5 Crucial Things to Look for in Your First Manager
If you’re going through your first job search for a full-time position, probably the last thing on your mind is what kind of manager you’re going to have. That’s completely understandable. After all, you’re probably running around with your hair on fire conducting informational interviews, cleaning up your resume, and crafting cover letters. You just need a job.
But consider this: Your first manager can either challenge you to be the best person you can be and help you get there—or lock you in place with zero concern for your professional development or goals.
So, if having a successful career beyond this first position is at all important to you, look for these traits in your first manager.
1. Someone Who Brags About You to Others
Many people have had the experience of a supervisor taking credit for their work. It’s feels pretty horrible. The flip side of that is someone who regularly brags about you to other colleagues. Not only does it feel great and keep you motivated, it means you won’t need to go through the awkward process of bragging about yourself to the higher-ups. Recently invited to speak at a conference? You won’t need to toot your own horn if you have a manager who will do it for you.
How do you find an awesome supervisor like this? During your interview, try asking “Can you tell me about some of the latest accomplishments or professional triumphs some of your team members have had?” If it’s easier than breathing for your potential supervisor to sing the praises of other people, that’s a pretty good sign.
2. Someone Who Encourages You to Branch Out Beyond Your Current Responsibilities
If one of your professional development goals is to develop additional skills or expertise in areas outside of your job description (and it should be if you want to keep moving up), then make sure you have the kind of manager who lets you try out your new ideas—not one who restricts your work strictly to what’s in your job description.
Some questions you could ask to sniff this out might be be: “What are some of the career paths of people on your team?” “What would you see as the career progression of someone in this role?” or “How would you see my role growing as I gain additional expertise?”
3. Someone Who Mentors You and Cares About Your Professional Development
The benefits of having a mentor have been well documented. So, you can imagine how helpful it is to have a manager who doubles as a mentor. More importantly, it’s vital to your career to find a manager who isn’t more concerned about how many hours you’ve worked than your latest professional accomplishments.
Go with your gut on this one. Feel out what kind of rapport you can build with your manager during the interview process, and go from there. It also doesn’t hurt to ask about whether the company has structured mentorship programs or in what ways it supports employees’ growth. This gives your interviewer the opportunity to either tell you about company policies or how more informal professional development happens (and has the added benefit of indicating that this is a priority of yours).
4. Someone Who Models Professional Behavior
If you’ve gone through a couple of interviews, you probably already have a pretty good sense of basic professional etiquette. But as you take on more responsibilities and start managing people of your own, things get a little bit trickier. This is where having a stellar manager who models professional behavior is very handy in preparing you for more complex workplace situations.
There’s no real trick in looking for a manager like this, but watch out for how your potential future manager treats and talks about others. If you get the opportunity to interview with other members of the team, ask them how they would characterize their supervisor’s style of leadership. And pay attention to the little details: Did the hiring manager review your resume before your interview or make you wait during the interview while he or she reviewed it? Someone who seems to fully have his or her act together is a good sign.
5. Someone Who Checks in on You
Lastly, but most importantly, a manager has to actually be present. Independence is great and is certainly something many people cherish in their work environment, but it’s incredibly important to have an accessible manager. A manager who just isn’t around not only prevents you from doing great work—but also won’t be keeping up with your professional accomplishments to share with others or mentoring you to help figure out areas you should grow in.
Of course, you don’t want to come off as a needy employee who requires a daily check-in, so try asking about performance reviews and work backward from there. Something like, “I assume there is an annual performance review—can you tell me more about that process?” and “Are there opportunities for me to check in with you about my progress on my work prior to the performance review?” will help give you a sense of the reporting relationship.
Having a great first manager can help you hit your career goals faster than you ever imagined, so be thoughtful about the kind of boss you want, and be on the lookout for signs of a great relationship during your interviews. Of course, this is important for all jobs you seek throughout your life, but you never forget your first!
Photo of people talking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author