How will you be choosing your next boss?

Boss at Rochester Cathedral.
Boss at Rochester Cathedral. Not the right sort as your next boss… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m now in a position of needing to choose my next boss. My loan to DCMS is nearly over, a year has flown by, mostly very enjoyable. If I had a free choice I’d be staying here, my team are excellent and we work well together. The subject matter that we’ve been dealing with is interesting too, and we’re also trying to develop material to help other officials learn from our experiences (and those of others in DCMS). However I can’t stay, so I thought I would write a post about how to choose your next boss.

Recruitment is Two Way

Anyway, this leaves me in the place of finding another job again. So I see recruitment as a two way process. I need to want to work for the manager as much as they want me to work for them. This is well established in HR philosophy, but very poorly understood by recruiting managers, at least in my experience.

As with all recruitment it’s important to know what qualities you want in the person you are trying to select. This is just as true of the person that might become your boss as it is on those that you want to get into your team.

So what do I want in my next boss?

Me helping to promote the Rugby World Cup as part of tending leaders at work!
Me looking for a champion to be my next boss

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in looking for a boss that is generally competent and gives senior staff (i.e. people like me) general direction and room to manoeuvre. I’ve developed a few heuristics to help with this, some of which might fall foul of HR rules, but then I’m the employee here and I need to make sure I have a harmonious and productive relationship with my next boss, whoever they might be.

Warning signs

Some trigger warnings (none of these are foolproof, but they’re enough to show that you need to think hard about your potential next manager). These are based on my experiences of both good and bad bosses. Sadly you learn more from the bad ones in what to avoid than sometimes you get from copying the best. 

  • Technical specialists, unless they can show that they have people skills and have earnt the management position through those and not excellence in an unrelated field.
  • Inexperience, unless they can show maturity in how they deal with people (I’ve been burnt here, and I’ve managed young managers, quality of experience and maturity definitely helps).
  • Too busy, people with vacancies are usually busier than normal. However a good boss will put some priority on helping candidates understand their post, and encouraging them to apply. They want the best person for the job, and this is more likely with a bigger pool of candidates than if only one person applies.
  • Control, there needs to be some as a manager, but it needs to be exercised lightly in proportion to the seniority and capability of the people being managed.
  • Has a preferred management/leadership style. Good bosses might have a preference, but they should implicitly understand that you vary your approach according to the people that you are trying to manage/lead/influence.
  • New to the industry, lots of skills transfer across industries, however it takes a special sort of person to bed down well in a new industry. This is especially true of private sector folk joining the civil service. They need to show very good sensitivity to political currents and the different motivators of civil servants.

How do I spot a good next boss?

I sort of wish that I have a totally foolproof method, but I don’t (yet). However I’m trying to learn by trial and error. I’m writing down my ideas in the hope that it might help others too. I’d also appreciate feedback on what has worked for other people.

  1. Meet with the recruiting manager (not the recruiter, the person that will be your boss if you accept a job offer). You may already have seen a recruiter to filter out jobs that just wouldn’t suit you.
  2. Have a chat with the potential next boss, start easy and focussed on the job in hand. Ask your usual questions about expectations for the role, how it fits into the wider context and with their role. See if you get any clues about the boss.  
  3. Ask some direct questions, here are some suggestions:
    1. What leadership style do you use?
    2. What is your background/how long have you been here?
    3. What was your last mistake? Followed up with what did you learn from it?
    4. How do you ensure continuous improvement?
    5. What frustrates you about your job? – how will the advertised job help you deal with it?
  4. Don’t leave the meeting with any doubts about the prospective next boss. If you have any doubt then explore it before you leave. It is in both your best interests.
  5. Thank them without judgement for answering your questions. If you liked them you might explain what you were doing and why. If you didn’t like them it’s probably best to just say that you don’t think this is the best role for you.


Any meeting with a prospective employer is an interview, whether or not it is billed that way.  Make sure that you have good convincing answers for every question that you ask. Good bosses might just turn the tables on you, they want to know that you are good too.

Only you can tell whether or not you think you could work harmoniously with a specific individual. So you need to exercise judgement. However any attempt to avoid the questions, to weasel, or to give stock answers is probably a bad sign. Being fair, the prospective next boss might not be expecting to be interviewed by you. So cut them a little slack, but not too much.

Please leave thoughts, experience and alternative suggestions in the comments box.

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