How to Answer Interview Questions About Your Ideal Boss

What you don't say can be as important as what you do say

••• GARO / Getty Images

As part of the interview process, employers might want to assess how you'll respond to supervision if you're hired. They'll try to determine whether you have any issues with authority, so your interviewer might ask questions about your preferred supervisor in an attempt to figure out how well you'll work within the company's management framework.

Whether you've had great past experiences with bosses or they were a collective nightmare, answering this question can admittedly be a little like walking a tightrope. It can help to have a firm plan going in for what you'll want to say—and not say.

What to Say

  • Tailor your response to the job you’re applying for—for example, your response should lean toward independence when applying for a job where you’ll be largely expected to work on your own.

  • Take the fence and mention something good about both sides of the equation, working independently vs. with a very hands-on supervisor.

  • Make your answer about you, focusing on your strengths rather than potential problems with management.

What Not to Say

  • Never criticize them in these conversations, no matter how awful your previous bosses were!

  • Less is more—and less can go wrong—when you keep your responses short and sweet, so refrain from getting too wordy.

  • Try to focus on just one or two past bosses/employers so you don’t come off as a job-hopper.

Try to Strike a Balance

You'll want to emphasize your ability to work independently as well as your comfort with taking direction from a boss. You don't want to come across as needing too much or too little supervision. Think about the job you're interviewing for before you answer, and try to estimate how much management the employer will expect that you'll require. Use this to guide your answer.

Emphasize Your Adaptability

Share how you've thrived with a variety of supervisory styles in your past. Be prepared to give examples of how you've been productive with different types of bosses...but not too many. You don't want to come off like a job-hopper with a mind-boggling, long list of previous jobs.

Never Criticize a Past Supervisor

Your prospective employer will probably assume that you're a difficult employee if you offer up a list of complaints, no matter how well-earned they might be. You don't want this. Even when an interviewer asks you to describe your least favorite boss, focus on how you were still successful in this environment and emphasize what you look for in a manager rather than the qualities you dislike.

Don't Get Too Carried Away With Your Answer

Keep your answer brief. Don't imply that you have unrealistic expectations for some superhuman manager or that you'll be too needy as an employee. The less you say, the less likely it is that you'll trip yourself up. By the same token, one-word responses won't do.

Try to balance your ability to take direction from a boss with your ability to work independently when you're answering these questions. Avoid criticizing any of your former employers. Hiring managers will wonder if you'll do the same when it's time to discuss their organization.

Sample Answers

  • Describe your ideal boss. "My ideal boss would encourage clear communication between herself and her employees. I believe that communication—in person, as well as via phone and email—is critical to a successful relationship between an employer and employee.
  • What types of managers have you worked for, and what type do you prefer? "I've worked under employers with a variety of management styles. I've had some employers who encourage lots of independent work, and others who prefer to give clear, specific instructions. I thrive in both environments. I work very well independently, but also know when to ask questions."
  • Describe your worst boss. "I value an employer who communicates clearly with his employees. I'm a strong written and oral communicator and I appreciate employers who value those skills. In the past, I have had some employers who have been less than clear in conveying their ideas and directions. Although I work very well independently and I don't require excessive supervision, I do appreciate employers who speak clearly to employees."

More Interview Questions About Bosses

  • If you knew your boss was 100% wrong about something, how would you handle it? Best Answers
  • Who was your best boss and who was your worst? Best Answers
  • What do you expect from a supervisor? Best Answers
  • Have you ever had difficulty working with a manager? Best Answers
  • What is the biggest criticism you’ve received from your boss? Best Answers