You’re in an interview for your dream job, and it’s going well. You have managed to put to the back of your mind the fact that you have had to tell a little white lie or two to your current manager about where you are right now. You’ve calmly figured out how to catch up on any missed work, and you have stopped feeling guilty about browsing for new work while sat in your office.
And then the interviewer drops that question. "Who was your favourite manager, and why?"
It is tricky for several reasons. Firstly you’re immediately snatched away from the present moment of interview and mentally dropped back into a previous job. Secondly you might be seeking alternative work because of a break down in the relationship with your current manager. And thirdly, because explaining to a prospective new boss exactly what you like in a manager can feel like make or break territory for your blossoming new relationship.
Best to prepare in advance - here are some thoughts on how.
1. Resist The Urge to Invent
When it comes to this question I would not advocate making up an entirely fictional boss for the purpose of the answer. Firstly it is too small a world for that to work smoothly every time - your interviewer could know the business you are describing, and before you know it you could be helping them to recall said imaginary boss amongst the colleagues they recall from their intimate knowledge of the business. And even if it does not go this nightmarishly wrong, a made-up story is sure to get you falling over yourself unless you are super well rehearsed.
Think in advance of the individuals you could choose for this question (or, indeed the pair question which asks you to talk about a manager you struggled to get on with!), and make some notes of their good and bad points to help filter out the individuals who will help you answer the question clearly and in keeping with your personal values and style. Poetic license is fine, fiction is a recipe for disaster.
2. Pick a Story That is Congruent With The Company Style
Whoever you pick to use as a base for your answer, ensure it is a manager whose style is congruent with the management style and company culture in the business you are interviewing for. If you are describing a manager who you enjoyed working for because of their loose, easy going style, and their relaxed attitude to your output, whilst in an interview with a suit-wearing, stiff backed old school manager of a traditional business, you might not be doing yourself any favours!
In advance of your interview, spend some time researching the sort of company culture and values you can expect, and think about managers you have worked with that reflect these similar values and ideas. These managers will probably be your best pool of inspiration to draw on! Double check that you are choosing managers who you respected and worked well with - as opposed to simply choosing managers who you were exceptionally friendly with. You will be drawn on why you chose that individual, and if the answer is that they shared a love of comic books, or a devotion to a particular football club, then you might want to rethink your choices.
3. Describe What You Learned
The question is asked in an interview for two reasons. The recruiter wants to see the style of management that you relate to and make a judgement about your team fit from this information. But also, the interviewer will want to see what you have learned from a boss you admired so he can start to get a feel for the story of your developing personal and leadership style.
Once you have identified your chosen manager, think about what you learned from them. How did your personal style, viewpoint and understanding of business develop during your time working for them. Even better, if you are still in touch with the manager in question or have used them as a mentor, this adds some depth to your answer and can be great to share in an interview.
4. Give a Rounded Picture
When you think about the reasons that you chose this particular manager, don’t be afraid to think about the negatives of the time and the management style also. No boss is perfect, and offering a balanced view is much more realistic. If you saw things in this manager that did not suit your personal style and vowed never to repeat them, then this can also form part of your answer.
5. Don't be Drawn Into Negativity
However, be warned against being drawn into negativity. Sometimes even with a positive question such as this, the resulting answers and probing interview questions can come dangerously close to provoking negative responses, such as moaning about previous bosses or businesses in comparison to the ’favourite’ manager chosen.
This never looks good. Save the moaning for the pub with your friends, and in an interview choose an open and honest, but relatively neutral spin on any issues you faced along the way.
See Also: How to Be Friends With Your Boss
Talking to a prospective new manager about a previous boss can feel odd - a little like telling tales behind someone’s back. The good news is that having an answer in advance can make this question a breeze. With a little time invested up front, it can be a great way to share a little about yourself, your own style and personal development journey. While at the same time ostensibly talking about another manager you have worked with during your career.
Have you ever encountered this question in an interview? Did you fall into the negativity trap?