, find out what the candidate's team retention was, excluding people who were fired. Too many voluntary departures are often a bad sign. Before a phone or face-to-face interview, do your homework on LinkedIn or another professional site. Really good managers naturally attract recommendations from their teams. A manager with no recommendations is a red flag. A manager whose recommendations are not glowing is a red flag.

Pay Attention in the Interview. You can't gauge how good of a boss someone will be from his or her resume alone. Focus also on the interview and reference-check stages to learn about a candidate's managerial skills. In the interview, look—as you did on the resume—for signs that the manager is not taking all the credit for results; he or she should consistently acknowledge team contributions. Someone who badmouths former subordinates during the interview process may lack problem-solving and collaboration skills. Ask open-ended questions to get more insight into a person's managerial style:

  • Can you think of a time when you didn't get along with an employee or disagreed with an employee? What did you do?
  • Tell me about the most difficult team you've ever led. Why was it difficult, and how did you cope?
  • Describe a situation when your staff made a mistake and how you dealt with it.
  • Describe a situation when someone on your staff was not performing and how you dealt with it.
  • Describe a situation when someone on your team was a star performer and what you did to help that person become even better.
  • Can you describe an ethically challenging situation at work and how you handled it?
  • Can you tell me about a time at work when you had to make a difficult decision?
  • How have you motivated those around you?
  • What do you like about managing people?
  • Have any of your personal experiences helped you to become a good leader?
  • As a leader, how do you persuade people to do what you want?

Listen Carefully to References. Ask the candidate's references for examples of how the person displayed good leadership skills. Because people typically choose references who they think will speak highly of them, hearing anything negative can be a red flag and should be followed up.