How To Answer Interview Questions About Bosses

Businesswomen interviewing a candidate
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Most job interviews will include a few inquiries about your former bosses and preferred supervision style.

Common interview questions about supervisors include asking you to describe the best and worst bosses you've worked for, what you expect from a supervisor, how you handle a boss who's wrong, and other questions related to relationships with your superiors.

Key Takeaways

  • Interviewers ask questions about prior supervisors to get a sense of your work style and find out how you like to be managed. 
  • Avoid going negative, even if your past experiences were frustrating. Focus instead on areas that worked well or on how you grew or learned as a result of a challenging relationship.
  • Keep your response focused on professional aspects of your relationship, not personal ones. 

What the Interviewer Wants To Know

Your responses to questions about previous supervisors will give interviewers a sense of how you'll work with your next manager. 

These questions also elicit information about your loyalty to former managers (and to previous companies where you've worked). Plus, your responses can give insight into how you work with others and your preferred relationship style with a manager. 

How To Answer Questions About Previous Bosses

Be careful and thoughtful with your responses—particularly if you disliked a previous boss or had a challenging relationship. 


Do not say anything negative about your bosses no matter what your experiences were. 

Negativity, insults, or defamatory comments about a bad boss are red flags for a hiring manager, who may view negativity as a reflection on you more than on your problem boss. 

Plus, it's a small world. A hiring manager might be friends or acquaintances with your prior boss, especially if they're in the same industry. Or a previous manager may be a client or customer of your prospective company. If you burn that bridge, you’ll probably destroy your chance of getting the job.

If you’re asked about a situation with a boss you didn’t like, take a breath, pause a moment, and prepare a positive, or at least neutral, answer. 

How you deal emotionally with these types of questions is equally important. This is not the time to fly off the handle and get upset or to go into too many details about how bad your boss was.

Examples of the Best Answers

Take a look at these examples of how to answer the question about former bosses. Note that when talking about a difficult former boss, it's wise to shoulder some of the responsibility for the problematic relationship.

Example Answer #1

I didn’t see eye to eye with my last boss, and that led to a breakdown in communication. However, now I realize that this was also due to my lack of experience in the industry. At the time, I worried that asking questions would be perceived as weak and as an indication that I was unable to do the job.

Now I've learned to ask questions immediately if I need further explanation, and I understand that doing so demonstrates my initiative and dedication to getting the job done right.

Why It Works: An answer like this frames a bad situation in a more positive way and shows that you've learned something that makes you a better employee as a result. While it’s clear you had a disagreement with your boss, you didn’t cast him or her in a negative light.

Example Answer #2

I had an incredibly productive relationship with my last manager. During our weekly one-on-one meetings, we'd connect over the unresolved issues of the previous week, map out the week's top priorities, and share a strategic approach. In a way, it was as if we were partners, which is my preferred way to relate to managers. 

Why It Works: The candidate is clear about their preferred work style and reveals a lot about how they work. 

Example Answer #3

My last manager had to achieve major goals for the company. Sometimes we had our differences when it came to the best approach to get there, but it was always clear that he was passionate about the company and the company's fiscal goals. Ultimately, even when we disagreed, I was able to learn a lot from his approach.

Why It Works: This answer is discreet while hinting at some potential disagreements.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

  • Keep it positive. Be truthful, but frame your comments in a positive light. Provide answers that exhibit your professionalism and insight into the circumstances you're describing. The same holds true if you hated working at a previous company. Keep that information to yourself.
  • Show growth. If there was conflict or a challenging relationship in the past, look for ways to frame your response in terms of what you learned and how the problem was resolved. In fact, dissenting opinions can be positive in that they lead to brainstorming new ideas and solutions that advance the company. Perhaps you could explain how a difference in opinion led to some sort of improvement. 
  • Be understanding of different approaches and styles. Sometimes a manager may choose option A while you'd prefer option B. Or maybe your manager has a top-down style, while you'd prefer to work more collaboratively. Try to remember—and show in your response—that you understand that differences in approach or work style are just different and not necessarily wrong or bad. 
  • Keep your tone and body language neutral. When you're with friends, you might get heated in a description of your boss's behavior. But during an interview, don't raise your voice. You don't want to visibly or audibly display your frustration. 

What Not To Say 

  • Don't lie. There's no need to act as though you were best friends with a previous manager if you actually did not get along. But there's also no reason you should bad-mouth a boss, either. It's important to be honest.
  • Don't be negative. This is not the time to vent or complain about a frustrating boss. Save that for conversations with friends.
  • Stay away from the personal. Questions about your former managers are about a work relationship, so stay focused on the professional. 

Possible Follow-Up Questions

It's not uncommon for interviewers to ask questions about supervisors. Some of the other ones you might hear during an interview include the following: 

  • Who was your best boss and who was the worst?
  • Describe your ideal boss. 
  • Have you ever had difficulty working with a manager?
  • How do you handle it if the boss is wrong?
  • What was it like working with your supervisor?
  • What do you expect from a supervisor?
  • What is the biggest criticism you received from your boss?

You can also expect questions about how you relate to a manager to be followed up by questions about how you work with co-workers. 

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