How to do a reference check—on your future boss

How to do a reference check—on your future boss

When you go through the job search process, it seems every piece of your life is under scrutiny. Your work history, references, credit history, and so on are all fair game for background checks. But have you considered doing a reference check on your future boss?

If you’re currently desperate to make a paycheck, maybe you needn’t bother worrying about whether your future boss or company will treat you with the utmost respect or fit your personality. But if you have some choice in the matter—say, you’re about to leave a great job for a new, hopefully great job—why not try to make sure you’re accepting a job with a boss and co-workers you’ll like?

The first step is to come up with a list of questions for your future employer. These questions should only be asked if and when you have an offer in hand. Asking them sooner can keep you from getting the offer. Asking your future boss these questions once you have an offer is reasonable, as long as you ensure you emphasize your strong interest in the role and ask them tactfully. Questions include:

  1. What is your management style?
  2. I plan to do a great job for you. But if for some reason I don’t succeed in reaching the goals you set, what are the consequences? How will you, as a manager, handle this? How do you give feedback?
  3. Is there turnover in the organization in the last year? If so, why?
  4. How did this position become available? If someone left, why did they leave? Can I speak to the person who previously held this position? If not, any reason why?
  5. Can I physically look at my future office space? Will I have a cubicle, or a full office?
  6. What resources are available to get this job done?
  7. What is the office culture like? What is the expectation regarding hours or travel?
  8. Can I see the organizational chart? Are there reorganizations afoot?
  9. How is this position, and the organization, funded? Is the funding stable?
  10. Who would I be supervising? Can I talk to them? What is their expectation about my performance? Were they interested in the job I’ve been hired for?
  11. What are the benefits, amount of time off, etc.?

Once these questions are answered, consider another two steps.

Check out the organization on the internet: go to glassdoor.com to see reviews of them; google the organization’s name and the word “reviews” or “complaints”, look them up in the Better Business Bureau, look at their tax return or annual financial reports if available, look at their donors to see whether they seem stable.

Lastly, consider an actual reference check on your future boss. With the internet, such a reference check is easier to do, though there are risks involved. Go look up the person on LinkedIn.com and click on “Check References” and then look for people who no longer work at the organization where you’ve received an offer. Then reach out to them on LinkedIn and ask if they have a minute to chat with you about their experience reporting to your future boss. A lot can be revealed about the person’s ability to be a manager by asking a few questions.

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2 thoughts on “How to do a reference check—on your future boss

  1. Hi Heather — I use a variation of some of those questions in first interviews with no apparent problematic results. I sort of got taken aback when you said to save these questions for when an offer is in hand. I think to save these questions all the way to that point may be waiting too long — in my case, I’d like to find out and ask questions about the manager’s style straight out sooner rather than later to see if the job is worth pursuing to a 2nd interview (if they grant me one). What do you think?

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