Job Seeker Beware: Signs Of A Bad Boss

You’ve made the decision to look for a new job. The dreaded interview process you must endure until you find your next career stop is looming. While most job seekers sharpen their focus to look for a list of “must-haves” including good pay, competitive benefits and meaningful responsibility, one crucial factor is often overlooked; the boss factor. Even if the job posting looks enticing and the interviewing team has dazzled you with promises of a dream job, applicant beware. It’s important to know ahead of time what type of leader you will be working with if you are hired.

Chances are, you can probably recall a time or two when you’ve chosen to look for a different career opportunity based largely upon the environment created by the leadership in your organization. In fact, it can often be said that people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss. According to a 2016 global poll from Monster, 32 percent of employees think they work for a “horrible” boss, while only 15 percent say they have an “excellent” manager. Their definitions of what made their bosses bad included broken promises, failure to give credit or recognition, lack of communication, micromanaging behavior, lack of trust, unpredictable mood swings, and sacrificing employees to cover up for personal mistakes made by management.

The bad boss dilemma isn’t isolated to the business sector. A poll by the Gallup Organization found that 60 percent of employees working for the government are unhappy in their jobs. The study found that while government employees may enjoy good pay, great benefits and sufficient vacation time, unhappy respondents were miserable because of – you guessed it – having a bad boss.

Whenever you take a new job, there will be unknown variables which require you to take a leap of faith. However, there are some things you can look for during the interview process to help you determine what you’d really be in for once the honeymoon phase of new employment fades away. By checking out the work environment, listening carefully to what they say, and watching body language closely, you can tell if your potential new boss is one to avoid. Look around, what do you see?

¯ Do the employees look happy? Is everyone happy, talking kindly and looking content working? Or, does the workplace have a negative, prison-like vibe to it where nobody is really interacting positively?

¯ As the boss enters the interview room or walks the halls, do the employees seem genuinely happy to greet them? Or, do they give an obligatory nod and forced smile?

¯ Is the boss able to communicate with you effectively? Are they able to articulate sound answers to your questions about departmental goals and the performance feedback process?

¯ While you are talking, does the boss seem to be genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say? Or, do they seem distracted and hurried? Are they taking notes and maintaining periodic eye contact? Or, are they glancing at the clock or checking their phone?

¯ Does the boss appear to be boastful and arrogant by talking primarily about themselves and dominating the conversation, which should be more focused on getting to know you as the candidate?

¯ Are references made by the boss of employees needing to “prove themselves”? If so, this might be a micro-managing boss to work for.

¯ Is it evident that the boss seems clueless about the specific details of the job or how success is measured? Are they unable to give you intelligent answers to your questions but try to cover it up by dancing around the subject? If so, this could potentially be a boss who is not respected by their employees or peers due to being in a position that is over their head.

¯ Does the boss make your interview feel more like an interrogation with their rapid fire, condescending questioning style? This could be a “Negative Nelly” boss who is quick to criticize the efforts of others.

It’s important to remember that if you’re looking for a long-term career move, no amount of pay and benefits will solve the emotional and physical stress caused by a terrible manager. Such stress can cause symptoms including insomnia, depression, muscle tension, irritability, low self-esteem, a sense of hopelessness, and feelings of impatience or dissatisfaction in other areas of your life.

Follow your gut and don’t try to explain away the signs. Mitigate the stress you could face down the road by discovering a bad boss before it’s too late. Never forget that the interview process is a two-way street and a bad boss will jeopardize your career growth and can wreak havoc on your personal life from high levels of work-related stress. Give yourself the chance to work with a great boss who cares enough to see and bring out the best in you.

Happy job hunting.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a leadership communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 20 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, aerospace, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at