THE BLOG

Interview Your Potential Boss Without Blowing It

06/30/2010 02:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Your old boss is gone and there's someone in the conference room who could be your next boss. Later that day, you are scheduled for a one-hour interview with him or her and you're nervous about how it will go.
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Yes, technically you're interviewing them, but in a very real sense they're sizing you up. It's important that you get your questions answered, but also important to make a good impression.

Here's what to find out:

Their Style - What is their management style? Do they like to give the overall objective and then let their employee get it done, or do they like to give very specific direction on how to do things? Do they have weekly one-on-ones? How do they help the team to work more effectively together? These questions are all excellent vehicles for ferreting out the work style and personality of your potential boss.

How They Develop People - The key to your success may very well depend on how your new boss grows people and to what extent they enjoy this part of the job. Ask them for an example of how they typically help people grow. Things you want to hear are that they have a track record of giving stretch assignments, raising people's visibility through high profile projects, attendance at key meetings, presentations to senior management and committee appointments. Also look for a boss who enjoys coaching and mentoring and who typically sends their employees to seminars, training programs and events to further their careers. Let them know what area you need to grow in and ask how they can help you.

Their Best Employee - Ask them who their best employee was and why. This will be your roadmap to success with this person. Listen carefully because this will tell you what they expect from you. For example if they highlight someone on their team who consistently delivered results, but don't mention the importance of the process when getting those results, that may mean results trump everything else. Conversely, if they describe someone whose product failed, but their processes were right, this will tell you that s/he defines success more broadly.

Succession Planning - Most people are looking to advance their careers. Given this, it's important to ask your potential boss what criteria they use for choosing their successor. If they're looking for someone who is eager to take on some of their responsibilities, this would be good for you to know. Ask them what they do to help people get promoted.

How They Set Goals - Part of your boss's job will be to establish your goals. Ask them how they generally do this. What is the thought process behind setting goals? Do they start out with goals that people will likely achieve in order to build confidence? Are they the type that just takes last year's number and bumps it up 10%? That might indicate they are not as creative as they could be. Do they set goals mutually with the employee? If the answer is yes, that's good news for you as you'll have input on how you will be measured. Are they flexible - changing the goals when the situation warrants? This is another question you'd like to hear them answer "yes" to.

Keep Things Positive - When answering questions about how you feel about your job, the people you work for and the company as a whole, focus on the positives. If there is a negative you feel should be mentioned, position it as an area of opportunity. After all, the company you work for is a decent place to work or else you wouldn't be there.

Sometimes the mere thought of interviewing your potential boss can make your stomach churn. It may help to remember that you both have the same goal: to make a good impression and to find out if you'd work well together. Use the time you have to best advantage by focusing on what's most important to you. Your potential boss will appreciate your preparation and you'll walk away feeling like you have a good sense of how they would be to work for.