10 Must-Ask Questions to Help You Spot a Bad Boss

Susan Hall
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If the Job Fits

Five questions you should ask before accepting your next IT job.

Yesterday I mentioned the proliferation of articles tied to the movie "Horrible Bosses," and pointed to two posts with two points of view on the subject.


In a CNN interview, Stanford professor Bob Sutton elaborates on traits of a good boss, though the best tactic clearly would be never to sign on with one. Sutton is the author of "The No Asshole Rule," and "Good Boss, Bad Boss."


But how can you spot a bad boss before you take the job? Obviously, you need someone to give you the lowdown, and in these days of social networking, finding others who work for the company isn't that hard. (Talking to more than one person, though, certainly would be better.) In a blog post, Sutton suggests 10 questions to help you check up on a prospective boss. Just as you need the 10 must-ask questions to query that boss about the job, ask these 10 of other people knowledgeable about that boss:


  1. How does the prospective boss respond to feedback from people higher in rank and lower in rank? Does he kiss up and kick down?
  2. Does the prospective boss accept criticism or blame when the going gets tough? Can she take it as well as dish it out?
  3. In what situations have you seen the prospective boss lose his temper?
  4. Which style best describes the prospective boss: gives out gratuitous credit, assigns credit where credit is due, or believes everyone should be their own champion?
  5. What do past collaborators say about working with the prospective boss?
  6. What kind of email sender is the prospective boss? Does he tend to flame people? Carbon-copy the world in CYA?
  7. What types of people find it difficult to work with the prospective boss? What type of people seem to work very well with the prospective boss?
  8. Does the prospective boss share information for everyone's benefit?
  9. Would people pick the prospective boss for their team?
  10. How would the prospective boss respond if a copy of "The No Asshole Rule" appeared on her desk?


Commenters on the post also had some good ideas:


  • Ask, "How does the team celebrate achievements?"
  • Beware of interviewers who talk more than they listen.
  • Ask about the culture of the team and the intangible qualities being sought.

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