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 managers 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.
How to Answer Questions About Your Ideal Boss
How you answer this question will depend upon what sort of job you are applying for. If you are seeking a position where you will be expected to work on your own, then your ideal boss probably is someone who doesn’t try to micro-manage.
If, on the other hand, you will be part of a team, perhaps he or she is someone with good organizational talents, capable of clearly communicating tasks and expectations.
Research the company’s organizational structure before your interview so that you’ll have a good idea of their management style. Then, tailor your answer so that it shows how you could seamlessly adapt to their system.
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.
Take the Fence. One good strategy is to play it safe and mention something good about both sides of the equation, working independently vs. with a very hands-on supervisor.
Don't Get Too Carried Away With Your Answer. Less is more—and less can go wrong—when you keep your responses short and sweet, so refrain from getting too wordy. 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.
Sample Questions and Answers
Here are a few examples of how to answer questions about your ideal boss. Use them as models as you create your own replies as you practice for your interview.
Question: 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.
Why It Works: This is a good example of how to keep one’s answer simple. It’s also a very “safe” response because it focuses on a common quality – clear communication – that is an asset in any manager, no matter what their industry.
Question: 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.
Why It Works: This candidate demonstrates how she can adapt to different management styles, even though she prefers to work independently. She thus is able to strike the perfect balance as an employee who is open to supervision but doesn’t require too much direction.
Question: 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.
Why It Works: Here the interviewee takes the high road, dodging the temptation to criticize a previous employer. He also doesn’t single out a single supervisor, but instead speaks in general terms.
What Not to Say
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 Elaborate. Try to focus on just one or two past bosses/employers so you don’t come off as a job-hopper.
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
KEEP IT GENERAL: Focus on traits—like open communications or good organizational skills—that characterize all good supervisors.
KEEP IT POSITIVE: Don’t directly criticize a previous boss, even if you are invited to do so.
KEEP IT SIMPLE: Refrain from offering a long recounting of your previous relationships with managers. Instead, use your answer to illustrate how you would acclimate to the employer’s management style.