Job Interview Tips

How to spot a bad boss during an interview

Written by Eric Titner

When it comes to job satisfaction, almost nothing derails your ability to be happy at work each day than a bad boss. Sure, bad bosses come in many types and they aren’t all created equal, but regardless of the type of bad boss you’re dealing with, there’s a unique type of dread that comes each morning when you’re getting ready to work with someone you can’t stand.

Bad bosses can make an otherwise satisfying job a nightmare and leave you exhausted and running for the exit at the end of each workday—not a recipe for professional happiness. Furthermore, one of the greatest predictors of job success is the ability to get along with and work well with your boss. If that isn’t happening, you may find yourself stuck in a situation that is keeping you from realizing your true potential.

The tricky thing about a bad boss is that initial impressions can be incredibly deceptive. Often, a potential manager couldn’t seem nicer when meeting them for the first time at a job interview. They can be very good at luring you in during the first few conversations, making it seem as if it’ll be amazing to work with them. But then comes the sonic boom of unfortunate realization when you discover that this couldn’t be further from the truth—and at that point after your foot is in the door and you’ve already been hired and started at the new job, it can be hard to make a quick escape.  

That’s why it’s in your best interest to try and recognize a bad boss as early as possible. Yes, some of them are sneakier than others and are harder to spot early on, but there are some red flags to look out for on interviews to help you avoid a potentially unhappy work situation. The next time you’re out on an interview, keep your senses sharp and look out for the following potential warning signs to help you uncover a potential bad boss.

Ask questions

Many people forget that job interviews are a collaborative and mutually informative process in which both sides are engaged and learning about the other, all in an effort to make a fully informed decision about whether a candidate—or a position—is the right call. Instead of just eagerly waiting to answer questions that are fired at you, make sure to ask targeted questions that can help you root out a bad boss. Questions like “What is the work culture like at [company name]?” or “What are some of the primary challenges that your team faces?” can get to the heart of a boss’s leadership style and work philosophy—which can provide key insight into what it might be like to work for them.

Observe body language

Keep your eyes open—not just toward potential bosses, but also toward other employees you encounter. Do they get inpatient when you ask them questions? Do they seem tense or short-tempered during any part of the process? Are they exhibiting other behaviors or mannerisms that make you uncomfortable? These can be real red flags. Do others seem anxious or nervous around your potential boss? Is the conversational tone between them relaxed and friendly or just the opposite? True, these early indicators may not be fully indicative of what it might be like to work with a potential boss full time, but they also shouldn’t be completely ignored either. Instead, use all of the information you gather during the entire interview process—pros and cons—to help you make an informed decision should a job offer be made.

Do your research

This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people ignore this step during the interview process. The Internet is your friend when it comes to researching a prospective job opportunity, so take full advantage of it. These days, people leave reviews online about the companies—and bosses—they work for, and if they exist for the companies that you’re interviewing for they shouldn’t be hard to find. Yes, it’s probably not the best approach to treat the information you find online as unbiased fact, but it’s certainly worth considering. Do your research, but make sure that your first-hand impressions are weighted heavily when forming your opinions.

Trust your instincts

This is a more elusive concept than the others, but no less important when trying to suss out a bad boss. We all use our instincts to help us figure out a wide variety of people and situations in life, and interviews shouldn’t be any different. Do your senses start giving off warning signals when you’re on an interview? Are there just some things—either in the mood, the atmosphere, or the environment—that you maybe just can’t quite put your finger on but that don’t feel quite right? These may be early indicators of a toxic personality or work environment, which often results from a bad boss, and we strongly suggest you pay attention to these feelings—ignore them at your peril.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.