If you’re asked the question “How do you like to be managed?” (or similar questions like “What do you look for in a manager?” or “Describe your ideal boss”) in a job interview, that can be a great sign.
Why, you may ask?
It means the interviewer (slash hiring manager) cares about hiring someone who meshes well with the team’s management style. More importantly, it means they value a good working relationship—and don’t we all want to avoid reporting to a distant or toxic boss?
So how can you answer this interview question in a way that’s honest, yet resonates positively with the person who’s asking? (Note: You absolutely should be honest about your preferred management style—this is your chance to find the best fit for you, too!)
Here’s what you should do to prepare.
1. Reflect on Past Bosses and Gather Examples
Jot down some notes or brainstorm in your head. What have you liked about past bosses or leaders you’ve worked with? What did they do? What didn’t they do? What attributes did they have, what actions did they take, or what values did they hold that you admired?
On the flip side, let’s say you’ve only worked with horrible bosses. Consider what about their leadership styles bothered you. Could you spin the negative to make a statement about what you’d actually have preferred them do? (Turning the negative into a positive will be crucial in step three.)
And think about yourself and how you like to work. In an ideal world, what would your “perfect” manager do or provide to make you better at your job? Do you like following structure and specific processes, or having the ability to make changes or shift course as you go? Do you like having face-to-face interactions, or prefer written communication? Are you motivated by innovation, or by concrete goals?
“You should always bring it back to an experience you’ve had” if you can, says Muse career coach Clayton Wert. “I would recommend bringing up an example about a previous manager that you really enjoyed and had assisted you in your career. Tell that personal story and how you felt this manager helped you in accomplishing your weekly tasks and setting goals for the future.”
2. Do Some Digging Into the Team Culture
Of course, this question is about more than just you. You’ll want to make sure your answer aligns somewhat with the company culture you’re potentially about to join.
This isn’t to say you should make stuff up or lie about your ideal boss in the hopes of pleasing the interviewer. Doing so will only land you in a position you’re unhappy in—and could lead to butting heads with your future manager.
But you should tie your values (if they are in line with the company’s) back to the team dynamic—both to showcase that you did your research and that you’re the right fit for the job.
How can you do some sleuthing? Turn to everyone’s favorite friend: the internet. Browse through the company’s social media, read up on its core values through its website (or The Muse), or skim its LinkedIn page or employee reviews.
And use your network! Pick the brains of people you know at the company to get a sense of how they work with their managers and what the leadership structure is like.
If you don’t uncover anything of value, don’t sweat it. Every team and manager is different—even at the exact same company—so remember that even if on the outside a culture looks one way, it may actually be another way IRL (or the company might want to make changes to how employees are managed and thus be excited to bring in people with different perspectives).
3. Craft Your Response
It’s time to take what you gathered in steps one and two and begin to come up with a compelling response.
Outline one to two things that matter most to you (don’t just spell out a laundry list of requirements), and pick an example (if you have one) from past experience to highlight what it looks like in practice. They can be about your ideal manager’s communication style, expectations, qualities, interests, or anything in between. These should be things you do like or want, not things you don’t like or want—always focus on the positive.
“Don’t bring up a bad experience, and if you must bring up how something was less than ideal in someone’s managerial experience, describe how that was a learning experience for you,” explains Wert.
Focus more on high-level attributes, not stuff that’s in the weeds. If you tell an interviewer that the most important attribute in a boss in your opinion is someone who only emails you in the mornings, that doesn’t say much about how you work with others—other than that you probably won’t check your inbox after noon.
And stick to work-related stuff that helps you grow, learn, and do things more efficiently and effectively. An answer like, “I want a boss who takes me out to drinks to celebrate big achievements” only tells an interviewer that you’re in it for the perks, not to do the job well.
Then, you’ll want to explain your “why”—why this attribute, action, or style of managing matters to you and makes you a better employee.
If, for example, you state that you like a manager who’s more hands off when it comes to day-to-day responsibilities, “the why is because you believe that a manager that empowers [an] employee to do better and gives them the trust to problem solve on their own” allows them to be more successful, says Wert.
Regardless, you should have some preference as to what your ideal boss looks like. Saying that you “work well with any kind of person” is just lazy, doesn’t tell the interviewer anything about you, and is frankly not the whole truth—and hiring managers can see right through that.
At the same time, you can (and should) show a willingness to adapt to different management styles. It’s totally acceptable to lean a certain way—and being upfront about it will impress any hiring manager—but in general you’ll want to express some flexibility should the company have a slightly different approach to doing things. Rather than claim at the end of your answer, “This is the only kind of person I could work well with,” you could say something more like, “This is one type of leadership style that’s worked for me in the past, but I’m also open to/excited about collaborating in other kinds of ways/working with other types of bosses.”
What This Looks Like
Here are a couple sample answers that will serve you well when responding to this question:
“The bosses I’ve worked best with in the past have set clear, concise, and realistic goals and expectations. I’m highly motivated by deadlines and being a part of not just my team’s success but the whole company’s, so working with someone who takes both of these things seriously and ties them back to everything they do allows me to perform at my best.”
“I enjoy having my hands in a lot of different projects, so I like working with managers who allow their employees to experiment, be independent, and work cross-functionally with other teams. At the same time, I really welcome it when a boss provides me with support, guidance, and coaching. No one can do anything alone, and I believe when managers and employees collaborate together and learn from one another everyone comes out on top.”
“I only hope to continue to grow and improve as a leader, so I’d really appreciate a boss who’s willing to put themselves in my shoes and mentor me as I lead my team. I wouldn’t need them to be on call all the time, but just having that sounding board every once in a while to bounce ideas off of and practice giving feedback with would be incredibly helpful. My last boss did a really good job of this, and as a result of their tutelage I was able to train and propel the success of my three direct reports.”
What This Doesn’t Look Like
And here are several examples of answers you’ll want to avoid giving—whether because they’re vague, overly negative, or leave the interviewer more confused than before:
“I’m cool with any type of manager really. I vibe well with everyone, just ask my old teammates!”
“I’m really not OK with someone who micromanages. My last boss was all over me, pinging me constantly for updates on what I was working on. It was pretty annoying and I didn’t understand why they didn’t trust me.”
“I’d say my ideal manager is fun but hard-working, nice but strict, passionate but laid-back, and checks in with me but not too much. Those are just a couple things that matter to me.”
Coming up with a specific, positive, and growth-oriented response to the interview question, “How do you like to be managed?” can mean a lot for your career. Your answer provides the interviewer with relevant context as to how you’d click with your potential superior, and insight into how you think about your career trajectory.
If you don’t get the job as a result of conflicting styles, you’ll at least know that you avoided a role that wouldn’t have made you happy in the long run. And if you do end up landing the gig because it seems like a great fit on both sides, you can go in confident that you’ve picked the right person to manage you and propel your career goals.
Photo of person in job interview courtesy of Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author