How to respond when a recruiter asks you to describe your ideal boss

Posted on 2019/09/03 at 10:34 am

First of all, take the time to reflect on why a recruiter would ask you to describe your “ideal boss” during a job interview.

One thing is certain: the recruiter doesn’t want you to repeat the tired clichés that they hear so often from candidates and that don’t help them get to know you any better.

For example, many candidates might respond with “My ideal boss is respectful and easy to communicate with if something isn’t working well.”

Well, of course – who would want the opposite?

Every time you answer a question from a recruiter, it’s your responsibility to provide some new information that allows them to find out a bit more about who you are.

Personally, I don’t ask this question of candidates anymore, because I’ve so often been disappointed by the answers I receive.

In this article I’ll help you craft and personalize your answer to this question and impress the recruiter with your answer!

Understanding the objective of the question

The recruiter wants to find out what you perceive the role of a boss to be and what kind of relationship you want to have with them.

The way that you respond to the question will give them the information they need. For example, are your answers vague or precise?

If they’re precise, it suggests that you have already thought about the question and that you believe it’s an important one. It shows you don’t see “the boss” as someone who simply gives orders and signs paychecks.

The recruiter will also pay close attention to see if you express yourself in a positive or negative way.

A candidate could respond positively by saying that their ideal boss would be someone who stimulates them and allows them to learn new ways of working.

On the other hand, the candidate could respond negatively by saying that their ideal boss is someone who isn’t too authoritarian and who doesn’t micromanage.

A recruiter could feel that the second answer indicates the candidate has a hard time dealing with authority. For this person, a recruiter could take their answer to mean their ideal boss is someone who isn’t too present and doesn’t look over their shoulder.

The different axes of your response

No matter how you choose to respond, your answer needs to provide an element of preference. If I ask you whether you prefer the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, there’s an element of preference: either choice is an acceptable answer.

Conversely, I would never ask if you prefer a boss who is respectful or disrespectful.

Knowing this, when you describe your ideal boss, it’s very important to describe a preference that is your own and that isn’t shared by the majority of candidates. Do your best to be unique!

1- Framing your answer

Some people no doubt prefer a boss who is highly structured, clear about their expectations and who follows the progress of their charges’ work closely.

Others prefer a boss that allows them a lot of autonomy and who only steps in when asked to or if there is a problem to solve.

2- Communication

Some people prefer bosses who are very delicate in how they communicate and who are careful to not say something that could hurt an employee’s self-esteem.

Others prefer a boss who speaks frankly and can give their opinion without beating around the bush.

3- Workplace relations

Some people appreciate a boss who is friendly and engenders a sense of camaraderie in their employees.

Others prefer a boss who sticks to their formal role and respects hierarchy.

4- Recognition

For some people, a boss who offers constant praise and celebrates each one of their tasks being accomplished is ideal.

Others would rather work for a boss who is discreet and doesn’t worry about unnecessary celebration. You could call them “No news is good news” bosses.

5- Vision

Some people like a boss who takes a strictly operational view of their role and who focuses on directives to follow.

Others prefer a boss who takes a more holistic view, who shares objectives at a strategic level and who champions the values of the organization.

These are five axes through which you can determine what kind of boss you prefer, an exercise that may help you answer the question when it’s asked. There are probably other axes you can think of and other ways to add nuance to your answer.

If needed, you can bolster your answer with examples of good or bad management that you’ve experienced in the past. Don’t be shy to describe the ways that your previous bosses conducted themselves; this will allow you to provide concrete examples of what you like or don’t like.

In conclusion

A good fit between a candidate and the position they’re applying for usually isn’t enough to land them the job. There must also be a good fit between the candidate and their potential boss.

Sometimes, a candidate may be perfectly suited to execute the tasks of a job, but would have a hard time getting along with their boss simply because they see things differently.

In these cases, neither the candidate nor the boss is at fault — they just don’t see eye-to-eye and therefore have a hard time working together. A relationship between an employee and their boss is a bit like love, in that there needs to be some chemistry for things to work.

Ultimately, how you answer the question will reveal a lot about you and assist the recruiter in determining if you are the right candidate for the job.

It also allows your potential future boss to find out about your preferences when it comes to management and to inform their approach, allowing them to personalize how they work with you if you do get the position.

Thanks to René Beaulieu, consultant and trainer at RBeaulieu Consultant, for suggesting the idea for this article.