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How to avoid a boss who's bad for you

COMMENTARY When you're interviewing for a job, you're often just hoping that you'll get the job. Especially if you're one of the millions who are unemployed or underemployed. But just because any paycheck is almost always better than no paycheck, you don't want to end up in a bad company with a miserable boss.

I was intrigued by a recent Forbes article titled 5 Ways to Spot a Bad Boss, so I clicked on it, hoping for great insight. What I got was a whole bunch of "meh."  Here are Forbes' five ways to spot a bad boss:

-- Pronoun usage

-- Concern with your hobbies

-- They're distracted

-- They can't give you a straight answer

-- They've got a record

While all of these have their points, they ultimately come up short. Hobbies? Yes, when I'm hiring someone, you bet I want to know if they're going to be cutting out at 3:30 to coach Little League. Besides, it's friendly to talk about such things, and some people want to make small talk in interviews.

As for being distracted, that doesn't reveal anything about being a good boss or bad boss -- it just indicates distractedness. Straight answers? Sometimes straight answers aren't available. Companies are often in flux, especially when hiring. Sometimes bosses just don't know all the answers, at least until things are sorted out later. And the record thing? Yes, you should be using your network to find out about people, no doubt.

Most important, Forbes leaves out a very critical part of the hunt for a good boss: Just what is the definition of a "good boss?"

Wait, you mean there aren't clear cut lines between good bosses and bad bosses? Of course not. No two people are the same and no two bosses are the same. A boss that would drive me up the wall may be your absolute favorite boss ever. Here are some things to consider about a potential boss:

What do you want in your career? Different bosses can help with different aspects of your career. What a boss has done in the past may be more important than if she checks her email while talking to you. If she's a senior vice president who constantly appears distracted, she still may be better able to push you up the ladder than a highly focused junior manager.

What level are you in your career? You need different types of bosses at different stages of your career. When you're just starting out, a mentor can be extremely helpful. But as you climb the ladder, the number of capable people above you shrinks. You may not need a mentor right now, so don't waste your time searching for a boss who will take you under her wing. If you're ready to fly, you don't need that type of support.

Are you asking the type of questions an interviewer would ask? Too often, people see interviews as a one-way street: the hiring manager asks questions and you answer them. Then you ask a few prepared questions at the end and leave hoping you did well. This is a bad way to interview. Remember, you are interviewing them, too. Here are some questions you may wish to ask:

-- What kind of crises can I expect to encounter?

-- What makes the difference between a good performer and a great performer in this role?

-- What kind of boss do you see yourself as?

-- What's the relationship between this team and the other teams we work with?

Although it's true that some bosses will be offended by this type of questioning, if you're someone who wants to know the answers, then you won't want to work for that type of boss.

What kind of manager do you want? Sometimes you just want to do your job and go home. A boss that's easily distracted could be to your advantage. Sometimes you want an inattentive boss because that gives you creativity to do your work. Sometimes you want someone who can mentor and guide you. Sometimes you are willing to take an irrational, screaming boss in exchange for getting a big promotion or a big raise. Sometimes you want someone who is a fan of flex time, and sometimes you want someone who is a fan of hard work plus recognition.

Why can't she give you answers? Not all non-answers are equal. If there are no clear answers for what your responsibilities will be, perhaps it's because you'll get the opportunity to shape the role. Or it could be a nightmare. But you owe it to yourself to find out more. Of course, if you're the type of person who wants the boss to make a list of tasks that you can check off, this will not be for you.

What are your weaknesses? Everybody claims they don't want a micro-manager for a boss, but if your work has been sloppy or you are new to this field, you may well need someone peering over your shoulder at every opportunity. If you're the type of person who must work in silence with the door shut, a boss that bounds around the office and throws random assignments at you probably won't go over well. However, if you're a can't-sit-still kind of guy, having a boss who's always changing things may make work more enjoyable for you.

What is most important to you? A nice boss is a great thing, but some people value money, recognition, opportunity or something else more than a nice boss. Before you reject that person sitting across from you, ask yourself what you are throwing away by not working for that person. You may be wiling to put up with a screaming nightmare of a boss if the other benefits are worth it.

So before you just go down a checklist and count how many times the interviewer uses the word  "I" instead of "we," stop and think about what you want out of this job in the first place.

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