The interview is going well, you are building a strong rapport with the hiring manager when suddenly you are caught off guard by the question – “What do you think of your previous boss?” Where did that come from and how on earth should you respond?
As much as possible, stay positive. Obviously if you have a great manager, acknowledge that and specify what makes this relationship so positive for you. If on the other hand, you have a more challenging relationship with your manager, proceed cautiously. If a candidate rants negatively about a prior manager, the interviewer often considers the employee the problem and will be hesitant to make the hire. Focus on what this individual did well or maybe what you were able to learn from him. A savvy interviewer will learn as much from what you do say as from what you don’t. Gain their respect by finding something positive to say.
Be Honest in a Positive Way
Maybe it was a truly difficult relationship and you struggled every day. Don’t go there. You may want to acknowledge that while you had very different styles, you found a way to work together to deliver results or meet customer needs. Maybe working with this individual helped you crystalize your personal management style by helping you realize what was most important to you in a manager. Be prepared to give a specific example that can be shared in a positive way.
The interviewer may just want to see how you handle an unexpected question. They could also know that there are some difficult personalities on the team and want to know who you handle those challenges. If you haven’t already met the person who would be your manager in the new job, be sure you do before accepting the position. Maybe it’s code for the new boss can be really tough to work for.
The Focus is You
Remember, they are interviewing you. Keep the focus on what skills and experience you bring to this position and how you add value. Let your strengths show in your answer and move the interview on to more important questions.