Interview Question: "What Do You Expect From a Supervisor?"

Group of businesspeople interviewing a candidate for a job in their organization.
••• Robert Daly / Getty Images

Answering interview questions about what you expect from a supervisor can be difficult. Typically, there's no way you can know a perspective boss' managing style. If your answer differs from their approach, it can hurt your candidacy.

In your response, you need to show that you can work independently without looking like you have a problem with authority. This can be a delicate balancing act.

Here's what you need to know about how to respond to an interviewer asking about your expectations from a supervisor—along with what not to say. 

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

 By asking this question, interviewers will get a sense of your work style, along with how you prefer to interact with supervisors. 

You can see why this is useful information for a supervisor: If you expect a very hands-on supervisor, but the company seeks employees who are self-directed and figure out solutions independently, you might not be a good fit. The reverse is true as well: Some companies prefer supervisors and supervisees to work together closely. 

If you are interviewing with the person who would be your manager if you landed the role, your response will help them know if you two will work together well. It can also reveal if you're a good fit for the company culture

How to Answer "What Do You Expect From a Supervisor?"

In your response, it's essential to stay positive—do not use your response to criticize past managers or complain. This will only reflect poorly on you. 

Instead, focus on what empowers you to do your best work. If you've had an effective supervisor in the past, it's fine to praise the good management qualities they demonstrated that helped you to do your job well. Perhaps you like to have regular check-ins or to be consulted before moving forward with a project. These behaviors and preferences will give a hiring manager a good idea of your working style. 

Examples of the Best Answers

Use these examples to help develop and frame your answer depending on your needs and preferences:

Example Answer #1

In my last job, I liked the fact that management did not show favoritism and they were understanding of employees’ needs, as well as their strengths. Of course, these things take time to perceive, but I would want my supervisor to try to know me in that way.

Why It Works: This answer offers an example from a previous job, framed in a positive way. Plus, this is a reasonable preference, so there's little possibility that it would feel disqualifying to a manager. 

Example Answer #2

I would like to be able to go to my manager if I have an issue or idea and to be able to feel comfortable in expressing my thoughts. I would also expect my supervisor to be open and honest with me and to let me know if there is anything I could improve upon or do differently in my work.

Why It Works: In this response, the candidate clearly outlines their preference. Also, the candidate shows that they welcome feedback. That's a plus, since some employees can respond poorly to any criticism, even when it's constructive in tone. 

Example Answer #3

I really appreciate managers who can give constructive criticism without making employees feel like they have failed or are being negatively judged. Everyone makes mistakes occasionally. When this happens, the best thing to do is to assess and learn from the mistake to avoid repeating it, without belittlement or censure.

Why It Works: Again, this response showcases that the employee welcomes feedback. Plus, this response also offers a peek into the employee's preferred work style when it comes to dealing with errors and mistakes.

Example Answer #4

I believe that the best supervisors convey their expectations in a timely fashion, as well as keeping their teams “in the loop” regarding new changes in the workplace. Although I feel I work very well independently, I also like to touch base regularly with my supervisor to ensure that our projects are all on track – either informally through emails or at formal weekly staff meetings.

Why It Works: In this response, the candidate displays a clear and reasonable preference for how they wish to interact with supervisors. 

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

 Keep it positive. Frame your answer more in terms of what you do like (as opposed to what you dislike). Avoid calling out bad supervisors you've had in the past.  

Give examples. If you've had supervisors in the past who have done something well, note it! Providing examples nearly always makes an answer stronger.

Show your work style: As well as discussing your expectations when it comes to supervisors, this response can also be a window into your preferred work style.

This tactic can be particularly powerful if you have a strong understanding of the company culture and how its employees work.

If you have that insight, you can emphasize aspects of your work style that are a good match for the company. 

What Not to Say 

 Don't be negative. Do not focus on the inadequate behavior of past bosses or vent about one specific horrible boss. While it can seem natural to share your past experiences, it can give the hiring manager a bad impression of you and cause them to associate the attributes of your former boss with you! This is not the time to share lingering resentments. Doing so can lead the interviewer to assume you're a problematic employee or someone who will cause drama in the workplace. 

Don't be too vague. Of course, you don't want to say anything in your response that could disqualify you as a candidate. But at the same time, everyone should have at least some expectations of a supervisor. Otherwise, the role wouldn't exist! So don't shy away from sharing reasonable expectations of this relationship. If you're very vague, you risk seeming wishy-washy or as if you're dodging the question.  

Possible Follow-Up Questions

KEEP IT POSITIVE: Talk about positive expectations, as opposed to things you dislike. Do not use this as an opportunity to complain about previous supervisors. 

SHARE EXAMPLES: When possible, point to specific things your previous supervisors have done that are helpful. 

BE SPECIFIC: Avoid being too vague in your response, since it could make you seem as though you do not have self-awareness or are avoiding the question.