You've probably done it--pour over different job descriptions hoping to find one that sounds exactly like you. After all, the closer you are to the description, the more attractive you'll probably seem to the hiring manager, right? Maybe. But ultimately, if you want a career you can look back on and truly be satisfied with, it might be worth it to stretch to jobs that don't seem so tailored or appealing and focus on finding a stellar boss instead.

Why the boss is such an amazingly big deal

A great boss isn't just someone who knows their business and can delegate as easily as breathing. They're not just a decision maker. They are a teacher. A mentor. Someone who can show you your flaws and strengths and who is willing to put their own reputation on the line to recommend you to others. A person who encourages you and gives you the resources to turn confidence into legitimate, desirable product. When they do that, you, as the student, end up learning not just what you need to fill the original job description, but things you'd need to fill other job descriptions, too.

Companies of course want people who can fill their immediate needs. But typically, they're also looking at the big picture. They want to know if you're still going to be able to contribute 5, 10 or even 20 years down the road. That's part of why they ask you about your career plan in the first place! (The other half of that equation is seeing if you have the moxie and focus to set a clear path for yourself.) They also believe people can learn and need intellectual growth for fulfillment. That's part of why they offer training and continuing education options. (The other half is so the workforce stays current as the market changes.)

The bottom line is, most businesses don't expect you to be perfectly static. They expect people to move around, especially now given the rise of the gig economy. In fact, 68 percent of millennials say that the longest they would stay at a job they like is three years. And although leaders prefer that movement to happen internally within the company, great businesses think about how every individual ultimately is going to influence the industry as a whole. And when it comes down to it, businesses hire people and their potential. Skill set and experience is secondary. And it's the boss of the company who is going make sure you become something else, who is going to guide you into opportunity and the humble self-assurance just about every business drools over. It's the boss who has the power to make you miserable or thrilled, as the 44 percent of workers who've left jobs they liked because of bad management can tell you.

Clues your potential boss will be incredible

Naturally, the "good ones" in the boss pool don't have "FANTASTIC" tattooed on their foreheads. So you have to do a little sleuthing to locate them. Here's what to ask yourself and look for during interviews and other meetings (e.g., conferences).

  • Does the boss ask others for input and allow others to make some decisions for themselves?
  • Do you feel inspired to take action or find something out after being around them?
  • Does the boss seem willing to share a reasonable amount of personal information to empathize with you in a warm way?
  • Does their body language communicate openness, interest and trust?
  • Do they communicate with clarity and give you a vibe of transparency?
  • Do they seem engaged when you speak and respond in ways that demonstrate active listening?
  • Can they articulate for you what they see for you and what your options are?
  • Does the way they work or interact with you seem logical, organized and focused?
  • Does the boss interact with staff at all levels of the business and give praise where it's due?
  • Do they politely give opinions and feedback on the fly?
  • What reaction does the boss get when they walk into the room?
  • What do they say if you ask what their biggest success is, and does that align with both the company's values and yours?
  • Does the boss have any photos, awards or other items that reveal personality and depth of character?
  • Are they willing to discuss both responsibilities and your creative initiatives?
  • Are they currently active in their field outside of the company and/or seeking continuing education?

At the end of the day, what's in a job description matters. But it is also incredibly temporary. Subsequently, it shouldn't be the ultimate factor in whether you apply for or say yes to a job. Leadership matters much more in terms of getting you an envy-worthy career because its focus is on the long-term. So reach out beyond your norm and make sure you investigate who you're dealing with before signing on the dotted line.

Published on: Jul 24, 2018