Common Interview Question: What Do You Expect from a Supervisor?

“Candy. Lots and lots of candy.”

After working for some of your life, you probably expect nothing from your supervisor. Nothing good anyway. Most people in a management position get there by either sucking up or receiving an education that makes them no more qualified to lead than a high school dropout. The ability to work with people is not a skill that can be taught in the classroom.

Still, interviewers like to ask what you expect from your bosses and supervisors. They do so for the following reasons:

  • They want to see if you have reasonable expectations for company leadership.
  • They want to see if you use this as an opportunity to complain about previous supervisors.

The last part is tricky. When applicant start to talk about what you expect from supervisors, they often say the things they hadn’t received from their last supervisor, like praise or fairness. Don’t fall into that trap.

How to Answer

The best way to answer is to focus on the good qualities of the last supervisor you had (no matter how much you disliked them) and stay away from anything that could imply you didn’t like a previous supervisor.

Bad Answer

“I expect supervisors to be fair and level headed. I expect them to make competent decisions and not blame me for things I didn’t do. I also expect them to reward employees based on production, and not based on who sucks up the most.”

Notice how this makes it look like you experienced these examples of mistreatment in the past. You do not want to give that impression.

Good Answer

“My last supervisor had a lot of qualities I appreciated. She would often ask for my opinion and thoughts on the best course of action before I started on a project. She would also schedule regular check ins with me to ensure we were on the same page, and every once in a while we would enjoy a conversation over coffee over my future projects and responsibilities. I hope that any supervisor I have shares those qualities.”

By keeping the focus on what you liked about your previous supervisor, you ensure that it doesn’t sound like you are complaining, and you reinforce the idea that these qualities are realistic, since you are pointing to a specific person in your recent past and saying “she did it, so I expect it from others.”

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Keep the focus on your last supervisor.
  • Only discuss the positive qualities they had.

Q&A – What Was it Like Working For Your Past Supervisor?

Employers always want to catch a glimpse of what type of employee you will be. Particularly how you will deal with management, since your ability to handle your bosses is going to be a large contributor to how you fit into the office. If you recently came from another job, your employer may ask you a direct question about what it was like working for the past supervisor.

How to Answer

The key to answering this question is to simply look for the qualities that employers would like from a supervisor if they were to hire one, and then place those same qualities on the description of your past supervisor. If you can intersperse a few examples, that will be helpful too.

Bad Answer

“My past supervisor was okay. She and I didn’t always see eye to eye on the best way to complete a project, but she was generally fair and very friendly. She was great with scheduling and good at handing out tasks. We got along well and became pretty good friends.”

This answer is a little too personal. It is clear that you are complaining in a slightly passive aggressive way, and you minimize good qualities by adding qualifiers like “generally fair” instead of simply “fair.”

Good Answer

“My supervisor was a wonderful person. She was clearly dedicated to the company, often the first to arrive and the last to leave. She and I would schedule a great deal of time to discuss the current projects, and she was open to scheduling communication time whenever possible. That kind of communication was invaluable, and it was no doubt one of the main factors that lead to my success within the company.”

Much better. This answer states positive things about both your previous boss and your previous employer, and help show that you recognize realistic qualities in good leaders.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Highlight good tips in supervisors
  • Talk about their professionalism and dedication.

QA – What Do You Expect From a Supervisor?

Wouldn’t it be great if your supervisor was your best friend? Someone that you could share stories with. Someone that will let you off work early for a hot date. Someone that trusts you to make good decisions and only warns you of mistakes when they are worried you are going down the wrong path. Would that be great?

Too bad.

When an employer asks you “What do you expect from a supervisor?” during your job interview, what they are looking to see is that you have both realistic expectations and a genuine sense of humility. They want to know that you are not extremely defensive about your work and that you have respect for those in authority.

Bad Answer

“I expect a supervisor to appreciate my work. I do not want someone that is going to criticize me every chance they get or speak to me as though I am not a good worker. I am a good worker, and a good supervisor will recognize my talents.”

Good Answer

“I expect any supervisor to work with me uniquely. Quality supervisors have a malleable and adaptive management style, and what works for one subordinate staff member may not work as well for the other. Supervisors that are respectful of my abilities and personality will always earn my respect.”

This answer is sort of the opposite of the “What kind of management style do you use?” job interview question that is asked to those interviewing for management jobs. You are simply asking for a manager that is respectful, without going into too much detail, and you are showing that you, too, have an understanding of good management, which should impress employers.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Don’t get defensive or make it sound like you may become a spiteful employee.

Management Interview Question – How Will Your Subordinates View You As a Supervisor?

The effectiveness of a manager is measured by the effectiveness of the staff under their supervision. It does not matter if you have the greatest managerial skills the world has ever known if your subordinates don’t do their job. They can love you. They can hate you. They can buy you cute little Japanese trinkets to show their appreciation of your leadership. If they don’t do their job, you are not doing a good job as manager.

Everyone has their own management style. The question is not the way you are a leader, but rather how your subordinates will view your approach. That is why a common manager interview question is “How will your subordinates view you as a supervisor?”

Bad Answer

“I hope they see me as a buddy. One of them. My goal is that they think of me as their friend, and see my leadership as they would see advice from anyone that they like and respect.”

Yeah… No.

Mediocre Answer

“The staff and I need to have a shared respect. While I may be the ultimate decision maker, they need to feel themselves free to suggest alternate courses of action, so I will work hard to ensure they see me as open. But at the same time, I will make sure that they see me as a leader. Ultimately, my subordinates will see me as strong but fair.”

This type of answer is not bad. In most cases it may even get the job done. However, it ignores a basic aspect of the human experience, and it is unlikely to be seen as an “inspired’ answer. Rather, it is just a plain, old, regular answer.

Better Answer

“I try to institute an adaptive management style, which means that each staff member is going to see me differently. If someone is an amazing independent worker and a true go getter, then they will see me as the gentle hand to guide their way. If someone requires a more stern voice, they’ll see me as a little bit more of a taskmaster, but hopefully one that they respect. Each staff member is going to see me as the leader that is best for their specific circumstance.”

There we go. That is an answer that the employer is not expecting, and one that encompasses true leadership. We mentioned before that the answer to “what is your management style” should be something like “adaptive.” The answer above does not sway from that idea.

You can give a mediocre answer and you will probably not harm your chances of getting the job, but you will not improve them either. A more original answer like the one above should put you in a much better place with the company.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • If you said you would be an adaptive manager, your subordinates should see you as such.

Common Interview Question: What Would Your Previous Supervisor Say You Need to Work On?

One of the hardest job interview questions to answer is “What are your greatest weaknesses?” Everyone has weaknesses, and claiming that nothing is wrong with your abilities is nothing short of a blatant lie. Employers can see through these lies, which is why you must come up with an answer that includes a weakness that will not harm your chances of getting the job.

Luckily, some employers ask a question that is similar in nature but easier to answer. Though the question may sound the same, it actually has a setup that will help you improve your chances of getting the job.

What Would Your Previous Supervisor Say Needs Improvement?

This type of interview question may look identical to the “biggest weakness” question, but it is not. That is because you can start off your answer with a transition that makes you sound like an excellent candidate:

“Interesting. At my last performance review, my supervisor did not list any areas of improvement. However, if I were to think of one, I would probably guess …”

This is an excellent setup, and one that few other candidates are going to mention. This makes it appear as though your supervisor did not actually have any problems with your work, and that the problem you are about to makeup is something that may not be true.

Think of a Light Complaint

You still need to come up with some weakness that won’t harm your job chances. One effective “weakness” is:

“My supervisor often requested I speak up more during meetings. I felt that I had good ideas but there were occasions that I would simply let the other staff members talk, and my supervisor would prefer that I feel myself more welcome to contribute my thoughts on current projects. Since then I have been working on speaking up more during brainstorming sessions.”

That is barely a weakness, at all. Yet what makes it great is that it sounds like it is a weakness. It also makes it sound like you have great ideas that you simply were shy to share before. Everyone has felt that way, and since you mention that you are working on it already, your interviewer should not have any problems believing that:

  • You used to be shy about your great ideas.
  • Now you will share them and benefit the company.

That is a pretty effective “biggest weakness,” and one that was prefaced by your statement about no problems occurring on your last performance review.

Job interview questions about your biggest weakness can be difficult to answer. This one isn’t. Use the two examples above and you should easily breeze through this question.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Reference your past performance reviews at being extremely positive.
  • Make your “biggest weakness” that you did not share your great ideas.

Question and Answer – Feigning Memory Loss and Solving Problems

Question:

“Often times there are questions that ask for something negative, like a problem you had with a coworker or boss. What is the best way to answer these questions?”

Answer:

There are a number of interview questions that ask you about problems you had with coworkers and how you felt about your supervisors. There are several ways to answer these questions, but one wrong way.

The Wrong Way

One thing you will always want to stay away from is negativity. Complain about a recent coworker or a supervisor and you will not get the job. Employers do not want negative people. They want effective people.

The Generally Recommended Answer

In most cases, you will want to answer questions about coworkers and supervisors in positive ways, no matter how much you hated them. Did you like your past supervisor? Of course you did! How about your coworkers? Wow, they were the best! You should expand to be more wordy in your answers but in general you should pretend to love every coworker and supervisor you have had.

Asking for Specific Examples

Where a problem occurs is when interviewers ask for a specific example of a time you disagreed with a coworker or a time you disagreed with a supervisor. Few people in the world have never had a disagreement. It’s simply not possible. Therefore, when you answer these questions, you have two options:

  • Use an Example From the Distant Past – Try to use an example of a disagreement you had long in the past. If you have had more than one job, try to focus on a disagreement you had at one of your first jobs. If not, try to use language that makes it sound like it happened long in the past. Never simply mention the problem. Always explain what you did to solve the problem.
  • Feign Memory Loss Anyway – Even though it may be slightly frowned upon, it is highly unlikely you will damage your chances too strongly if you pretend you cannot remember a specific instance. It’s a risky move, since some hiring managers ask the question to make sure you are being honest, but it is a move you can use nonetheless. If you fake memory loss, however, you should still explain what you would do to solve the problem if one had occurred.

The most important part of your answer is the explanation of how you solved the problem. Employers want to know you have problem solving skills, and that you do not consider disagreements to be a negative.

If you are asked to give a negative opinion of a coworker or supervisor, don’t fall into the trap. If you are aspect for a specific example of a disagreement, however, you can choose to either pretend that you cannot think of one and supply an example of how you will solve it or give a specific example but put a lot of emphasis on what you did to make the situation better.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Always try to remain positive.
  • It’s okay to “forget” negative feelings.
  • Focus on how you solved the problem.