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Responding to questions about former boss

I'm considering a new job and have already set up a few interviews. I know that most hiring managers ask about your former employers and reasons for leaving. In my previous job I had a supervisor who was extremely difficult to work for and unable to make decisions or provide professional direction. How do I respond when asked about it?

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No matter how unhappy you are in your job, it's never a good idea to show bitterness toward a former employer or client. What you don't say in an interview can be just as important as what you do say. When interviewers ask about your previous bosses, they want to assess your "fit" with the company and are interested in how well you would work with the person who may be your new supervisor.

When answering, be candid, yet professional and diplomatic. Focus on your supervisor's management style and avoid comments about any perceived personality weaknesses. Mention the positive aspects of working with your past employer first -- for instance, his or her ability to delegate or communicate long-term vision. If relevant, summarize one of your boss' weaknesses and any attempt you made to adjust to or compensate for the behavior. Be brief and avoid digressing into a lengthy discussion.

You may mention that while he or she sometimes had difficulty making decisions, you learned to provide a list of possible solutions to matters that required managerial approval. It's important to show how, although this person's style presented challenges, you took proactive steps to maintain a positive working relationship.

This was first published in January 2001

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