How To Spot A Toxic Boss At The Recruitment Stage

Illustration: Seung Chun.
We talk a lot of shit about bad bosses — we've all have had one, or at least had a friend vent to us about theirs. Unfortunately though, it’s usually pretty late in the game that we pick up on their toxic tendencies. But what if you could catch them out in the recruitment process?
Securing employment, or even landing a job interview, can be tough enough. And when you’re cash-strapped and job-hungry, it's easy to have your blinkers on and overlook some warning signs. It's important to remember though that as much as a job interview is an opportunity for a company to see if you’re the right fit, it’s also a chance for you to suss out whether your potential employer is right for you. 
So when I saw a TikTok from Allison Peck (@allifromcorporate0) where her hiring manager actually offered to give her references from previous employees who had worked under him, I was gobsmacked.
“He told me, ‘here’s three women who have worked for me before and they’ll serve as my references and they’ve said you can call them and ask what it was like as a woman working for me.’ I called them and they said he was the best boss they’d ever had. I worked there for years,” Allison said. 
Talk about a power shift.
Abbie Baker, Director of Baker Recruitment, says this is a practice that she hasn’t seen before. “But it's definitely something that I think is worth [employers] doing,” she tells Refinery29 Australia.
She points to Glassdoor, a site where current and former employees can anonymously review companies, as a place where transparency is valued. 
“The biggest reason we are seeing people move jobs is culture,” Baker says. “A boss that has an open-door policy or where you feel like you can approach them, keeps staff settled.”
Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between an employee's happiness and their relationship with their direct manager. According to McKinsey, relationships with management are the most influential factor in determining employees’ job satisfaction, which is also the second most important influence of overall wellbeing. And yet, in a 2019 survey, McKinsey found that 75% of participants said that the most stressful part of their job was their immediate boss.
“A business that has turned over a lot of staff? That's usually a red flag. Why have they gone through so many employees? If an employer or a boss is a good boss they tend to be able to retain staff,” says Baker.
In the interview process, she recommends that candidates ask why the vacancy is available in the first place. She also encourages people to do some background research on business turnover and retention.

It’s not a one-way relationship, it's a two-way relationship.

“How many people they've had in that role is another good question to ask,” Baker adds. “One person who's had three or four PAs — why is that? You want to know what sort of support [your potential boss] can provide.”
Lucky for us, there are some green flags to look out for too. In addition to asking for counter references, Baker says that clear communication is the simplest indicator of good management. A clear onboarding process and a business plan that outlines how employees can achieve their professional goals are two other green flags that Baker likes to tick off.
“For me, a good boss is always a good mentor,” she says. “It’s not a one-way relationship, it's a two-way relationship. You're working for somebody, but you also want them to help you achieve your goals.”
As we step away from girlboss hustle culture and aren’t as blinded by traditional measures of success, we can start to prioritise our wellbeing and happiness in the workplace. After all, it's not just about what you can give a business, it’s about what the business can give you.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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