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I currently work with a boss who is very verbally abusive, aggressive, creates drama and scandals every day, shouts at employees, diminishes the complexity or time it takes to do a certain task (I work in a software-related field, my position is technical, I’ve been with this boss and team for a year now). He is also very disorganized, forgets that he asked me NOT to do X two weeks ago, and now he shouts at me why did I not do X, am I even using my head etc. If I dare to suggest ideas, I am shouted at, told these ideas are a waste of time, I am also told that doing trainings and seminars is a waste of time, that I should not read research papers and instead go for the “low-hanging fruit”, but then I’m criticized about why X isn’t performing perfectly, etc. So I "secretly" implement my ideas, then show ready results. My ideas are then incorporated in our project as improvements, but I'm nevertheless treated very poorly and constantly receive passive aggression or verbal abuse.

Before you ask, I have talked to his boss, and things changed for maybe two weeks, and then my boss went back to his old abusive self. So I think this won’t change. I also tried to switch internally, but I was told the project I am in is too important for the company, therefore they won’t let me switch teams.

As a result, I am looking for a new employment opportunity. However, I am afraid that I might make the same mistake and choose a bad employer. How can I prepare for an interview, in other words - what kind of questions could I ask, or what should I look out for, what can I say or do to get a feeling or understanding about what kind of person is on the other side of the interviewing table? How can I find out during an hour-long interview whether a potential employer is also similar to my current boss?

This is my first job and I am not so experienced with figuring out personalities at a glance. I would be grateful for any opinions and pointers.

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I agree with @newguy, it's hard to gauge things from the interview, but here are some red flags.

  • Does the interviewer spend more time talking or listening?
  • If cut off or interrupted (sometimes happens in a lively discussion) how do they react?
  • Do they boast or focus solely on productivity and the 'focus' of the team?
  • If they take you through the area where people are working, do you see any smiles?
  • Pre-interview - do they have any/many negative comments on glassdoor or other business sites. Some good googling on the company/division may turn up some dirt, but companies are getting much better at cleaning up things like that.

Some Questions to ask that may or may not get some extra information at the end:

  • What is the turnover rate for the company (or department/division if not a technology company) and the particular area you're being hired into?
  • Asking the interviewer (better if one or more will be peers) why they enjoy working for the company.
  • Ask them to describe the company culture.

If a company really wants you they will try and sell the company as a great place to work as hard as you are trying to sell yourself as a great person to work there. Asking open ended questions can sometimes open a window into the things that the interviewers and the company find most important. If it is all about product, money, and drive, then there may be more reward for being a toxic manager.

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    Adding to these great recommendations, provide examples of situations you have seen on your current job and ask how things would happen in the new place. For example, ask them how conflicts over solutions' design are solved; ask how suggestions are evaluated; ask who comes up with the design of the solutions (team? architect? leader? mix of these?) and how disagreements are solved. Please bear in mind that you can be lied to, but try to use the hints given in the other answers, about how to read body language and really pay attention to what is being said and how is being said. Good luck! – Quaestor Lucem Mar 29 at 16:08
  • I agree with both comments, I think in the past I took every word and reaction at face value and obviously this was a naive mistake. – xyz Mar 29 at 21:03
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I also tried to switch internally, but I was told the project I am in is too important for the company, therefore they won’t let me switch teams.

I'd push back on this. "So you're telling me I need to quit the company to leave this guy?"

How can I find out during an hour-long interview whether a potential employer is also similar to my current boss?

Don't ask the hiring manager if he's abusive, ask his subordinates during the technical review.

What is it like to work for X? When was the last time you went to a seminar/did training, and how did that go? If you haven't done that, then why? Am I replacing someone? Why did they quit?

  • that's the thing, this guy has been in this company for all his life. I can complain all I want, but I am a "nobody" and this guy seems to have his finger in every project of this company. – xyz Mar 29 at 20:55
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    @xyz You're not trying to get him fired, you're just trying to transfer. That can be anything including "clashing personalities" to "I want different opportunities". However while they can stop you from transfering they can't stop you from quitting and SW people are in demand. I've seen multiple managers try to keep "their" people but at some point they need to decide whether to keep you in the company somewhere else or let you quit. – Dark Matter Mar 29 at 21:00
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    I totally agree, and I feel like in any other company your views would be 120% what would happen in reality. However, a SW engineer who was far better than me already complained about this and he was told with some indirect words that it is what it is, so he chose to leave. I don't want to paint a desperate picture, this is just what happened three months ago. – xyz Mar 29 at 21:07
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Usually as part of an interview, you will talk to current direct reports of your potential boss. (Politely insist on it, in fact.) You need to ask them what the new potential boss is like to work for.

Now keep in mind, few people will come right out and say: "This dude is the biggest asshole I ever worked for!" So you will have to read between the lines, and listen to pauses before answering. Questions like, "Does [future boss] handle high-stress issues well, or is there a lot of screaming?" will yield many types of answers. The best answer is something like: "No, the [future boss] lets us know this is important, and then we all get down to business." Bad answers are something like: "[pause while trying to figure out an answer and not get myself fired] People can sometimes get overly passionate about solving crisis issues around here."

Hope that helps, and good luck to you with the next step.

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    it's true that in the past I did not seek out opinions of potential peers. – xyz Mar 29 at 20:58
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What kind of questions could I ask, or what should I look out for, what can I say or do to get a feeling or understanding about what kind of person is on the other side of the interviewing table?

It's hard to know, even if you got to know about the person there is no reason their personality wouldn't change with time also there is no guarantee they will stay your boss for long.

Best you can do is try to understand the culture of the company or the specific workplace. Maybe read reviews on glassdoor or maybe ask different people same question and see how they respond. Other parameters maybe attrition rate or average tenure of an employee. etc.

Check if similar problem arise how would it be resolved or addressed in other company by asking hypothetical question about your previous situation to get an idea maybe.

Alternate option can be to work temporarily on a contract basis before you sign-up as a full time employee.

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The thing is : You can't know. Sometimes you don't even get an interview with the boss, just some interviewers testing your skills and decide if you passed or not and report it to their superiors.

It's not that difficult now to get informations about a specific company, you can find websites everywhere with opinions of previous or current employees, check their linkedIn and other stuffs online. If you find an opportunity and crossed paths with some employee and talked to them, it would be for the best, there are some honest people if you talked to them, for example you can say : I'm very excited about the opportunity to work with you if it's possible, is the working environment here is good ? and some other classic questions like this, and from their reactions and answers you can tell if the environment is good or bad.

There's no other solution, I've seen some nice people during interviews that are completely the opposite of what they're showing, so you can't, you just jump if you find any good opportunity in your path.

Good luck

  • Beware that some companies stuff Glassdoor with positive reviews in an attempt to make negative ones less visible. It's usually easy to spot the stuffed positive reviews if you're looking for it. – O. Jones Mar 30 at 19:23
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what kind of questions could I ask, or what should I look out for, what can I say or do to get a feeling or understanding about what kind of person is on the other side of the interviewing table? How can I find out during an hour-long interview whether a potential employer is also similar to my current boss?

Normal conversation can give you some clues regarding the kind of person you are talking to. But lots of details simply cannot be discovered in an hour.

Instead, you can do what I have always done - ask to speak with a potential peer.

You can ask the peer questions about your potential boss. I always ask

  • What's it like to work in this company?
  • What do you like most?
  • What do you like least?
  • What's it like working for [the potential boss]

Asking open-ended questions like this, and giving the future peer time to talk often leads into far more insight regarding the company and the future boss that you could get from the boss directly.

This is something I always do when interviewing. And my request for such a talk has never been refused.

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There is no easy way to avoid these kinds of problems. You never quite know what a workplace is going to be like until you start working there. Indirect methods such as using glassdoor/linkedin or asking carefully worded questions to potential coworkers during an interview situation aren't going to give you confidence one way or another unless the situation is extreme.

But you can avoid such things if you know someone who is already at the workplace well enough to be able to ask frank questions. To be able to do that means you've spent a long time developing relationships with coworkers, managers, other teams and even vendors and customers. Over time the people you know will fan out to many different employers and workplaces and develop 2nd order contacts as well. That's your real professional network.

Of course you can't usually do that with your first job, and even as you become experienced, you might step into an unknown situation because it might be a great opportunity.

The best thing you can do is to maintain relationships with the good people in your current workplace. Find something else and hope for the best, and keep in contact with current and previous co-workers. Someday, you'll be able to warn someone away from your current boss, or someone else will give you a lead to a great new job.

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