Be Aware Of The Boss

Many staffing professionals who are engaged in the process of recruiting currently employed individuals miss the mark when it comes to clearly identifying their recruit’s motivations for changing positions. With an emphasis on filling searches/job orders and collecting their fees, they focus on selling the benefits of the position, primarily compensation and long-term potential. As important as these factors may be to a prospective recruit, they may not even come close to addressing whether or not a valid motivation exists for changing positions.

When it comes to identifying whether or not an employed individual has a valid motivation for changing positions, “be aware of the boss!” As strange as it may appear, in the largest percentage of cases, the individual’s “boss” can be either the primary motivation for staying in a position or the primary motivation for changing positions.

According to a 2004 Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers, the number one reason people quit jobs was a bad boss or immediate supervisor. The results validated that “people leave managers, not companies … in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue.”

When the new web site did its own online survey of 1,118 people, it found that fully half of them would fire their bosses if they could. In addition, nearly 30% would have their boss seen by a workplace psychologist.

In their breakthrough 1999 bestseller, “First Break All the Rules,” authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman provided a contrast by focusing on the traits of “great managers.” They measured the “core elements needed to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees.” Of the twelve core elements, the employee’s direct supervisor controlled nine. Ultimately, these nine were the key elements most responsible for developing loyalty in their employees.


People go to work for people, not for companies and, if they stay with those companies, it will be for the same reason.

Therefore, you must determine the nature and depth of the bond, if any, that exists between the prospective recruit and their boss. (See TFL 04/99 “Framing Your Relationship With A Recruit”). In order to “be aware of the boss” or more specifically, the influence the boss has on the targeted employee, build questions into your recruiting process that are similar to those that would be included in a comprehensive reference check. After an appropriate transition statement, the questions may be similar to the following.

“Since the individual to whom an employee reports generally controls the quality of the work environment, it probably would be good for us to discuss your boss (supervisor, manager) in the context or your present position. Does that seem reasonable?”

“Tell me about your boss (supervisor, manager, direct report).”

“Were they the individual who hired you?” (if yes)

“What were your impressions of them during that process?”(probe for specifics)

“Did those impressions change after you were hired?” (if so)

“In what way did they change?”(probe for specifics)

“Do you interact with your boss outside of the work environment?” (if so)

“Under what circumstances?” and “How often does this occur?”

“Have you had any conflicts or disagreements with your boss?” (if so)

“How were they resolved?” and “How did you feel about the resolution?”

“What impact has your boss had on your ability to continue learning, growing, and developing in your career?” (probe for specifics)

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“On the job, how does your boss challenge you to do your best?” (probe for specifics)

And very importantly,

“How does your present boss compare with all the other bosses you’ve worked for over the course of your career?”

“Specifically, why do you say that?”

“From your perspective, what are your boss’s greatest strengths/greatest weaknesses?” (seek examples)

“How have these impacted your performance on the job?”

“How would your boss react if you were to resign from your present position?

“Why do you believe he/she would react this way?”

“How would you respond to them?” (probe for the counteroffer)

You may not need to ask all of these questions but you do need the information the answers to the questions will provide. Only in this manner will you “be aware of the boss” and the impact they may have on the recruit.

At the extremes, either positive (a strong bond exists) or negative (can’t stand the boss), the recruit’s motivations will quickly become apparent. However, in many instances, the individual you are recruiting may not initially realize the impact the boss has on them, particularly the emotional impact. That is the primary reason why you need to cover this subject early in your recruiting process. Therefore, increase your recruiting effectiveness. Be thorough, be certain, and most importantly, “be aware of the boss.”

As always, if you have questions or comments, just let me know.

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.


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