Career Advice for Job Seekers

How to thrive in your new job when a bad manager cramps your style

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Matt Krumrie AvatarMatt Krumrie
January 5, 2017

Congratulations on landing that first job out of college. The hard work has paid off.

Now welcome to the real world. A world where bad managers can quickly turn fun, exciting new jobs into a recent college grad’s worst nightmare.

“Getting a job one loves is a wonderful accomplishment for recent college graduates,” says Laura Poisson, President of ClearRock, Inc., a Boston-based career transition, outplacement, leadership development, and executive coaching firm. “However, having to deal with a bad manager can make that new job a nightmare. It is often hard, especially for a younger person or someone who is new to a company, to determine the best way to deal with a difficult boss.”

LaSalle Network, a national staffing and recruiting firm, recently published a survey of more than 1,000 people on their experiences with bad bosses. The survey findings showed that 84% of respondents have had a bad boss, and 43% of respondents quit the company because of the bad boss. In addition, the survey found that 59% of respondents would have stayed if given the opportunity to report to someone else.

Survey respondents attributed these characteristics to bad bosses:

  • Only notices negatives, never the positives (56%)
  • Are narcissistic; only care about themselves, not their staff (45%)
  • Clueless; never know what is going on and/or are forgetful (44%)
  • Absent; they are never there (31%)

If you have a manager that’s cramping your style, think things through before approaching your manager, HR, or other co-workers. Why?

There may be things you don’t realize, but that matter. For example, consider this:

Your boss has bosses

Your bad boss has a boss tooYour boss has to deliver results to their boss. They are constantly under pressure from higher ups. “It could be nothing you are doing at all,” says Poisson. “Some managers just take their struggles with upper management out on direct reports.”

So, remember that manager is human too, says Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s Press).  Scott was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and several other Silicon Valley companies.

“Like all people, your boss has flaws that can be forgiven,” says Scott.

Bosses are human too, but may not have been trained to be a good manager 

In many corporations, managers get promoted as a “reward” for success in their previous role. That rock star salesman can close the deal with the toughest clients, but when promoted to sales manager, they struggle to communicate with sales staff. Why? They are skilled at selling, not managing. But they don’t want to pass up the sales management role because it’s an increase in salary, and a new title with new responsibilities. Career progression. How about that project manager with flawless organizational skills, the one who kept things moving forward, and kept everyone on task and meeting deadlines? They get promoted, and now manage people – not projects.

In many cases, people get promoted to manager without receiving proper management training. Companies put them in leadership positions, but don’t put them in a position to succeed in those new roles. “Keep in mind that many managers never receive the necessary management development to go along with their increased responsibilities, so they never learned how to properly manage employees,” says Poisson.

So what do you do? Face your boss and take a problem-solving approach

Be brave and face your boss in a meetingAsk for a one-on-one meeting to discuss the challenges you face with your manager. But don’t just show up, show up prepared, and with a plan.

“Start with the positives and let the manager know how happy you are with the company,” says Poisson.

Then, follow these tips from Scott, to help create dialogue and discussion:

  • Try a question like, “Is there anything I can do or stop doing to make it easier to work with me?”
  • Don’t let your boss off the hook if they say, “Oh, no, everything is fine.” There’s bound to be something.
  • Don’t get defensive. Try to check for understanding. Say something like, “So, what I hear you saying is…” And then repeat what you heard without reacting. Think about it for a day.
  • Reward your boss’s feedback. Next, either make a change, or go back and, in a spirit of inquiry not argument, offer perspective if you disagree.

TIP: College Recruiter’s LinkedIn group “Entry Level Jobs and Internships” will keep you informed of expert career and job search advice. Would it make sense to join the group, or follow us on Twitter,  Facebook, and YouTube?

In the meantime, focus on being a good employee and learning as much as possible. If you truly love the company, the job and opportunity, focus on turning conflict into opportunity, and learn how to make the most of the situation, like this:

  • Continue to do what you were hired for: Don’t let a bad manager stop you from doing your job – and being the best you can be at it. Your co-workers will notice, and even though your manager may not show it, they see it too.
  • Seek out new challenges: Can you do some crossover work with another department? Can you take on new projects or challenges where you are also involved with other teams/managers? Focus on what those managers do well, and learn. If you see another manager you like, think about those qualities and keep this in mind for the next job, knowing the kind of manager you’d like to work for.
  • Stay positive, upbeat: Don’t let a micro-manager, bad boss, or someone else who may not be happy in their job, change your attitude. Sure it’s miserable, and it burns inside to be miserable, but don’t let it show in how you word emails and interact with other departments/co-workers.
  • Seek out training opportunities: Will the company pay for additional training? The more you can learn, the more valuable you become, the more you will be asked to do. Perhaps with a promotion or new skills, you could some day work with a new manager.
  • Think long-term: Will this manager be your manager for the foreseeable future? Could they be on their way out? If you didn’t have this manager, would you be happier and/or want to stay with the company? Don’t immediately jump ship – they may soon be gone.
  • Start searching for a new job: If there is no hope for change, update your resume, network, attend networking events, and market yourself – while you have a job. Make contacts and connections. Continue to do the best job you can. When you see a new opportunity within your company, or outside the company, go for it.

If you can't thrive in your job or develop professionally, it's time to quit“When you don’t have a good rapport with your manager it’s time to consider other positions inside your company,” explained Dr. Steven Lindner, Executive Partner of The WorkPlace Group, a recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) firm that assists employers from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies with hiring. “Review open positions available with other departments and managers. If none exist, then it’s time to move on. The job market is as good as it has ever been and skilled workers are a hot commodity. The time has never been better to search elsewhere if your existing employer does not have anywhere else for you to go.”

Don’t let a bad manager stop you from developing or advancing in your career. Someday you will move on, or your manager will change, and you will be better prepared because of it.

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