We all want to work for a great boss since in a way they can make or break our career. Yes, they are that important. Let's face it most of us are lucky if we get one boss like that in our working life. For those that do, they are blessed. For others, it gives us stress and makes us sick.
So what should you look for in a boss?
We all can't get that perfect boss, but there is one thing I look for above all is this: How helpful was the boss to help the people get a job who he had to lay off? The answer to this question goes to the thing that is most important to me than anything else: Character.
You can find out a lot about a boss by asking these three simple questions:
1) Have you ever had to lay off people?
2) How did you handle it?
3) What did you do to help the people you laid off get a job quickly?
My Experience With Two Bosses
I will give you an example of two bosses that I had: Mike and Jeff. I worked for both of them for about 18 months and I was laid off by both. Mike laid me off because the company's business just collapsed and since there were not any big deals we were pursuing in my territory, I was an easy target. Mike explained this to me and I didn't like it but I could see how they made the decision.
Though no one likes to be laid off, Mike had to be a henchman for the company and notified me by phone first, and then made a trip to New Jersey to meet with me near the Newark airport to give me the package and offer some words of encouragement and said that he was available to help me get a new job. Just this gesture and his excellent reference helped me get a new job in less than a month. To this day, Mike and I exchange Christmas card. I don't do this with any other bosses I have ever had.
Few years later, I ended up working for a boss named Jeff. In fact it was Mike's reference that helped me land this job with Jeff. It started out well like all jobs usually do. It went so well that one year later Jeff invites me to his office and said he was considering promoting me to manage the team I was working with since he was being promoted to a bigger role and wanted to take over for him. I was little surprised since I had not been there that long and there was another woman named Diane who had been with the company for a long time and should have been considered before me. Jeff said that Diane was moving else where and did not think that she was a manager material. I said then I would be interested.
Few weeks later, Jeff calls me and tells me that I was not going to be promoted since I had not been with the company long enough and did not have any real accomplishments to justify the promotion. I was thinking that this was a total amateur hour. I ended the call with him very professionally by citing the line of the Rolling Stones' song, "You can't always get what you want." Three months later, Jeff called me to a meet him at his office for a meeting and when I showed up, he laid me off.
It is understandable to lose a job since there are so many things that are outside one's control, but a former manager can help a lot in softening the hard landing by helping you get a job quickly if he provided a modicum of genuine support. I wish I had known this since I believe that the way a boss goes out of his way to help a person he lays off is a hallmark of a good boss. Any boss will be charming when they want to hire you. Will they be charming in helping you land another job quickly? Hence, one of the main question you should ask when you are looking to join a company is how has your potential boss helped people that had to be let go. I know there are a lot of questions you can ask, but for me this is the only one I care about that tells me everything I want to know.
What Can You Do To Find Out More About Your Future Boss?
We would like to know if your future boss is a jerk, a tyrant like Merinda Pressley from "The Devil Wears Prada," incompetent fool, or a genuine great boss who is a multiplier in that he is tough, fair and kind. The only real way to find this out is through reference check, according to the blog in HBR titled "Reference Check Your Future Boss."
I think this is a good idea but not done since interviews are viewed as a one way thing where the employer's get to check you out and you don't. You should view a job as a two-way decision with transparency on both sides. If you are planning to invest your time and energy working for a boss, you want to check him out so you know what you are getting into. If not, then you will be out of a job or looking for a new soon after you start. It may be worth taking some time and asking some pointed questions and doing some research before you accept the job offer.
What If The Potential Future Boss Pushes Back?
This is something most people fear. They feel that if they come across too push then the employer may just not want to pursue considering you for employment. This is the call I can't make for you. Only you can make this call based on your risk tolerance. But I will tell you by my not doing this with Jeff, it destroyed my career. One job could set you back if the boss is real bad and then you could end up losing you confidence and drive. The question you have to weigh the risk of pushing the reference check versus remaining passive. Based on my experience, I would pick the former.