How to Spot a Bully Boss Before You Accept the Job

Watch the way a boss treats her staff to get a feel for her style.
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In an ideal world, you would be able to tell if you’ll like working for your next boss, just as the interviewer will be able to tell how well you’ll fit in with the company culture. Unfortunately, you don’t always know what you’re walking into at a new job until you start. While it’s impossible to tell for sure, you can watch for telltale signs that your next position may be ruled by a bully of a boss.

    Step 1

    Notice the manager’s demeanor when you first meet. If she’s tense and snaps at her assistant or barks orders over the phone while you’re in the middle of an interview, consider that this may be the way she is every day. Don’t write it off as “she’s having a bad day” just because you really want the job.

    Step 2

    Watch the way others in the office react when the boss walks through the office. Whether she comes out to the lobby to greet you or waits in her office for you to arrive, check out the looks of the nearby employees. If they have sympathetic expressions on their faces or roll their eyes when you ask about the boss, consider those cues as red flags that should spur you to dig a little deeper before accepting an offer.

    Step 3

    Check out the surveillance in the workplace. Look for cameras around the office, warehouse or lobby. Talk to other employees to find out how closely their work is monitored. Bullies often are micromanagers that count keystrokes, keep track of the amount of time you spend talking with your co-workers and give you no privacy. These bosses don’t trust their employees and think everyone is out to steal, lie or otherwise put things over on them.

    Step 4

    Ask about deadlines and work expectations during the interview. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, unrealistic deadlines that are strictly enforced are common tactics employed by malicious managers. If the interviewer talks about how you’ll be expected to put in the hours, no matter how long it takes, to meet those requirements, you may be in store for bullying by your boss.

    Step 5

    Find out about the retention rate at the company and in the department where you’ll be working. One clue about the character of your boss is how long employees remain in her workplace. Ask why the position is vacant, why the previous person left and how many people have held the job since its inception.


    • Check with your state’s department of labor to find out if there are any pending lawsuits against the company from previous employees or if they have a history of litigation.


    • Keep track of how long it takes for a boss to get back to you about the position or how long she waits to respond to your inquiries. If you’ve given up on a job, for example, because you haven’t heard a word in four weeks, then you suddenly get a call with an offer, take time to think about the position and review your initial gut responses. Bullies often torment their subordinates by making them wait and managing with a carrot and stick approach. While she just may have been too busy to get back to you, this is a sign that you should pay attention to.

    Things You'll Need

    • Prepared questions

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