Some of your bosses will be amazing. Most will be mediocre. Your time with the former will go by too quickly. The latter will be easily forgotten.
But the horrendous bosses will haunt you. You’d love to forget them–and God knows you’ve tried–but you won’t be able to. You’ll talk about them in bars with your friends and the occasional patient stranger. You’ll tell your therapist about them. You’ll quit jobs and maybe even abandon entire career tracks because of them. Horrible bosses are forever.
Don’t get burned again. Learn to spot them during the interview process–then run the other way.
1. The Tyrant
One of the most common varieties of horrible boss. Known for shouting, sending emails in all caps, and spittle-flecked tirades. Found in virtually all industries and verticals.
How to Spot One During a Job Interview: The Tyrant’s interview style may vary from brusque to flat-out rude. Tyrants will be rushed, bored, and dismissive of your answers. The interview will likely consist primarily of the Tyrant talking at you about what’s wrong the current team and how he/she could fix it if only they had the right talent. Other interviewers will likely avoid eye contact with the Tyrant and will agree with everything he/she says.
2. The Unjustified Egomaniac
Another common specimen. These are the bosses who inspired the “Mediocre But Arrogant” joke about MBAs all those years ago. Known for having an inflated sense of self-worth that’s completely unsupported by anything that might remotely be considered a significant accomplishment. Leadership strategy consists of vague directives without substance. Will totally take credit for your ideas. Subscribes to HBR but never reads it. Makes you do the quarterly report while he poorly Photoshops his own photo onto a Fast Company article. Can be found almost anywhere.
How to Spot One During a Job Interview: The Unjustified Egomaniac will talk more than you do. He won’t ask you real questions because he doesn’t know any. He will dodge your questions for the same reasons. May put his feet up on the desk during the interview.
3. The Poseur
This subspecies of the Unjustified Egomaniac possesses many of the same traits, but with distinctively dotcom leanings. Most of the Poseur’s opinions come from TED talks that he/she only watched the first five minutes of. Frequently wears aviators or Warby Parkers without prescription lenses. Can be found taking selfies at SXSW and unsuccessfully attempting to Snapchat with venture capitalists. “Disrupts” things.
How to Spot One During a Job Interview: The Poseur doesn’t believe in job interviews. You’ll find yourself talking about everything but your qualifications and the role itself over bottles of organic kombucha. If he/she does discuss the role, it will be both nebulous and too good to be true. The company will be bankrupt in six months.
4. The Empty Suit
The Empty Suit is a variation on the old Company Man. These denizens of middle management have only one ambition: to climb the corporate ladder with minimal effort. He/she speaks entirely in company-sanctioned bullet points. The Empty Suit’s calendar is packed with “strategy sessions” that seem to produce no actual strategy. They will be the opposite of your ally. They will not advocate for you or help you gain new skills or experience due to the fear that you will outshine them. Sees you as a threat. Displays a superhuman capacity for executive ass-kissing. May or may not actually wear a suit.
How to Spot One During a Job Interview: The Empty Suit will focus entirely on what you can do for him/her. They will give noncommittal answers to any question about advancement or learning. Watch for undue attention to your technical skills (especially PowerPoint) and PR-sounding answers to questions about company culture.
5. The Bro
The Bro (typically male, but not always) wants to be your friend. The Bro lives for after work drinks and thinks you should, too. This variety of horrible boss will actually do work from time to time, but tends to make most of it a “group project” to hide his ineptitude. The Bro will throw you under the bus in a heartbeat at the first sign of executive displeasure. Prone to over-sharing about bar exploits and sexual adventures. Will give you a stupid nickname.
How to Spot One During a Job Interview: The Bro will be late, and then inappropriately casual. He will ask you too many questions about your “working style,” which is his way of making sure you’re not one of those ambitious people who might outshine him. He stresses a “lax” company culture. Will say “game changer” often.
6. The Burnout
The Burnout is the poster child for disengagement. They should have changed careers years ago, but is either too lazy or too unambitious. They will do the minimum amount of work required to continue drawing a paycheck. Their loathing for their job, their career, and their coworkers is barely concealed. Their apathetic attitude can be toxic. Will likely delegate all possible work. Frequently makes commitments, but does not follow up. Isn’t motivated to help you improve or advance, but will gladly join you in complaining about the company. Their desktop background is a Daria cartoon, even though they’re 34.
How to Spot One During a Job Interview: The Burnout will give a perfunctory interview with minimal effort. They will likely mumble through a hurried explanation of the role, and will not attempt to dig deeper on any answer you give. May actually speak badly of the company or the role during said interview.
7. The Fossil
Though rare, the Fossil can still be found clinging to his or her position, likely in a company that has yet to transition its focus to digital. The Fossil has had the same title for decades. Retains outmoded ideas of company hierarchy and managerial authority. The Fossil is the least obnoxious of the horrible bosses, but can still stall your career by refusing to understand contemporary attitudes toward learning and mobility. Just got used to email and isn’t about to try to learn the CMS.
How to Spot One During a Job Interview: Will ask if you’re “good with the computer.”