I nearly accepted an executive role with a big company in Chicago several years ago.
I passed through the first round of interviews and enjoyed the time I spent with everyone, including the President who would be my direct manager. This opportunity was exciting for many reasons.
The compensation package was a big step up and moving back to Chicago to be near family was compelling. The company was expanding and taking market share.
I was asked to return to meet with the CEO. I prepared diligently and looked forward to meeting him.
He was direct and to the point. He wasted no time with pleasantries and dove right into my resume. He was a driver in every sense of the term, asking challenging questions at a brisk pace.
Every question felt like a right hook with my responses acting as counter punches to get off the ropes. It was exhilarating and made me want the role even more. I might be running a large business for this company, and he was putting me through proper paces.
After 45 minutes of avoiding his knockout punch, he seemed satisfied and even laughed at one of my lame jokes. He handed over the interview and asked what questions I had for him. This is when my perception changed.
I asked him about the sales force, and he immediately rolled his eyes.
“What can I say? They are a typical sales team. Filled with excuses and can’t close deals without price concessions.”
I asked him how the organization used feedback from customers in product design.
“Customers are the worst place to get feedback. They don’t know what they want, especially our customers. Half of them are on the verge of bankruptcy, so their feedback isn’t exactly helpful.”
I asked him about priorities, and he quickly wrote down some words on paper. He handed me the paper and asked me to rank the words. He told me this was an intelligence test that most people fail. I did this strange exercise, and he seemed pleased.
“You did better than most. You get it.”
Huh? He did not explain why he had me do this exercise, why most people fail or why my answer was correct. It felt like an attempt to intimidate but came across as clumsy and awkward.
I asked a follow-up question on a topic I discussed with one of his executives in a previous interview. He rolled his eyes with disdain. “Tom said that? That’s not surprising.”
He didn’t answer the question but launched into a rant about many bad decisions by his executive team in recent months. It was clear this individual didn’t care much for his direct reports and felt the company’s success was due only to his brilliance. It is still a mystery why he chose to share this with me in an interview.
Surprisingly, the interview ended with him telling me that his company needed more people like me. He switched from tough guy to salesman, extolling the significant upside I would enjoy if I joined the company. I listened politely but couldn’t wait to get out of his office.
I called my wife from the airport before my flight back home to D.C., and she asked how it went.
“I think I did well but . . .”
“That CEO is an incredible asshole.”
Shortly after talking with my wife, I received a call from the executive who would be my direct manager. He told me that I did well and made a verbal offer to me. The pay was even better than I expected, but the decision was still straightforward.
Confused, he asked me if I was expecting more money.
“It’s not the money. I think this isn’t a great fit.”
“Why did you come out to Chicago to interview with our CEO if that is how you feel?”
“Before this visit, I felt differently.”
An awkward pause followed as my words sank in. I was telling him that my impression of that interview was radically different than his CEO’s take.
It’s not me; it’s you.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take the weekend to think about this? It is an incredible opportunity for you.”
“I appreciate that, but no. The longer I wait, the more I give the impression that I am negotiating. I am certain about this decision.”
I thanked him for the opportunity, and we agreed to keep in touch. I got off the phone and thought about how easily I came to that decision. After a month-long courtship, I didn’t even need to sleep on the decision.
I found it odd that the executive who recruited me didn’t attempt to stick up for the CEO or change my mind about him. He avoided the subject and tried to sell other aspects of the company.
Six months later, I had an answer to that riddle. That executive I turned down left the company. Free from the burden of covering up, he confessed to me that my gut feeling was accurate.
“That guy was the worst. We were all miserable.”
What Makes A Great Manager
I have worked for many managers over the past 20 years. With each new boss, I adjust my approach, focus, and communication style to match what they are looking for. I find ways to work with every manager.
But, I have only had a few genuinely great bosses.
I believe a great boss is likable and demanding. You can trust and respect them. They are fun to work with while also being someone who brings out the best in you.
You can see what kind of manager someone is just by paying attention during the interview. A likable boss is going to be friendly in the interview. A demanding boss is going to be a challenging interviewer.
Too often, managers approach interviews with a one-sided mindset. How can this candidate impress me enough to receive an offer? They assume that any candidate willing to put on a suit and tie will accept an offer.
If the candidate is talented enough, they have choices. If you leave a candidate with an impression that you are not likable or competent as a manager, why would they join your company?
Job applicants have choices and evaluate interviewers as prospective managers. There are four types of interviewer, and more often than not, their interview style matches their management style.
- This person seems distracted, unprepared, and overwhelmed.
- They dive into the interview without building any rapport.
- They check their phone throughout the interview and let distractions get in the way.
- They were probably late in starting the interview.
- Their questions are bland, and they rarely follow up on anything you say.
Accepting a job with The Flake means entering a world of chaos, void of any organization. You’ll need to be a self-starter as they will not challenge you. They can barely keep up with their tasks. You will want to make sure you have autonomy as responsiveness will be an issue if you can’t make your own decisions.
- They are talented rapport builders and make a great first impression.
- They provide a warm environment for the interviewee.
- They never seem to shift into interview mode, choosing banter over a specific line of questioning.
- As an observer, you might not be able to tell who the interviewer is because they do most of the talking.
- The Glad-Hander rarely gets into enough detail to know much about your effectiveness and track record.
Working for the Glad-Hander can be fun as they have an outgoing personality and love to interact with their team. If you are a high achiever, you should be aware that you might not be challenged and will most likely work with others in the same boat. This manager values relationship over performance, which can lead to a team filled with people who measure their worth by how much the boss likes them. This can frustrate a high achiever as pay might not fluctuate based on performance.
- This is a tough interview from start to finish.
- This interviewer takes pride in being known as “the toughest interviewer in the office” as if that matters.
- They ask deliberately difficult questions to show you how smart they are and delight in watching someone stumble through the process.
- They share very little about themselves, rarely smile, and pay more attention to their notes than you as a person.
- You have little time to ask questions of your own and don’t learn much when you do.
- Their inner cynic comes out, and you catch glimpses of how they feel about their team.
- Most of their insights are negative in general.
You should not expect encouragement from this manager but ample criticism. Your conversations will always be about business, and your peers will feel the same. If your interview was socially awkward, expect the office climate to be the same. Even pleasantries feel forced with this type of manager like they are going through a checklist and “Make small talk” is on the list.
The Role Model
- They make you feel comfortable from the start and engage with you in friendly banter.
- The conversation feels easy as the two of you find areas you might have in common.
- The interviewer follows an agenda and is transparent in what they are looking for.
- Questions are challenging, and you feel like you get an opportunity to share your best accomplishments.
- Someone who does not bring their A-game will struggle with this interviewer, but they never seem to make you feel overly uncomfortable.
- The role model offers an opportunity for back and forth, though it is clear who is in control of the interview from beginning to end.
- You are offered a chance to ask questions, and the interviewer answers those questions honestly.
This interviewer is just as fun to work with as they were in the interview. Your peers will like this manager personally and work hard to deliver. The Role Model will push you but offer all the support you need to win. This is the type of leader we aspire to emulate, and when you find a Role Model, hold on for dear life. They offer the rare opportunity to have fun at work while growing personally and professionally.
The next time you get out of an interview, pull up the graphic above, and ask yourself two questions.
- Would I like and trust working for this person?
- Would I feel challenged and grow working for this person?
Answer yes to both or no to both, and you have an easy decision. If your answers are somewhere in between, weigh out the pros and cons. Only you know what you need from a manager and everyone is different.
If you are a manager conducting the interview, ask yourself these questions:
- What impression am I leaving candidates?
- If I were in their shoes, would I want to work for the person I am portraying?
- Do I leave candidates with a sense that I am likable, yet demanding?
Just as an interviewer can get a great sense of what type of employee a candidate will be, that candidate is getting a good read on what kind of manager they are signing up for. We are rarely different as leaders from the image we portray as the interviewer.
The impression you leave as an interviewer should be deliberate. Display the type of leader you are in the office.
There is no definition for a “bad manager” but just like pornography, people know it when they see it.
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