A strong, positive relationship with your manager is one of the most critical components of loving your job.
You are not expected (or likely) to thrive working under any manager under the sun; all managers have different approaches to leadership, communication, defining and evaluating success, work-life balance and mentorship--as do you. Just like finding the right partner in love, fit is important.
What you are expected to do, however, is work hard during your interview process to learn as much as you can about your prospective manager in order to make the most educated guess as possible about whether you will fit and thrive working together.
Of course, you’re also half responsible for making your relationship with your manager great after you’ve accepted the job (fit doesn’t mean everything comes easy!). But that lesson is for another day.
Here are the concrete steps you can follow to evaluate your prospective manager before you get so excited about your offer that you forget to do your due diligence:
- Researching your prospective manager
- Developing strong questions to ask your prospective manager
- Reflecting critically and thoughtfully before making a decision
1. What to research about your prospective manager before meeting her/him:
Has your prospective manager blogged or published anything externally about her leadership style, approach to work, personal values, etc? Make sure to check LinkedIn and Google News search for this.
Is there anyone who reports (or previously reported) to her who you could ask to speak with candidly about their experience?
Ask your recruiter (if you have one) about your prospective manager’s reputation in the organization and the growth of the team in the past 1-2 years (you’re interested in learning whether the team has experienced any turnover, cutbacks or layoffs, changes in company prioritization).
2. How to develop your question list for your in-person meeting:
Take out your pen and paper (or open Google Sheets) and create a table with four columns. Fill it in following the guidance below, to get a sense of your managerial priorities and preferences, and to help you brainstorm specific questions to test your prospective manager's commitment to what's most important to you.
- Manager Trait: List manager traits that are important to you (e.g. mentorship, face-time, personal development support, professional development support, high expectations, growth mindset, connectedness/collaboration across the organization, innovation, affirmation, high-touch, low-touch, fast-paced, reflective, understanding, family-first, etc.).
- Priority: Assign a priority (high, mid or low) to each trait so you know which are most important to you.
- A Question You'll Ask: Think of a question you could ask to assess your prospective manager’s approach to or prioritization of this trait (e.g. to assess growth mindset, you can ask her about what traits she looks for in the talent she hires; to assess high-touch/low-touch you can ask her about how often she spends 1:1 time with each of her employees and how she prefers that time be structured).
- Score: Return to this after you’ve met with your prospective manager and score her for each trait you were able to learn about.
3. Reflection questions for you, after you meet:
Looking over the above scores, what is your ‘gut’ feeling about your prospective fit with this manager? What are you excited about, what reservations do you have?
What is your ‘gut’ feeling about how/whether your prospective manager would work with you to develop and improve your relationship over time?
If you shared your high level observations about your prospective manager with a friend/coworker who knows you well, how would she respond to whether this is the right manager for you?
By now you should have a somewhat strong understanding of whether there's a potential fit between you and your prospective manager.
If you feel it, you're already off to a great start to hit the ground running (if that offer comes through).
If the fit feels absent or negative, try not to shove your reaction under the rug. It doesn't mean you shouldn't accept the offer, but it will add an additional level of stress and challenge to your job. Reflect deeply about how your manager's approach will affect your day-to-day experience and ability to be happy and successful on the job. Ask yourself how you could prepare to create structure in your relationship with this prospective manager that will help you find common ground and work together effectively.
And if you accept the position, get ready to thicken that skin, boost your patience, and become a master at complicated relationships! In every challenging relationship lies a wealth of opportunity to learn and grow.