Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How's the Boss? Look for the Tell

When evaluating a new opportunity, not only are the people of your potential new employer evaluating you, but you, at the same time, are evaluating them.  Beyond the specifics of the role, interviewees often seek to understand corporate culture, style, and softer elements of a potential future engagement.  One such thing to understand is what kind of person the boss is - are they the good person they appear to be, or are they secretly hiding skeletons in their closet?

In a lot of ways, interviewing is a lot like poker - both sides seek to present the strongest picture possible, and are extremely careful in the type and amount of information that they choose to share.  When information is shared, many times it is done with an objective in mind.  Thus, as a candidate, it can sometimes be difficult to discern a clear understanding of exactly what a potential new boss might be like.

So how does one better gain this understanding?  For me, I've personally found a "tell" which has provided me great insight to my bosses (both potential and actual).  But before we get to that, we need to better define the whole concept of the "tell."  In poker, a "tell" allows players to gain an advantage based upon an observation they have made on an opponent.  Wikipedia defines it perfectly:

A tell in poker is a change in a player's behavior or demeanor that is claimed by some to give clues to that player's assessment of their hand. A player gains an advantage if they observe and understand the meaning of another player's tell, particularly if the tell is unconscious and reliable.

For me, the greatest tell is to be able to go to a restaurant with a potential new boss and see how they interact with the wait staff.  Are the rude?  Overly demanding?  Have unjust expectations of performance, regardless of situation?  Talk ill of the wait staff after they have left the table?  Fail to acknowledge the staff, or talk over them?  Tip poorly?  All of these offer insight to how they treat people, and ultimately, how they are going to treat you.

This rule applies to other service and hospitality folks as well - how does this person treat hotel staff, flight attendants, retail clerks, and other service providers?  Ultimately, that treatment will be akin to how their teams are treated.

My greatest example of this involved one of my first bosses ever.  Immediately after being hired, we traveled together to a trade show.  While waiting on our departing flight, my new boss rang her flight attendant button three times before we left the gate.  Three times.  Guess who turned out to be overly demanding, micro-managing, and irrational?  

Note that the tell doesn't always mean a bad thing.  Did the potential new boss call the waiter by his name, and show genuine interest in him?  Was there solid, human interaction?  Was the reaction appropriate even when things were not exactly perfect?  If so, you likely have a decent person who will potentially be guiding your career for the next couple of years.  

This career insight, just like in poker, can be incredibly valuable information.

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