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4 Questions to Ask at an Interview That Can Help You Determine If an Employer Sucks

how to tell if your boss sucks

Joanne Poh

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Being so desperate when you attend an interview that you’re willing to help your new boss tie his shoes might actually get you hired in Singapore. There’s nothing bosses like more than “hungry” workers.

But a happy working relationship has to satisfy both parties, and while your boss might be delighted to find someone with the right skills at a good price, you too need to be convinced that you’ve found the right place to work.

At the end of an interview, when your interviewer asks if you have any questions, your only question should not be “did I bomb it?” Here are some important questions to ask that can hold the key to whether you’ll be tearing out your hair after a month on the job.

 

1. What is the culture of the workplace?

Contrary to what many people think, not all Singaporean workplaces are sweatshops where you’ll be worked to the bone. Well, at least, some are less bad than others. Asking what the culture of the workplace is like can help you to identify those companies that are really hellish or just not right for you.

An interviewer once told me (exact words), “Our corporate department is a sweatshop. But we pay them more.” I later found out that working till 10pm was the norm at that firm but that bonuses were extremely generous. Clearly, such a workplace would suit only a certain kind of employee.

Tip: Few interviewers are as candid as the one I encountered, but bosses will usually give you a heads up when long hours are required. They might talk about “punishing schedules” or the “intense, fast paced environment”. Some workplaces have a more laid back culture and might tell you they aren’t fussy about attire so long as the work gets done, while bosses who appear conservative tend to run their companies in an old school, face-time heavy manner.

 

2. Do you enjoy working here and why?

Chances are, if the interviewer is in a position where he can hire people, his feelings about the job are going to be more positive than the average minion’s. Still, it’s worth finding out just what the perks of the job are to your superior, so you know what the future is like for you if you continue in the job for the long haul.

I’ve had supervisors who clearly couldn’t care less about the work or lived in fear of the biggest boss. This was a recipe for disaster as it led to them pushing their work to their subordinates or being quick to transfer the blame to their juniors whenever anything went wrong.

Tip: The best mentors tend to be the ones who find intrinsic value in their work. If your boss appreciates the type of work he does for the company and the learning opportunities available, that’s a good sign he’ll be willing to mentor you. If he seems disinterested in the work and talks only about the money or the benefits of working for the company, beware.

 

3. Describe the ideal employee for my role

A lot of unhappiness at work boils down to a mismatch between the boss’s idea of an ideal employee and the employee’s idea of doing a good job. While your boss might be looking for someone with the initiative to provide assistance even before he asks, you might think he wants an obedient little peon who is just good at following instructions.

You also want to pay attention to the qualities your boss describes as being important. I had a boss who said she was looking for someone meticulous. After a few months on the job and getting screamed at for omitting a full stop on a letter, I realised she hadn’t been joking.

Tip: Before taking up a job, carefully consider whether you truly are the type of person your boss is looking for. You might be able to fake it for a while, but if your ideas of how one should behave at work are completely at odds, you’re forging a partnership that’s doomed to failure.

 

4. Tell me about the previous person who worked in the post I’m interviewing for

I’ve been in the workforce long enough to realise that alarm bells should go off in your head if your future boss badmouths the previous person who occupied your position.

More often than not, bad bosses tend to have consistently sour relationships with their employees and their companies experience a high turnover rate. If your boss speaks about a past employee with anger or resentment, accepting the job means you might be the next one to be placed in the line of fire.

Tip: Even if a past employee was fired, listen out to determine if the boss takes things personally or speaks with bitterness. This might indicate poor working relationships with staff in general.

Do you have any other useful questions to ask at interviews? Let us know in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • Shotintheeye

    Point number 4. I was interviewing with a Singaporean company acquired by an Australian company.

    The managers were looking for an engineer who could handle 25 to 30 different fabrication projects at any one time.

    And they blame the previous employee for boasting about his capability!!