Discover A Bad Boss Before It’s Too Late

You’ve made the decision to take a step in a different direction with your career. Regardless of the circumstances which led you to start looking for a new job, the reality is that you’re searching for something offering good pay, competitive benefits, and meaningful responsibility in an organization with opportunities for professional growth. Even if the job posting looks enticing and the interviewing team has dazzled you with promises of a dream job, applicant beware.

If you have read my past columns, you can probably recall a time or two when I’ve shared something I recognized early on in my career as a training and development professional: people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss. In fact, according to a study from Florida State University, 40 percent of U.S. business workers think they work for a bad boss. Their definitions of what made their bosses bad included broken promises, failure to give credit or recognition, invasion of privacy, and sacrificing employees to cover up for personal mistakes made by management.

The bad boss dilemma isn’t isolated to the business sector. A 2012 poll by the Gallup Organization found that 60 percent of employees working for the government are unhappy in their jobs. The study found that while government employees may enjoy good pay, great benefits and sufficient vacation time, unhappy respondents were miserable because of – you guessed it – having a bad boss.

Whenever you take a new job, there will be unknown variables you have to take a leap of faith about once you’ve signed the offer letter. However, there are some things you can look for during the interview process to help you determine what you’d really be in for as an employee. By checking out the work environment, listening carefully to what they say, and watching body language closely, you can tell if the boss is one to avoid. Look around, what do you see?

Do the employees look happy? Is everyone happy, talking kindly and looking content working? Or, does the workplace have a negative, prison-like vibe to it where nobody is really interacting positively?

As the boss enters the interview room or walks the halls, do the employees seem genuinely happy to greet them? Or, do they give an obligatory nod and forced smile?

Is the boss able to communicate with you effectively? Are they able to articulate sound answers to your questions about departmental goals and the performance feedback process?

While you are talking, does the boss seem to be genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say? Or, do they seem distracted and hurried? Are they taking notes and maintaining periodic eye contact? Or, are they glancing at the clock or checking their phone?

Does the boss appear to be boastful and arrogant by talking primarily about themselves and dominating the conversation, which should be more focused on getting to know you as the candidate?

Are references made by the boss of employees needing to “prove themselves”? If so, this might be a micro-managing boss to work for.

Is it evident that the boss seems clueless about the specific details of the job or how success is measured? Are they unable to give you intelligent answers to your questions but try to cover it up by dancing around the subject? If so, this could potentially be a boss who is not respected by their employees or peers due to being in a position that is over their head.

Does the boss make your interview feel more like an interrogation with their rapid fire, condescending questioning style? This could be a “Negative Nelly” boss who is quick to criticize the efforts of others.

It’s important to remember that if you’re looking for a long-term career move, no amount of pay and benefits will solve the emotional and physical stress caused by a terrible manager. Such stress can cause symptoms including insomnia, depression, muscle tension, irritability, a sense of hopelessness and feelings of impatience or dissatisfaction within your personal relationships.

Follow your gut and don’t try to explain away the signs. Happy job hunting.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a Regional Director and Senior Consultant with JL Nick and Associates, Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, non-profit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at or visit JL Nick and Associates’ website at