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Teasing out whether your future manager is truly toxic

Posted by Mitch Corlett on January 30, 2014

 

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

—Malcolm S. Forbes.

It is possible to tease out how toxic a potential manager will be from your brief interactions in an interview setting? It’s certainly not easy, especially since their toxicity is often odorless and hard to detect like carbon monoxide. Yet teasing out the truth of the manager’s behavioral tendencies is an important element of your interview strategy. Like with determining cultural fit, fully preparing for this aspect of the interview is vital, because you’ll come well-informed on the basics and can spend more time asking pointed, tough questions to tease out the truth.Generally you won’t discover a manager’s toxicity in their direct answers, but rather in subtle clues. Think of it like the common piece of dating advice. If you’re on a date at a restaurant, pay close attention to how they treat the server. Because that’s how they treat anyone they aren't trying to impress. Similarly, your strategy should be to tease out their opinions of their team. Just hope it doesn't become too intense of a battle of wits.

The first attitude to whiff out is any disdain and intolerance for the position you’re applying for. If the manager perceives your future job as an easy position, that’s not going to change. They've already actively chosen to not understand the position’s nuances, so they’ll be set in their ways. After all, how hard could a job that’s just answering phones be? Sure, one phone call is generally simple enough. But answering calls full-time is exponentially more difficult, especially when they’re from angry customers, or involve tracking hundreds of appointments simultaneously. A manager who considers a job’s tasks beneath them won’t respect any work done in that position, no matter how well it’s performed. Design your questions to tease out how much respect for the position a manager holds, and how much knowledge they have of the nuances and complications that go along with any position they supervise.

Another thing to keep an eye out for is how a hiring manager tells their stories. Say you ask the manager about a project that didn't work out and how they and the organization handled it. If the manager’s focus is on how stupid the other people were, run and hide. It’s a lethally disrespectful attitude.

But if a manager demonstrates respect for their people, and elevates others on their team even at the expense of boosting their own reputation, then you can expect they will do that for you. Seek out and work for the managers who hog the blame and give away credit. They will make you look good to other people by sharing the credit for team success, but taking the blame for team failure. So in their examples, pay special attention to who receives the majority of the blame — because managers who hog the credit will inevitably damage your career.

One final thing to keep an eye out for is their attitude toward taking risks. Avoid any environment in which you’re afraid to play the game flat out, even if it involves pushing your luck. Babe Ruth once held the MLB strikeouts record, but he’s definitely not remembered for that. Brett Favre holds the NFL record for the most career touchdowns, but also holds the record for most career interceptions. A good manager doesn't let the mistakes haunt you, because they expect occasional failures when risks are being taken. But a bad manager focuses on the mistakes and not the successes. You’ll end up constantly on the defensive and doing everything you can to minimize mistakes. If a manager puts you into a defensive crouch, afraid of making any mistakes and just clocking hours for a paycheck, just know that won’t change until the manager does.

Topics: Career Advice, Job Search Strategies, Job Interview Preparation