Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I am an office manager in a seven-person business, and have been here for the past four years. I have been planning for a while to leave for graduate school and am in the process of hiring my replacement.
The problem is, my boss has a really difficult personality. Prior to my starting this job, no office manager had ever lasted more than a year, and so far every admin I have hired (over the past year or so) has either quit or been fired due to personality conflicts. They report that he is demanding, has over-the-top expectations, and a lack of professional work behavior (he often walks around just bothering people and saying "Get to work," despite their being clearly hard at work, and nothing is ever good enough). My fear is that I am going to hire someone, spend a ton of time training the person, and then he or she will quit because my boss is difficult to work for. This has occurred more than once. I don't want to find myself having to stay at this job (mostly out of guilt) longer than planned because of this issue.
When interviewing for the position, should I screen for thicker-skinned people or do I just find someone who can do the job and hope that the person doesn't end up feeling the same way? Do I offer a candidate some kind of warning, or do I just pretend everything is easygoing? Also, before you ask ... I have tried to talk to my boss about this, but he says that people are too sensitive and he doesn't want to lower his expectations. Ugh.
Be straightforward with your candidates. By doing that, you'll be doing a favor both for the candidates and your boss. Candidates can self-select out if they think they'd be miserable, and hopefully your boss won't end up with someone who quits after a few months.
Ideally, you'd find a way to talk about your manager's more difficult traits that's honest without being disrespectful to him. For instance, you might say, "There are pluses and minuses to this job. Bob's working style isn't for everyone. He has very high standards, and he can be demanding--some people say too demanding. He doesn't give a lot of praise, and if you take that kind of thing personally, this job might not be for you." Ideally, you'd also follow that up with what's good about Bob (assuming there is something)--but paint as full a picture as you can. There really are people out there who can deal with this kind of thing (you did, after all), especially if they hear about it up front and know what they'd be signing up for.
At the same time, though, be aware that people often put on rosy-colored glasses and hear what they want to hear, especially when they want or need a job. So really pay attention to their reactions. Do they seem to really hear what you're saying, or are they just rushing to assure you that it won't be a problem, without their having processed what you've said or thought it through? Do they seem put off? Pay attention to your gut on this.
Also, take a look at why you were able to last so long when others didn't. Is it due to certain personality traits? If so, screen for those in your candidates. Is it due to some particular strategy you used when working with him? If so, be clear with candidates about what works and what doesn't. For instance, I used to work for someone whom I had a great relationship with, even though lots of people disliked him. The difference was that I was always candid with him, didn't get intimidated by him, and knew how to disagree with him without being argumentative, and as a result, we got along fine. The few other people who applied this formula also got along with him. Is there some formula like that that you can pass along?
You can be straightforward about that with candidates too. For example: "I've watched other people not click well with him, but I've never had many problems. I think it's because I did X, Y, and Z, so one thing to think about is how naturally that approach comes to you."
Overall, truth in advertising is key here. You owe it to candidates not to mislead them, and you owe it to your boss to try to find someone who will be a good fit.
But beyond that, what you don't owe is sticking around longer than you've planned because your new hire doesn't work out. Make your own plans and stick to them, and be up front when you're hiring, and you'll have met your obligations to everyone.
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