How To Figure Out Your Next Leader Before Accepting A New Role

How do you really know what your manager might be like, beyond the surface-level impressions you get at an interview? 


Few of us think that when we change jobs, a new job is all we’re getting. With any move, we’re replacing everything.

Suddenly, we’ve got new colleagues to befriend. New rules and processes to adapt to. And, most importantly, a new manager.

This can be a blessing, or, as I’ve argued before, a curse – in more ways than one

After all, 75% of all people resigning are leaving their bosses, not their jobs.

But how do you know, from the outset, what you’re getting yourself into? How do you really know what your manager might be like, beyond the surface-level impressions you get at an interview? 

You ask!

One of most common mistakes I see candidates making is treating a job interview as a one-way street, thinking it’s simply an opportunity for the organisation to get to know them. 

But that’s only half of it – and not even the most important part. A job interview is your chance to see whether the job and business you might enter align with your values. And whether your manager will help or hinder you in your career aspirations. 

Clearly, though, ascertaining this when you’re the one being interviewed can feel uncomfortable. 

So if you want to do so in the most discreet yet professional manner, here are my top tips for figuring out your manager during the interview process.

1. Ask about work style

When it comes to work, people’s preferences can vary greatly. Some of us feel comforted when our manager sticks close by us, reviewing all of our work and helping to guide our decisions. 

Others want the exact opposite – we’re completely autonomous and we only want to contact our manager when there’s an issue we legitimately can’t solve. 

Whatever your preference, it’s critical you know what your manager wants, so you can discuss it. So in your job interview, ask your potential manager about their working style. Ask questions such as: 

  • How much input would you like into my work? 
  • What’s the approval process for decisions?
  • Or simply – What’s your working style? How can we best work together? 

Doing this will help you understand their style and whether you can compromise. Or whether things simply won’t work. 

2. Discreetly ascertain expectations 

Many candidates stumble when it comes to asking about expectations in an interview, especially if they want to ask about flexibility or work-life balance.

How do you do so and still ensure you look committed to the role? 

The answer is complex, and there sometimes isn’t one correct way to approach it. However, when broaching this subject, I’ve often found it helps to do so indirectly. Here a few things you can try: 

  • Discuss the benefits of work-life balance in your old role: Even if this balance was non-existent, try saying something like: ‘In my current (or previous) role, the business advocated for work-life balance and that helped my team perform better. What’s your approach with this?’ 
  • Enquire about the working arrangements of the team: Asking about the working arrangement of the team you’re entering can be a great way to figure out if flexible work arrangements are common are not. Consider asking something along the lines of: ‘What is the team’s schedule? Is everyone in the office on certain days or for certain hours?’ The answer should give you a clue as to whether everyone works full-time, in-office – or whether flexible work is more common. 

3. Understand whether they’ll drive your career and development

In an ideal world, your manager should be your biggest champion and your biggest confidant. They should sing your praises, develop you and help you solve problems. 

But understanding whether they’ll do this for you can be a challenge. It takes more than them just being a ‘nice person’ to help you get ahead.

To see how invested they are in your career and development, try asking the following questions: 

  • Tell me about the careers of those in my team: Asking about the careers of those at your level (and a few levels above) can give you a clue as to how your manager may have helped them get there. Ask questions such as: ‘How did they get to where they are now? What opportunities were they given? What was your role in helping them get there?’
  • Feedback and feedforward: Asking about professional development opportunities in an interview should be a given. But beyond that, you’ll need to understand how your manager will develop you. To understand this, ask them about feedback. How often will they be giving it? Will it just be at a performance review, or more regularly? 

4. Learn about your boss’s boss 

In and of itself, learning about your manager’s manager is a good idea. It’s likely they’ll drive strategy and culture for the broader team, so it’s critical you understand them. But beyond this, they can also give you insight into your own manager. 

When enquiring about this, ask broad questions so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to get too personal. You can ask questions such as: ‘What do you like about this business?’ And then get more specific, such as: ‘What do you like or admire about management in our team?’

Hopefully, you’ll start to understand the management style of your manager’s manager and, by association, what your own boss likes or expects. 

5. Get insight into challenges, opportunities and plans 

No business is ever perfect – and neither is any manager. Even the best managers can struggle in stressful situations, and it’s almost inevitable their staff may feel the heat as a result. 

To see what you might be up against in this respect, try asking the following questions: 

  • What’s been most challenging in this role?’ Understanding this can give you an insight into how often your manager feels under strain in the role, and as a result, how often you might expect to be stressed as a result. 
  • What challenges lie ahead in this role?’ Not understanding the ‘roadmap’ for your role, team and manager when you’re interviewing is a fatal mistake. If you’re entering a bumpy or uncertain road, you need to be prepared. 
  • What opportunities do you foresee?’ Opportunities are just as important as challenges, so make sure you ask about these. If your manager can see and describe plentiful opportunities ahead, you’ll know that they’re the type of manager who is often on the lookout, which is a great thing. 

Are there any other discreet or not-so-discreet questions you ask to understand a manager before you take a role? Have the answers you’ve received given you insight, or have things changed when you’ve settled into the business? Share your experiences below! 

Tony Megally is the General Manager of The Source, Australia’s leading procurement recruitment and executive search firm. If you’re looking to hire in the procurement space, or alternatively, you’d like to have a confidential chat about your next role, please contact Tony on 03 9650 6665 or via email on tony.meg[email protected]