7 important interview questions that reveal if your potential boss is a toxic manager or not

A boss can make or break your career. Ask these seven questions during your next interview to ensure you don't end up getting a great job but a toxic boss.


If you recall watching the movie "Horrible Bosses", you probably remember how the lives of the three guys had turned into hell because of their respective bosses. Truly, bosses can make or break one's career. Therefore, it's crucial to get yourself a boss who can play a positive, mentor-like role at work and look after your professional goals and interests. This is especially important for job-seekers or those moving into new roles as the first ninety days in a new job have the ability to set the tone for the rest of your tenure. 

Given that bosses can exert a lot of influence on our career progression, it's wise to research and vet your potential boss before taking up a job offer. By asking some strategic, probing questions, one can get a fair idea of the management style and personality of one's potential manager and determine how toxic he/she is. These questions will help you weed out and identify toxic managers so that you don't end up in a job you love but with a boss you hate.

1. When was the last time your team underwent any changes in members?

A sudden and unexplained decrease in numbers or resignation of team members is often an indication of conflict within the team, most likely with the manager. Therefore if you find that the team composition changes frequently, you might want to reconsider working with such a manager.

2. How do you give negative / constructive feedback to your employees?

Firstly, the key is to ensure that feedback is being given regularly. Secondly, you also need to ensure that when there is a need to give constructive feedback to an employee, your potential boss does so in a respectful and private manner. You certainly don't want to work for a boss who likes to embarrass poor performers in front of the whole team.

3. How does your team celebrate achieving a goal/milestone?

Recognition plays a big role in one'e level of job satisfaction therefore you want a boss who will acknowledge and appreciate your contributions. If your team won't celebrate big and small wins, you risk being demotivated and disengaged at work. 

4. Do you meet your team one-on-one on a regular basis?

A boss who conducts one-on-ones regularly with their team is more in tune with their professional goals and strengths. If your boss can't be bothered to meet with you or speak to you one-on-one, he/she will probably not be bothered about your career aspirations as well. 

5. Who is a leader you wish you were more like and why?

The first part of this question is important but the second part even more so. Your manager's answer to the "why?" part will help you develop a greater understanding of the behaviors and traits he/she believes are vital to the success of a leader and predict which ones he will be most likely to emulate. 

6. What do you love most about your current team?

A leader who doesn't have a single good thing to say about his / her team is either a perfectionist or a pessimist and you're probably better off working for someone who isn't so hard to please. By asking this question, you will also get a better sense of what behaviors or values he expects from his /her team members.

7. What do you attribute to your success as a leader so far?

The answer to this question will help reveal the dominant aspect of your potential boss' leadership style. Only if you are comfortable with the answer should you take up the offer. 

Toxic bosses can make your job and life toxic as well. Therefore, choose you next boss wisely. 

Questions for Reflection

What are some characteristics of a toxic boss?

Have you ever had a toxic boss? How did you deal with him/her?

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Chaitra K

With a background in Literature and Psychology, and an MBA in Human Resources Management, Chaitra is responsible for the design and production of NKoach’s courses, workshops and corporate training programs. Her mission is to help people discover their passion and become better versions of themselves.

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