How Candidates Identify Bad Managers During Interviews

Candidates want to work for authentic leaders and in positive work environments. Are you prepared to show them the real deal during interviews?

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Mar 25, 2024

Today’s job candidates are increasingly astute in assessing potential employers, particularly the quality of their management. Candidates are sufficiently cynical to doubt a company’s assurances that there won’t be layoffs, that growth will continue to skyrocket, or whatever other sugarcoated depictions they’re given. So savvy candidates will look closely at their prospective boss to suss out evidence of toxicity, lying, and general goodness of fit.

A company can make a competitive monetary offer and still lose out on a great candidate, because people generally don’t want to work for someone who’s going to make their life miserable. For instance, we know from one million takers of the “What’s Your Leadership Style?” test that only a third of employees really click with their leader’s style. But those that do are 36% more likely to love their job.

Candidates will come to their interview ready to not only answer questions but ask them as well. Hiring managers, in turn, need to be ready to project authenticity and competence, especially in the following areas.

Recognizing the Signs of Inadequate Leadership

Candidates often use the interview process to gauge the leadership caliber of their potential bosses. They tend to probe beyond the surface, seeking concrete examples that reveal the true nature of the leadership they might be working under. For instance, today’s candidates might ask a manager to describe what makes someone a great or prized employee. They’re not asking out of idle curiosity; they’re scrutinizing whether the manager appreciates and acknowledges employee contributions and whether they foster an environment that aligns with the candidates’ values and work ethics.

A thoughtful candidate might ask for a specific example where an employee exemplified the company’s values. Vague or generalized responses from the hiring manager can signal a disconnection from the team’s day-to-day achievements and challenges, potentially indicating a lack of genuine leadership engagement. Great leaders don’t just know their employees’ names; they can recall detailed moments when each of those employees did something amazing and why it was so important.

The inability of a manager to recognize and commend employee achievements can be a glaring red flag for candidates. A study on performance appraisals discovered that only 28% of people believe that their leader always recognizes their accomplishments, and most high performers won’t join an organization that doesn’t recognize their work. If a hiring manager struggles to provide concrete examples of employee recognition, it can signal a leadership style that might not value or motivate team members effectively.

Detecting Dishonesty and Evasiveness

Dishonesty during the interview process is another major concern for candidates. When hiring managers are asked about the less glamorous aspects of a role or the main frustrations employees face, evasive or overly rosy answers can indicate a lack of transparency. Candidates are increasingly wary of such responses, knowing that every job has its challenges. They expect potential bosses to be upfront about difficulties and demonstrate how they address them.

Questions regarding career growth and development opportunities are also telling. Candidates want to hear specific examples of employee advancement, as these are testaments to the company’s commitment to nurturing its talent. Evasive answers or unrealistic portrayals of career progression can signal to the candidate that the manager, and perhaps the organization, is not genuinely invested in employee growth.

At the height of the Great Resignation, a McKinsey & Company study found that the top reason that workers quit jobs was a lack of career development and advancement. And a more recent report revealed that only 19% of people always see a path to advance their career at their current employer.

Implications for HR Executives

Ensuring that hiring managers are prepared to discuss real examples of leadership, recognition, and problem-solving can significantly enhance a company’s attractiveness to prospective employees. Moreover, HR should encourage a culture of honesty and transparency in the interview process, recognizing that today’s candidates are more discerning than ever. This doesn’t mean that hiring managers should expose every flaw or paint the company in a terrible light; it simply means that managers need to drop the canned and disingenuous pitch.

Hiring managers can’t just wax philosophic about the company’s culture and values; they need to persuade candidates by demonstrating them through concrete examples and actions. Talk about Pat’s career path from entry-level to Director; share the story of that awesome thing Chris did last month and how their accomplishment was recognized; reveal how management solved the broken process that annoyed employees and how everyone’s happier now.

By recognizing the signs that candidates watch for and ensuring that hiring managers are equipped to present a genuine and positive image of leadership within the organization, companies can improve their chances of attracting and retaining top talent. Ultimately, fostering a culture of transparency, recognition, and genuine engagement in the interview process isn’t just about avoiding negative perceptions—it’s about building a foundation of trust and respect that resonates with high-caliber candidates.

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