It might seem light an interview question to answer at first, but don’t be fooled. This is a VERY loaded question, so be careful when you answer it. The primary objective is to find out how you handle authority.
It can be asked in a number of other ways including “Who was your best boss?,” “Who was your worst boss?,” and “Describe your ideal boss.”
Don't bad-mouth your previous boss
Every interviewer knows that there are bad bosses out there, and there's a very real possibility that you just came from a company where you were dealing with Satan in boss form. But, do you think that the interviewer wants to hear you bad-mouth that boss, no matter how bad he/she was? Absolutely not!
The truth is that the interviewer doesn't care about how good or bad your boss was in your last job or jobs. What they want to see is how compatible you are with the style of management in their company, how you deal with horrible bosses, and whether or not you're carrying a grudge, nobody wants a toxic employee.
Stay positive and don't get too specific
To successfully answer this question you have to remain positive as any hint of negativity will probably mean you have blown the interview. But you can’t just describe your ideal boss down to the last detail either. If your description of the “best boss” doesn’t match the person who is interviewing you or their style of management it is just as bad as being negative. You give a positive description, that is also relatively vague. That way everyone goes home happy. Crafting an effective answer will take some preparation.
Here are a few great answers that can help you get out of answering with specifics:
- I've learned something from every boss I've had. I have found that the great bosses help me to go further in my professional life, but the challenging bosses help me to learn what not to do in my personal and work life.
- I loved working with one of my bosses, as he helped to mentor me and offered invaluable advice. Obviously, not all of my bosses were the same, but they all helped me progress in valuable ways.
These answers are very generic, and the interviewer may press for more detail. They may ask you to describe your "worst boss". Once again, remember that they're looking for your reaction.
Here are a few more ways to answer the question:
- I had a boss who had a very different communication style. Although we worked well together and achieved all our goals, it wasn’t the same as with other bosses and managers I have had. (only use this if you are pressed to describe your worst boss).
- I've been able to get along professionally with every boss I've worked with, even in the company where I am currently working (and now leaving).
- No matter how easy or hard it is to get along with people, the most important thing for me is just to stay focused on the objective and completing the task at hand.
- Even when I've found it difficult to accept the tasks I've been given, I find that agreeing to disagree helps to smooth relationships when everyone remembers to work hard to reach the goal.
- There will always be challenging bosses, no matter where you go. I just work hard to get along with each boss, and I've been able to forge a strong working relationship with my manager or supervisor.
- I have had a rocky start with a boss or two, but that's just because we had different expectations. Once we realised our goals were compatible, we found it was easy to work together successfully.
- Talking with a manager at the onset of a project helps to avoid any problems, and ensures that we're all on the same page as we work.
- I try to get along with everyone, no matter their personality type.
Remember, the real key to answering this question is to be positive. The interviewer wants to see who you are; they don't care about how nasty your last boss was.
Have you ever been asked this question in an interview? What happened? Did you stay positive? Your thoughts and comments below…
This article was originaly posted in April 2014.