When interviewing for a new job, or trying to decide whether to accept a job offer, you should also interview your future boss. The most important factor in job satisfaction is your working relationship with your supervisor. If your core values and work style are compatible with your supervisor’s, it will be much easier to develop a productive working relationship. So it is important to understand your future supervisor’s work style and attitudes before accepting a job offer. You need to be able to answer the question, “Can I work productively and amiably with this supervisor?” To answer this question, you have to ask some questions of your own.
Your questions should elicit information about the supervisor’s work style and attitudes. Your questions should be open-ended so that you receive extended replies rather than short, unrevealing answers. Examples include:
- What would you do if you just found out that an important project suffered a serious setback?
- What criteria would you use to choose a team leader to head an important project?
- How do you work with your staff members to set goals?
- How do you monitor progress towards achieving these goals?
These questions are open-ended but specific. Emotionally neutral, they shouldn’t make the supervisor feel defensive. While they are about specific behaviors, they also will provide information about the supervisor’s values. Questions aimed specifically about values often provide stock, unrevealing answers. Such questions include:
- How do you feel about work teams?
- Do you believe in balancing your work and your personal life?
The first question is likely to receive an answer complying with the employer’s official attitude on work teams. The second is a closed-end question that could yield an unrevealing “yes or no” answer – almost certainly yes.
Modify both these questions to explore behavior rather than values and learn how the supervisor is liable to act once you are on the job. The first question could be modified to “How do you organize your work teams?” The second could be altered to “How do you and your staff members manage to balance your work and personal life?”
Ask how the supervisor views quality of life issues important to you. These can include flexibility of working hours, occasional or frequent telecommuting, business travel, and other concerns that are (or you would like to make) part of your workstyle. Again word these questions so that they elicit information on behavior rather than values. For example, instead of asking “Do you allow telecommuting?” ask “Do any of your staff members telecommute?” In response to an affirmative reply, you could ask how often the staff member telecommutes. Listen closely to the answer. If the manager is reluctantly complying with corporate policy, it may show in the words he/she chooses or his/her tone of voice. Reluctant compliance may mean the telecommuter could face in increased barriers to raises, promotions, and coveted assignments.
A series of questions is another way to elicit a more complete and revealing response from the supervisor. For example, follow-ups to the above work team question include:
- How do you decide a work team is needed to solve a problem or complete a project?
- How do you assess an individual’s performance when she works on a team?
- How do you respond if a project team is not meeting its goals?
The important consideration in asking a series of questions is to be relaxed and pleasant to avoid giving supervisors the feeling they are being interrogated.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.