Hire Yourself a Great First Manager

Whether you are just graduating with a Bachelor's, MBA, or some other graduate degree, you have probably heard how hard it is to find a job. But before you to take any opportunity that comes your way, stop and think: Far worse than continuing to look for a while longer is having a job with a bad boss, who won't just make you miserable in the short term. In fact, a poor manager can have a seriously negative impact on your career. This is particularly true for your first job after graduation. Without a sense of what your abilities are, a bad boss can make you feel trapped in self-doubt and erode your self-confidence.

So when job-hunting, don't just look at title and salary; pay a lot of attention to the person you will report to. One newly minted MBA I know left ten thousand dollars in salary on the table in order to work with a CEO he (and his industry) respected. The CEO told him in the interview, "I can't meet your salary requirements yet, but if you work for me, I'll teach you all I know." That decision was such a good one, the MBA is now an executive himself.

It's not all that difficult to determine whether someone will make a good boss or not. Two approaches work: observing what a person does and asking questions. You should use both.

Observe what the person does during the whole hiring process, but especially the interview. Is she excited and energetic? Happy to meet you and explain what the company is looking for? Does he listen attentively to what you are saying? Does she interrupt or ignore you? After every interaction with your potential new manager, stop judging your own performance and think back to what the manager did. Can you see yourself working for this person? Was the communication between the two of you comfortable and easy? Is this a person you respect? Someone who would respect you?

Every candidate is expected to ask questions both in the interview and during the hiring process. Your questions should not have easy "yes" or "no" answers. You want to use questions that elicit information that will help you make the decision to accept the job if it is offered to you. Here are a few examples.

  1. Is this a new position, or did someone leave? What are they doing now? The answer to these questions can help you understand if there is advancement from this job and if the department is growing.
  2. Is there someone you think has been a real star in this job? What made them good at it? Compare the qualities of the star to your own strengths. Are you likely to be a star here? Also, this answer will tell you what qualities the manager values.
  3. What are the key priorities of this department, and how can the person in this role help achieve them? This answer will show the attitude of the manager to the department and the open job, as well as what the most important tasks of the job are.
  4. How will the person you hire learn to do this job well? Does the manager have a plan or process for bringing new people on? A manager with a plan, however simple, values the people reporting to him.
  5. Tell me about the other people on the team. Get a read on the manager's attitude to team members. Is she insightful? Complimentary? Proud?

Steer clear of asking about benefits or salary. That's a question for your human resources representative. The hiring manager wants a candidate who is interested in the work itself. Benefits are secondary. Similarly, don't ask about promotions. Your potential boss prefers that you want the job that is open now. She doesn't want people who are thinking about how soon they can leave it.

Your questions during the hiring process say a lot about you, too. Good managers want people who can think — after all that's why you went to college or grad school, right? If hiring managers don't want candidates who ask good questions, they are not likely to be good managers. They aren't likely to be the kind of first manager who will help you become the best you can be.

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