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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption and rising unemployment. At a time when many of us are jostling for jobs, it's a good idea to brush up on your interview technique. And a key tool in your box should be your Good Boss/Bad Boss radar. In this blog, MATTHEW FEARGRIEVE draws upon two decades of workplace experience - plus some recent pandemic job hunting - to help you answer the ultimate question: Do I Really Want to Work for This Guy?

Do I Really Want to Work for This Guy? 

The coronavirus pandemic has plunged millions of workers worldwide into unemployment. From New York, to London, to Tokyo, and everywhere in between, many of us are scrambling to recalibrate our acquaintance with the world of work. This means confronting that most unpleasant of prospects: the Job Interview. And it doesn't take a Donald Trump to make this a scary proposition for lots of people.

But most job applicants are too nervous about parrying Donald's (or his counterpart at millions of other, less glamorous employers) questions to realise and exploit their main bargaining chip in the whole business of talking someone into giving them paid employment.

This blog is intended to help you remedy that. Because, whether you know it or not, the job interview is as much about you interviewing your future boss as it is about him or her interviewing you. The most successful job candidates are not only aware of this, but take active steps during the hiring process to demonstrate this awareness. So let me, Matthew Feargrieve, veteran of many a job interview (successful and unsuccessful), over two decades, give you some guidance.

Rule Number One: Trust Your Gut

Whether you're a seasoned campaigner, or a rookie starting out, you just know if you actually like the person sitting across the table from you. Just as you know if you like or don't like someone you meet at a party. Too many young or inexperienced job applicants ignore the nagging voice in their head: I don't really like my prospective boss.

We've all been there. Picture it. Things are going well. You're advancing nicely along the hiring process. You've had one, two, three or more interviews. It looks like your future boss is about to offer you a job; tell you that you're hired. Happy Days! But there's that voice in your ear. Your inner self, who always has your best interests at heart, is asking you uncomfortable questions about the man or woman you could be working for: Do You Like This Person? Can You Imagine Yourself Working for Them?

If you don't like the person interviewing you, the likelihood is you never will. Especially when he or she is bossing you around all day. So if you don't like them, don't accept the job if it's offered.

Now, to be fair, this is easier said than done. And it's an easier call to make if you're older, have been around a bit and have accumulated capital. When there's less economic pressure on you to find work,  you can be more discriminating in your choice of boss. If you're younger, with little or no cash in the bank, then it will be harder to go with your gut, and say no to a job when it's offered by someone for whom you feel little or no warmth.

Having been there myself, I know that all the jobs and workplaces I hated have one thing in common: a boss whom I couldn't bring myself to like during the interview process.

Rule Number Two: Remember, You're Interviewing Them Too

It's not just the individual sitting across the table who is doing the interviewing. You are assessing him or her as well, both as a person and as a prospective boss. Have the confidence to use the interview as an opportunity to interview your prospective boss. First impressions make a big difference, and this applies just as much to your interviewer as it does to you as the interviewee. Does he seem pleasant and relaxed? Does she seem interested in you? Does he maintain eye contact?

Don’t overlook or inwardly make excuses for eccentric, unprofessional or plain rude behaviour, such as keeping you waiting significantly past the meeting's scheduled start time, without apology, or constantly interrupting you during the interview, or  distractedly checking a device for emails every ten seconds without paying you full attention (a classic sign of a workplace asshole).

The individual who fails to make a good impression on you will NEVER be someone you can work for. The prospective boss who can't bring himself, not even for the duration of a meeting, to at least pretend not to be a jerk, will ALWAYS be much more of a jerk once you are working for him. If a guy is unable to even pretend to be normal and nice, when what he should be doing is presenting himself and his company in the best possible light, imagine what he must be like to work for on a daily basis!

So if you find yourself sitting opposite an individual who is anything other than easy-going, friendly and relaxed, don't work for them. It's that simple. If they don't make you like them during the interview, it's because they can't or they won't. And there's no telling what it must be like to work for such a prick. So, if they offer you a job: decline it!

Rule Number Three: Do your Diligence

It's essential to use the interview process as an opportunity to do some due diligence on both your prospective boss and your prospective employer. Don't hesitate to use the "have you got any questions for me?" part of the meeting (usually at the end) to ask meaningful and searching questions. Not just because this makes you look keen and interested, but because information is power, and you want to find out as much as you can to help you decide whether the job, if offered, is one you should take.

Hiring managers always ask a series of behavioural interview questions to get a sense of what type of employee you’ll be. And it’s essential to do the same when it’s your turn to ask the questions.

Don't be shy about asking questions, even if your interviewer gives you the impression that he or she is in a hurry to terminate the meeting. Anyone who dismisses you in this way isn't someone you want to work for. So take your time to ask questions (just make sure they're good ones); after all, you bothered to show up, so make the time you have with your prospective boss count!

Rule Number Four: Read between the Lines

You also need to hear and understand the subliminal messages that underpin the answers you are given. Let me give you an example.

A great question to ask is Can you tell me about the most successful person you ever hired, and what they did that impressed you?

Let’s say you’re interviewing at a company that claims to give its employees work-life balance. Then your future boss goes and says something like: “The best person I ever hired was Frank. He was one of our hardest-working sales employees; first one in, last one out. Not only did bring in lots of new clients, but he always responded to emails quickly and arrived to meetings ahead of time.”

Okay, there will always be performance pressure in any workplace, particularly in sales. But when you digest a statement like this, is your prospective boss painting a picture of that a work environment that sounds appealing to you? An inability to conceal a disregard for work-life balance, whether it's a personal to your interviewer or institutionally embedded in the workplace he represents, is a good indicator of a toxic boss. 

1. Check Online

Use websites like LinkedInAboutMe and Crunchbase to research things like how long employees stay at the company. High staff turnover is always a red flag.

2. Observe the work environment

If you’re going to an in-office interview, or if you are offered a tour of the office, look around you. Pay close attention to how employees interact with each other. Do they seem happy and energized? Or stressed and serious? Are they comfortably talking with each other? Or are they glued to their desks with their heads down?

3. Observe communication style

Don’t overlook unprofessional or rude behaviour, such as emails that aren’t returned for a long period of time (or, when they are returned, without apology).

4. Ask behavioural questions

A few examples:

  • How would you describe your management style?
  • How have you dealt with a difficult or under-performing employee in the past? 
  • How have you rewarded an employee’s excellent performance and hard work?

Rule Number Five: Remember, there is no Hiding Place

Times are hard. The coronavirus pandemic has made job hunting a lot harder. But there's no point getting a job if you can't keep it. So make the interview process count. Assess your prospective boss and employer. Be discriminating.

If there is any aspect of their behaviour or personality that you don't like, identify it and ask yourself about it. Can I work for this individual? Remember that you'll be spending long and stressful hours in his or her company, whether physically or remotely. Whilst it's true that many of us are working a lot from home, a bad boss can still be a toxic inflicter of online stress. And when, hopefully, COVID-19 has been dealt with, the majority of employers will expect us to drag ourselves back to the physical workplace. You owe it to yourself to make sure you have a good boss waiting for you there.

Matthew Feargrieve is an investment funds specialist.
You can read more of his blogs here








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