Undercover Boss was an 8-season TV series on CBS featuring an executive or business owner who posed as an entry-level worker starting a new job in his or her own company. Depending on how visible the boss was throughout the company, he or she may have needed to don a disguise and assume an alias with a cover story to go unrecognized. With camera crew in tow, the boss spent a week or two in various locations, performing a myriad of duties being filmed for a supposed documentary.
Although Undercover Boss was a heavily edited reality show manipulated to entertain and drive publicity for the featured companies, it still revealed undercurrents of truth while following a predictable plotline.
The observable undercurrents of truth were always related to people and behavior. One observable truth: management can either be the glue that holds the organization together, or occasionally the rotten apple in the basket. Working with professionals transitioning between positions, departments, companies, and industries over the last decade, I’ve seen firsthand how people leave bosses, not jobs.
Perhaps you’ve left a company because of a bad boss. To prevent this from occurring in your next job, considering approach the job interview from the perspective that you are interviewing and qualifying the hiring manager just as much as he or she is interviewing and qualifying you.
Approaching job interviews with a strategic mindset will aid you in maintaining control of the outcome and reframe your perception of the experience. A lot of professionals feel like they’re being interrogated or are on trial during an interview. From a strategic perspective, the interview is nothing more than a conversation where both parties are probing to understand needs and assess fit. Let’s look at it from a perspective you may be more familiar with.
As a manager or executive perhaps you’ve participated in evaluating a new product or service to streamline operations or increase revenue. Let’s say you were Technology VP or CTO for a company, tasked with implementing a new collaboration software platform to ensure internal employee communications were secure.
Step #1: Clearly identify and articulate the problem that needs to be solved. In this case, you’ve learned employees are downloading software onto their computers directly from the internet and security protocols are being side-stepped. This can open the door for potential security breaches, malware and spyware attacks, viruses, and so on.
Step #2: Establish potential costs or impacts to the company if the problem isn’t solved or addressed. This includes opportunity costs, legal fees, system down time in the event of a breach or attack, ransom demands, public relations to manage the company reputation, etc.
Step #3: Create your requirements. If you were to invest in a collaboration software platform to ensure internal communication was secure, what capabilities or functionality would you need it to have?
Step #4: Once you’ve established your requirements, begin researching solution providers with the closest match to your needs and budget.
Step #5: Interview service providers to explore options and best fit. After thorough evaluation, you make a selection and move forward with implementation.
But guess what? There’s one more factor that usually isn’t discussed or addressed because it’s not so black and white. In fact, it’s extremely fuzzy and nuanced because it’s what’s considered a soft skill or psychological factor.
That factor is the human dynamic. It’s the relationship between the sponsor or executive in charge of hiring the service provider and the representative selling the product or service. Business, and job offers, are lost through the human dynamic; poor communication skills, failure to establish rapport, personality clashes, unprofessionalism, etc. I’ve seen the most qualified candidates continuously get kicked off the bench in the last round of interviews because of this. I’ve also coahed highly skilled professionals who fit the job perfectly to leave good companies with desirable cultures because they worked for a bad boss.
If you’ve found yourself interviewing for a job because you quit a bad boss, try a new approach and a different mindset to get you over the finish line. Employ a similar approach to that of an executive hiring a vendor to provide a service. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to begin reframing how you approach interviews from a strategic perspective:
- What problems do you think the hiring company or hiring manager needs to solve?
- What specifically do you know about how to solve that problem based on your prior experience?
- What potential problems or costs could the company face if they don’t solve the problem?
- From the job description and company research you’ve done, as well as any other intel you can glean about the position, what are the requirements they’re looking for that you possess?
- What are your key differentiators among the applicants competing for the position that will elevate your fit?
- What is the culture of the company?
- Do the people you’ll be working directly with exhibit behaviors aligned with the culture?
- Does the culture fit your personality?
- What kind of boss do you want to work for?
- Does the hiring manager fit the characteristics of your ideal boss?
- Are you willing to do the work they need done for the budget they’ve set?
Of course, with most of these questions you will have to speculate the answers until you actually go on an interview. Once in the interview, you must always have questions of your own to ask. In consideration of the conversation around fitting into the company’s culture, here’s a sampling of a few questions to get you thinking about how you can uncover alignment and fit with your future boss:
- How would your direct reports describe working with you?
- How do you handle an under-performing employee?
- Have you been asked to mentor someone internally?
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- What do you believe are the predictors for success among applicants for the position?
In an ideal world, Undercover Boss would go into every company with cameras to reveal the culture and behaviors of those you would be working with. Since that reality isn’t yet attainable, the next best thing is to go to interviews with a strategic mindset. Discover the closest thing to the truth as you can about the company culture, hiring manager, alignment with what’s important to you, and the problem you can solve for them. Then, be the kind of boss you’d like to work for and embody the organizational culture in your interview.