Question

60 years of experience have taught me that most managers are not qualified to manage. But most job applicants never check them out before accepting a job. Nor do they check out the managers several layers up. It’s a recipe for disaster and it’s so obvious. What are your thoughts?

Nick’s Reply

boss's resumeEver ask a hiring manager for their resume before you agree to a job interview? No? Why not?

This is the danger of applying for lots and lots of jobs. The more jobs a person applies for, the less due diligence they do on any of them, including on the managers they’d go to work for. When one of 20 job applications yields an interview, there’s no good way to do your homework in time. In fact, the smartest approach is to do your homework before you apply! (Don’t miss What if there’s no time to prepare for the interview?)

Who’s your boss?

I believe the failure to do such due diligence increases the chances you’ll go to work for a lousy manager, simply because the baseline probability that any particular manager is inept is significant.

“Nor do they check out the managers several layers up.”

Resume Challenge: Who’s the boss?
I invite managers, HR, career experts, even job seekers to give us one good reason why hiring managers should not provide their resumes to job applicants. Use the Comments section below.
Now you’re literally “taking this to the next level!” I mean as a job seeking strategy. Job seekers typically “research a company” before an interview, but their research is cursory at best. Here’s the key: “It’s the people, Stupid!” You need to know who’s your boss. (The other key is Never work with jerks.)

A prudent job seeker checks out the hiring manager who owns the job, and the bosses above the manager. Your success at a job depends heavily on the people that run the joint. While the conventional wisdom focuses on winning an offer, that’s not the goal. The goal is a job working for good managers and a good company.

So I agree with you completely. Check out the management stack before you invest time pursuing a job. Because if you don’t, and you invest heavily in interviews, and they make you an offer, you’re very likely to take an offer from the wrong people — and you will rationalize your decision simply because you put so much time into it.

Due diligence

Pick your target companies and managers thoughtfully. This is the time for due diligence.

Before you interview:

  • Ask who will interview you.
  • Ask who the hiring manager is.
  • Ask who is the manager’s boss and who their boss is.
  • Use Google and LinkedIn to check them out further. Be thorough.
  • Ask around — who knows these managers?

After you interview with the hiring manager, ask to briefly meet their bosses.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, I show how to conduct due diligence before and during the interview, and before accepting a job offer. These are just a few tips to help keep you out of trouble.

In the interview, don’t miss these points:

  • What must the company do to meet its goals? Is your job important in meeting these objectives? How?
  • Check out the tools that will be at your disposal. If they’re not part of the deal today, don’t expect you’ll get what you need later.
  • Who, in other departments, will affect your ability to do your job successfully? Meet them. Look for facilitators and debilitators—people that will help and hinder your performance.

From “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?”, pp. 13-15

Have you seen your boss’s resume?

The alternative is to request what they demand from you — the bosses’ resumes. Does this all seem inappropriate and awkward? Perhaps even blasphemous? Contrary to how we’re programmed to (not) think when we’re job hunting, seeing your new bosses’ resumes would be a prudent, reasonable thing before you decide to throw in with them.

They want to know who you are before they’ll interview you. They want your resume. They want to talk to your former bosses (references). And you can bet they’re going to check you out online.

Maybe you won’t see their resumes, but by job offer time, make sure you know who your bosses are. Judge them all, because your success depends largely on who you’re working with.

Do you know who your bosses will be when you’re considering a job offer? Is it so unreasonable to want to read a new boss’s resume? How do you avoid taking a job with the wrong people? How else can you check out, in advance, who you’ll be working with?

: :

19 Comments
  1. I agree with the premise here that managers, and others, can make or break you in the job search and/or in the job. Asking for a prospective manager’s resume (and those higher up on the food chain), while in theory, sounds good for vetting them, it will invariably lead to immediate refusal of giving up that information, and will lead to immediate disqualification (been there, done that). I think that’s a given. Even if one was able to secure said resumes, that will give you (often inflated and even fabricated) superficial thumb nail sketches of credentials. What it won’t give you are personalities, integrity, ethics, abilities, values, management styles, and company cultures. Further, checking out LinkedIn would also fail to give any intel of value.
    In more recent years (being older and wiser now, and having taken more than my fair share of hard knocks) I’ve personally attempted to “interview” the “interviewers”. Short of a rare egomaniac who wants to flaunt their credentials, most of the inquiries have gone down a path where I didn’t want to go.
    Jobs and job interviews, are at best, a roll of the dice, and as most people know, the system favors the employers. Accepting that it’s a business relationship (good or bad), and that employers don’t “have your back”, and that at will employment gives employers the means to end that relationship (whenever wherever), is the first step in vetting said employers. Then trusting one’s gut (I’ve failed to do this more than once, admittedly in my day) and asking around (if one can connect with former employees, vendors, etc for vetting intel) is about all the average Joe can do.

  2. I think this is great advice and will be my practice in the future. Twice now, my immediate bosses (both of whom I worked well with) left for various reasons and I had to work with their managers, where there was no simpatico. Had I done my research, and listened to my gut during the interview process, I could have saved myself the aggravation. They say that when you marry someone you marry the whole family, and I think it’s true here. In the first instance I left the job, in the second, I outlasted the manager’s manager and waited to see what the future brings because I liked the organization.

    • @Lela: That’s a good way to remember this — you’re marrying the whole family!

  3. For those who are too timid to ask for an actual resume from the manager and the managers managers manager I suggest that in the interview you ask what their experience has been in XYZ that relate to the particular job at hand in the job that they are managing. I have found far too many managers who, for example, have never programmed and never been a manager anywhere else before they got where they are now. I worked for one large corporation that had 12 software development departments or sub-departments. Of those 12 managers, only one had subject matter training or maybe some experience. That was Accounting. That was a wise decision by somebody. But otherwise everyone who was a manager including the computer operations manager knew nothing about computers and I’m talkin about mainframes. They, as I learned,
    , knew nothing about how to manage. All the other departments always came in late with a lot of bugs and things left out. We knew what we were doing so we told them how long it would take, and that’s the time it took and we you wrote a Software System that ran for 25 years before it was replaced with a network system that had half the capability of our system In all that time we never had a crash and never a serious error in the program. If you don’t interview your manager and the managers manager and the managers manager you’re looking for a job that guarantees no advancement no salary increases etc because your manager has no Authority In many cases his manager has no authority over job content raises promotions bonuses things like that. The American system is that you had to go up at least three levels before you find any man who has authority over raises, promotions Etc. That’s the way it is.

    • @Wes: That’s a good way to “ask the question” about a manager’s resume. As someone else has pointed out, you may not need their resume if they’re on LinkedIn. But the resume is not really the point. The message I tried to get across in this week’s Q&A is that you really must learn all you can about your future boss(es)!

      I don’t care how you do it. Asking for a resume (politely) is one way to get to the information you need to make a reasonable assessment of the people you’ll be working with. Other than eyeballing the manager during the interview, and asking a few general questions, what do you really know?

      Another way to start this important dialogue is to ask where the manager came from (where did they work)? What attracted them to this company? What’s the biggest challenge they face in their job? All those Qs are intended to give you a peek at the manager’s acumen. As someone else pointed out, the “facts” you get from a resume are of course not enough — you need face time and conversation. Of course, nothing beats actually working with the manager for a while — but we’re trying to learn about that in advance if we can!

  4. There are ways to get this information without offending by asking for a resume. And it is a good idea but resume information is not complete. I suggest one pays attention by observing and listening during any contact with staff or during an interview. Most of the time we are so busy trying to sell ourselves and get hired that we don’t know what the hiring manager is saying or how they act. We have to focus, listen, observe and get out minds out of the anxiety thinking. One can ask the interviewer how long they have been employed at the company and perhaps about promotions within the company. The answer will tell you a lot. My friend just endured 4 zoom interviews up the chain of employee management and the friend asked such questions and every interviewer had glowing recommendations of the company. They all talked about the ethics of the company and how well the employees are treated and can move up the company chain like they have. Hopefully this is true. They told my friend about the hard aspects of the job and exactly what personality traits do the best in this kind of work (my friend asked this). I once went on an interview and got the job where the two people who interviewed me had worked there a long long time. I thought this was great until about a year into the job when I realized how stuck in their thinking these people were and how un-eager they were to open the doors to new ideas or solving problems. I realized they did not promote from within and that they had a rule that one’s supervisor had to allow one to move into another department or take a promotion. So if your supervisor said no to your movement within the company, you stayed stuck in your current job. And this happened all the time and happened to me. No one liked my supervisor because her personality was so volatile, so they would not ask her if I could change to their department when I tried to move up. I found these long term employees, including my boss, worked at one place because they could not get another job. The place was full of management who did not value the underlings but only valued the management. Well… we all know what happens when the main level workforce hates their jobs. As the economy opened up at that time, the hirable lower level employees all jumped ship and the ones who could not get another job stayed. So the moral to the story I tell here is consider all angles, ask questions, see this from a reality perspective.

    • @Kathy: Great advice. Your suggestions prompt me to put another spin on Lela’s comment above about how “you’re marrying the whole family” when you take a job. The other wisdom about learning more about a person you’re thinking about marrying is to spend time with them around their own family. How do they treat one another? How does your intended treat them? What you see is probably what you’ll get.

      So likewise, as you suggest, carefully watch how your prospective boss treats the team, and how they respond to the boss. One way to do this is to ask to sit in on a team meeting or work session “so I can get to see how we’d all fit.”

      My compliments on your approach, and sorry you learned the hard way! Thanks for sharing here.

  5. LinkedIn provides one way to check out a manager without asking for the manager’s resume. It is easy to search for people who USED TO work for that company and no longer work there. Such people might be very willing to talk about what it was like to work there.

  6. In my career I’ve had several occasions where the boss proved not to be who/what I thought they were. In some instances, I left the organization shortly afterward and was fortunate to find other employment. In other instances, the job itself had important benefits that made staying worth it. In those instances, one of the skills I developed was how to work with/around that kind of supervision. The lesson is: Bosses are people too with all the assets and liabilities therein. Listen to your own sense of integrity and if you can’t tolerate the situation, move on before it grinds you into the ground. Whatever your path I wish you a long, happy, and fulfilling work life followed by an equally satisfying after-work life.

    • @Doug: Good point, and one that may be hard to accept but true. Working with a problem boss is indeed a learning experience. Just don’t stick around so long that there’s nothing left of you for the boss to bite!

  7. I also have had bosses like that. One, at Naval Research Laboratory, NRL, pretended to be a PhD but had only a bachelor’s degree. When I went on board transferring from another Navy agency he was just completing a Double Precision mathematics routine on a 48 bit word machine and was just starting a tripple precision routine. also designing a quadruple precion routine. If you know numerical analysis you know the huge errors he was introducing into all calculations.Idiots seem to be predominately choose as managers, everywhere.

  8. No offense, but between a lottery to get an interview and in all likelihood a mid-level moron sitting across the table, why would you ask for a worthless piece of paper? (yes, yes, I know… don’t play the lottery, bypass everyone by meeting your perspective non-moronic boss at the BEST EVER company by mingling within your peer… be the top 0.0001% candidate)

    In this day and age, why even bother looking at the bosses’ resumes? $15 max will get you all the basic info you’ll ever want. Another 2 hours of research will tell you everything you’ll ever care to know about your future manager — home address, phone #, emails, birthdays, voting records, shoe size, personal car make & model, number of marriages, ages of kids, favorite liquor…

    But even knowing all of this is pretty useless. People adjust, WE adjust to the bosses. You got 5-6 major “wants” from a new job: location, compensation, travel, perks, title, boss’ personality, etc. If you hit 5 out of 6 wants, you’ll convince yourself that you can adjust to a non-perfect personality. So unless you’re planning to blackmail your manager, I’m not even sure it’s worthwhile spending those $15… maybe get forewarning about a touchy topic to avoid, idk.

    Anyway… resume is useless and even if you get a whole big dig on your manager, of all other perks of the position hits your checkbox, chances are you’ll bear dealing with a clown. :)

    • @Alex: To each his own, and if you’re willing to tolerate a boss like that if you can hit on other important criteria, go for it. I find that life is too short to work with people like that. No amount of preliminary research is going to tell you all you need to know about a boss, but I like to have as many data points as I can get.

  9. I agree with most everything that’s been written. One good reason, and extremely good reason, and one that you can share with your boss in the boss’s boss in the bosses bosses boss for talking to them is it you want to ascertain absolutely what their promotion policies are what they’re training policies are what the salary increase and bonus policies are and express the fact that you know the immediate boss almost never has authority to do that. And you want to know, from the bosses bosses bosses boss that kind of thing, what exactly it is you need to be promoted trained properly get the right bonuses get the right salary increases. It’s also a wonderful time and this is critical that you explain to these bosses bosses that sweater that you see your job that primarily is making them look good.

  10. Something I learned the hard way by suffering intolerable bosses not a few, is what I should have complain to the boss’s boss and maybe a higher level up when they were doing things that were clearly repeat clearly and objectively repeat objectively really stupid. Or unethical or Etc. As Warren Buffett has allegedly said you can’t make a future in a company with bad ethics or morals!

  11. Another reason to always be looking! You never can tell about a company. Several uniformity rules include:loyalty is one way street from the employee to the employer and as a former recruiter, I learned first-hand that the companied always are telling more lies to the applicants than the applicants lie on their resume. Lies on resumes, I was a head hunter for five years and that was a guy who just had an over inflated opinion of himself. The amount of lies from employers about salary, retirement, stock and endless topics where are the general rule.

  12. If you do your due diligence, you should know everything you need to know about the people you are working for/with. Unfortunately, they (hiring personnel) are getting tricky with regard to WHEN they divulge whom is interviewing you, and you seldom have time to do any research.

    I always ASK if the manager I’ll be working with is going to attend the interview. Even if I only get 2-3 hours’ notice, it’s enough, and let’s face it, recruiters are only interested in their fees and getting a warm body to fill a space. They couldn’t care less if you’re HAPPY in the position.

    • “If you do your due diligence, you should know everything you need to know about the people you are working for/with”. Not entirely accurate, in fact, inaccurate.
      Depends on how much, and how accurate of intel you gather. Nobody knows what the people and managers are like until you actually work there. What if it’s a small mom & pop organization that doesn’t even have a webpage, let alone any Glassdoor intel? No internet search, no recruiter, no HR crone, no manager is going to divulge what it’s really like at an employer.
      Short of trusting your gut, or securing, somehow, a former incumbents feedback, it’s a roll of the dice. If your gut tells you it’s uneasy, WALK AWAY! A roll of the dice, so proceed with extreme caution.

  13. Just another reason to always be interviewing, always be interviewing, always be interviewing, Etc. It’s also a reason to interview up at least two bosses above your boss to find out what their policies are on promotions bonuses salaries training and all of the etcetera that make your career or kill it. If they aren’t willing to do that why would you work for them in the first place?

Leave a Reply