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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

The Crucial Step That Will Make Sure Your Next Boss is a Great One

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When interviewing for a new job, most of us are pretty good about analyzing the ins and outs—the responsibilities, the company culture, the growth opportunities, the commute, and so on. But I’ve noticed there’s one thing that many people tend to gloss over: who, exactly, we’d be reporting to in the position.

And while maybe your boss isn’t the most important factor in whether or not to sign on for a new gig, I’d argue that it’s pretty darn high up on the list. If you’ve ever had a great boss (or a bad one), you know the impact that person has on your promotion prospects, your assignments, and your day-to-day happiness.

HBR’s David Reese recently offered up a tip that’ll help ensure your next boss is of the career-boosting variety: “reference checking” this person before accepting a position. Much like an interviewer does a background check of sorts on you by calling your previous employers and contacts, Googling you, and making sure everything you’ve said in the interview process checks out, he recommends taking the time to scope out your boss before accepting an offer.

So, what does this look like? While Reese tells the story of candidates who have asked for actual reference lists from potential managers, for most companies, a more subtle approach will work just fine. Here are a few ways to find out more about your new boss:

Ask the Right Questions

During the interview process, it’s totally OK to ask things like, “What’s your management style?” and “How much do you typically interact with your direct reports?” While no one’s going to come out and tell you, “I’m the biggest micromanager in the world!” you can glean a lot from responses like, “I’m pretty hands-off” or “I make sure to check in with everyone hourly.”

Similarly, if you’re able to interview with peers or your manager’s other direct reports, don’t be afraid to ask, “So, what’s it like working for Steve?” Again, everyone will likely be on their best interview behavior, but 10 minutes of gushing about what a great boss someone is says a lot more than, “It’s good.”

Look for LinkedIn Clues

Head on over your future boss’ LinkedIn profile. Does he or she have recommendations from current or former direct reports? Has he or she recommended any of those people? These are both great signs that he or she has built strong relationships with other team members. (On that note, maybe you should recommend a few of your favorite bosses or employees—here’s how.)

Ask Around

Try to find a couple people you know—even if they’re second degree connections—who work for the company, and ask for 10 minutes of time to pick their brain. People will likely be more than happy to help if you shoot over a simple: “I’ve been offered a position at Discovery, in the communications department, reporting to Jane Phillips. I’m excited about the position and just doing my due diligence—would you have 10 minutes to chat with me about your experience there?”

Yes, this is an extra step in the interview process, especially when all you want to do is negotiate that big salary and sign on the dotted line. But, as Reese puts it, “Your job hunt should never be thought of as anything but a two-way decision. You will be investing your time, skills, and passion into a company and spending untold hours and energy working with a future boss. Make sure you’re making a good investment by asking the right questions and doing the right research.”