Talk about a loaded question. Imagine you’re sitting in your interview all dressed up and everything is going smoothly. Then you get tossed this humdinger of question. How do you answer? Do you describe the person sitting across the table from you? Do you tell the truth and say that you’re ideal boss is one that’s never around? Is there such a thing as a good answer to this question?
This is an extremely tricky question for a number of reasons. First, the employer is trying to figure out what type of work habits you have based on this question. Second, they’re trying to figure out if you would work well with your potential boss. You need to ensure that you consider both of these concerns with your answer and put their minds at ease.
What not to do:
Don’t tell the person across from you that they would be your perfect boss. If you’ve established a significant amount of rapport with the person and you’ve been joking with them throughout the interview (something that is highly unlikely) I suppose you could jokingly say that, but I don’t recommend it.
Don’t talk about what you don’t like in a boss. Avoid listing out the qualities of bad bosses in your mind and don’t even think of talking about bad bosses from your past. Remember that you’re supposed to be positive during an interview and if your potential boss hears you speaking negatively about your former bosses, he or she may question your side of the story. He or she may also notice a pattern if you have a history of bad bosses and wonder if you might be the problem.
Don’t lie. Interviewers know that you’re being insincere when you say things such as you like bosses that make you work hard or expect a lot from their people. Although most of us appreciate a challenge, no one (and least no one with a sane mind) wants to spend all their waking hours in the office.
What to do:
Use this as an opportunity to show off your interpersonal skills. If you’ve had more than one boss, chances are they were at least a little different. You can say that you’ve worked with a lot of different bosses that had different management styles and was able to adapt accordingly — this put’s their mind at ease when it comes to whether you can deal with their management style. Don’t be afraid to share stories about how your bosses at other jobs had different styles — just stay positive. You can say that one boss was very detail-oriented (this term is preferred over calling him a micromanager) and you learned to appreciate making sure all parties were in the loop — again, it makes you look like a team player and good communicator. You can then say that you had another boss that had a relaxed style (don’t say that he spent the day playing Tetris on his PC) so you learned how to make decisions, take responsibility and become accountable for your actions.
Show off your work ethic. They may press you to go on a bit more and explain which style you prefer and this is when you get to shine. You can say that you like a combination of the styles because each has its pros and cons. But don’t stop there because they won’t believe you. So say that your ideal boss is someone who is involved enough so that he or she has the knowledge to support you and provide guidance when necessary. But also say that you want to make sure you have enough leeway so that you can continue to learn and grow without being given all the answers all the time.
Show that you have character. It’s okay to say things such as you want a boss that you can respect and respects you back. You don’t want to come across as a pushover who lets people walk all over you. So you can list out some of your positive character traits such as respectful, even-tempered, respected, knowledgeable, accountable and professional. Say that these are the values that are important to you so it’s important for your boss to have these as well. Note that the opposites of these qualities are ones that no employer would want from their people — managers or individual contributors.
So while this can seem like a tricky question, it’s not that difficult to hit a home run with it. Just remember to prepare for a question like this in advance. The preparation will prevent you from fumbling and help you come across as more confident (and believable) with your answer. Remember to be positive and truthful — your interviewer can tell when you’re being insincere. Keep your head up high because you have a lot to offer the world.
If you’ve found this article useful, you might want to check out my new CD on Job Interviewing. It’s packed with tips like these that you can listen to over and over again.