THE BLOG

How to Spot a Bad Boss

09/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

After reading the response to Carol Smith's Q&A in The Times, I was totally intrigued by the idea of the "better boss" gender. I scoured my own office for examples to support either case and hounded my staff to share their experiences being managed by both men and women. Of course some female bosses had been more nurturing--but overly so, and some male bosses had been the-shoot-from-the-hip type--but to the point they came across as complete asses. Still, a few female bosses were terrible team players while a handful of male bosses couldn't make a quick decision if they're lives depended on it.

Case in point: even if the experts are right about gender strengths and weaknesses, the perfectly balanced boss doesn't exist, and plenty of God awful ones do. We're not going to go around accepting and turning down jobs for fear of being managed by the "weaker sex." However, there are some common red flags that should make you think twice before accepting an offer, no matter what your interviewer's gender:

Their appearance is disheveled.
Does he look like he set the world record for getting ready in the morning (disorganized or distracted)? Are there dark bags under her eyes (workaholic)? Is his posture slouchy (disinterested)? You can bet your interviewer is judging you the same way, so by all means, have at it. If their appearance hasn't improved by the second interview, perhaps it wasn't just an off day.

There's something off about office decor. Maybe it's his desk stacked with self-help titles like Co-Dependent No More or Control Freaks Anonymous. Maybe it's the framed head shots of her everywhere, the alphabetized and color-coded bookshelf, or the collages for each of her seven cats. Signs that your potential boss is on edge, an egomaniac, or has no life outside of work may be easily detected by your surroundings.

They display disrespectful or contradictory behavior. Did she miss the memo on treating the janitor and CEO with equal respect? Does he interrupt your interview to answer e-mails without an apology? Does she curse her assistant under her breath, then turn to you with a smile? Look for behavior that suggests they're putting on a temporary front for the sake of winning you over.

You're asked inappropriate questions. Things like: "What is your ethnic background?" "What do your parents do?" "Are you divorced?" Any questions that seem just a bit too personal or straddle the line between interrogation and intrusion are hints that they've got ulterior motives--or no sense of personal boundaries.

There's a lack of connection. Of course it's up to you to be engaging and peak their interest. But if you get the sense that she hasn't heard a word you've said and she's not trying very hard to sell the spot, you might not be the only one in the room on the job hunt. At the very least, it's a sign that you and this position are not a priority.

The last person left because of the "environment." When you ask why the position is available (and you always should), be wary if the answer has to do with an environment that wasn't ideal for the last employee. Combine this with a high turnover rate and you can bet your boss has something mean going on.

Your gut says no. The most significant factor to consider when debating an offer is your instinct. Better to wait it out for the right one than to be stuck in another dead-end job with a nightmare boss. If it's not an atmosphere you can see yourself being comfortable walking into each day, move on!