Hiring managers have a huge chip on their shoulder about people who speak negatively about their former supervisor or former company. Why, I have no idea, especially since one of the biggest reasons for leaving a job is because of the manager-employee relationship. If there was one.
Seriously, the previous manager needs to be the person-who-has-no-faults in order to get hired. So hiring managers ask this interview question, practically begging you to throw your previous (or current!) supervisor under the bus.
All that “past performance does not predict future performance” stuff simply doesn’t matter in the interview. It doesn’t matter that your former (or current) supervisor is prejudiced, hypocritical, loud, uninterested in his or her employees and you got stuck with him or her from the last of 100 reorganizations in the last two years. You’re smart to get out of that kind of situation, but that can’t translate into a reason for leaving with the hiring manager sitting right in front of you answering interview questions.
I got labeled as having a negative attitude toward management, as a manager, when I said this about my current supervisor in an interview with another company: “My manager is 1,000 miles away and wants a phone call before I talk to his manager that has his office 30 feet from mine.” That was the entirety of anything negative I said about the management team or the company that I had been with for 18 years. Somehow, that made me negative. Right.
Even the worst of bosses have some positive things they do; you just need to get enough perspective to figure out what they are. If they pay way too much attention to detail, perhaps they care so much about the outcome of projects that they become intimately involved with the team to support the work.
It’s like writing on a performance review, “John has reached the zenith of his career in this job” and John not realizing that this is not a compliment.
But you need to have 2-3 positive traits about the boss so you can list them when answering the interview question.
Since you can’t be negative about your boss, how do you tout a negative trait? The way to do it is take a positive trait and answer the interview question as you “work better if my boss did more of X.” “He or she does a great job with feedback, but I work better if it came more real time than during our one-on-one weekly meeting.”
This is tricky; there can’t be a whiff of negativity in answering the interview question about your current circumstances.
After you give your list and answer the question, turn this around to the hiring manager and ask what he or she thinks is the most important trait for a boss. Interviews need to be two-way and it is critical that your new potential team matches up as closely as possible with the type of management that brings out your best work.
The manager-employee relationship is the most important one in the company. Make sure you ask interview questions about the management style so that you don’t hop out of the frying pan right into the fire with your career move.