“If you must be a servant, seek him who you can serve best.”
We spend 2/3 of our lives with our bosses, yet how much time do we REALLY spend in making sure we’re selecting the right one? Think about the last time you grilled your boss-to-be during an interview. Did you even have a chance to do that? If you had the time allotted, what did you do with it? I’d bet you sat there waiting for questions from him/her instead of asking the tough questions yourself.
It’s ok if you wimped-out, most people do. It’s primarily due to an unwritten law of interview etiquette—thou shalt not disrespect/embarrass/inconvenience your potential boss-to-be. After all, if you inconvenience her during the interview or disrespect her with too many trenchant questions, then you might lose out on the job offer. On the flip side, if you don’t ask her enough questions, or better yet, the right questions, then you might be getting the Tyrannosaurus Boss you never bargained for!
Four Interview Precautions You MUST Take
Here are some of my own recommendations that I ask my clients to follow when they’re interviewing for a job, but remember, these are only helpful if you MAKE them happen. Most companies and supervisors won’t hand you these opportunities on a silver platter:
1) Getting to Know You. During your first visit to the company (or your first round of interviews) request a minimum of 30 minutes of face time with your future boss. Hopefully, this will already be a part of your interview agenda, but it isn’t always the case. In the first round of interviews, you might be lucky to catch a glimpse of your boss in a group interview or in passing from one interview session to the next. If your future boss is ‘too busy’ to give you a 1/2 hour, you’ve got your first red flag.
2) Just Making Sure. During your second visit to the company (or your second round of interviews) request a one- hour, one-on-one interview with your boss. Don’t accept meeting him in a group discussion or allow getting to know her as part of a panel, it is important to have his/her attention in a one-on-one setting. This alone time will help you evaluate his character, test his commitment to your success, and get a gut-reaction towards your compatibility. Remember, it’s ok to ask for this one-on-one time if you don’t see it on the agenda. (If the company is worth its salt, it will already be on the agenda.) The worst thing that can happen is they will say ‘NO’ and you’ll know what to do from there!
3) Get Out of the Office at Least Once. Try very hard to schedule a breakfast or lunch meeting with your future boss. See if you can schedule this with him/her after you have had your second or last interview. It’s obviously much easier to do this if you happen to be one of two finalists for a job, and it’s easier to do this if you are applying for a senior level position, and not an entry level one. However, you never get what you don’t ask for, so even if you’re entry level, ask to meet for coffee and bagels at the local breakfast hang- out or for a quick sub sandwich at lunch. This is your chance to meet him/her on YOUR TERMS and in a more informal setting. Set the trap and watch for telling signs that might encourage or disappoint you. You’ll know them when you see them!
4) Checking-in Before Your First Day. This is the most difficult of my recommendations, but it’s also the most valuable: Try to schedule a 30-minute meeting with your new boss at his/her office at least one week before your scheduled start date. It’s one last time for you to chat, ask questions about hobbies, interests, travels, and most importantly, get to know him/her as a person. This 30-minute meeting should be viewed as a time for you to talk about him/her and not about you and what you want.
You’ve chosen his/her office location because you want to find out how he/she acts in a professional setting when not really discussing business. Start the meeting by saying, “Thanks again for the offer, my family (wife, kids, mom, dad, grandma, dogs, Foster-step-cousins, etc.) and I are very excited about this opportunity. I wanted to take a few moments to get to know you as a person, we’ve been busy taking care of the particulars related to this position and it might be nice if we talked about our outside interests a bit…..”
Case Study: Ricardo’s Future Boss Has No Future
Ricardo was interviewing for a mid-level position with a large energy company. They had a lot of turnover with this position and hadn’t posted the job opening yet. Ricardo learned of the opening from a friend who works there, and who asked the boss, Sam, to give Ricardo a call.
Standard Interviewing Procedures
During the course of 2 weeks, Ricardo made 4 trips to the company’s offices. Two of those visits were scheduled and required interviews that the company arranged. The other 2 visits were arranged by Ricardo, because he followed my 4 Interview Precautions.
Break-Down the Interview Precautions
For my Interview Precautions #1 & #2, he had 30 minutes with his future boss and another one hour, respectively. He learned about Sam’s vision and requirements of the job, but that was it. Ricardo couldn’t tell if Sam was a good leader or a Tyrannosaurus Boss. If Ricardo was offered a job at this point, he would be making an uninformed and risky decision.
For Interview Precaution #3, Ricardo set- up a lunch meeting with Sam a few days after they had their 2nd (and last official) interview. The lunch didn’t go well, it was very rushed because Sam had to go to a meeting. During the lunch, Sam kept checking his PDA and was distracted. Sam seemed completely different than he did during meetings #1 & #2. Ricardo didn’t feel connected to Sam, and that was a critical piece of information to have. More importantly, Ricardo wondered why Sam agreed to this lunch if he knew he was going to be busy and preoccupied. Was he just humoring Ricardo? Possibly, because Sam made the offer while they were crossing a busy street, rushing back to the office from lunch. The offer felt informal and impersonal.
Finally, there was the meeting associated with Interview Precaution #4, and Sam failed miserably. Sam wasn’t conversational, wasn’t interested in any of Ricardo’s hobbies or family or travels. Sam didn’t even talk about his interests outside of work or how he balances career/life. In fact, Ricardo learned that Sam works 70+ hours each week and DOES NOT have one, single photo on his desk nor does he have any personal items or mementos in his office. It was as sterile as a surgical room! So was the conversation!
A Narrow Escape
One month later, after Ricardo declined the offer, he bumped into the HR manager who was his ‘host’ while he was interviewing with Company XYZ. She said that she just quit because she couldn’t handle Sam any longer. In fact, Sam also quit a few days after she did! Ricardo smiled and was pleased he took the time to choose his boss well, stay with his current job, and not end up having to serve someone whom he could not best serve.