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Top 5 Ice Breaker Questions #4: “What Would Your Boss Say About You?”

by Mark Ellwood

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Welcome back to our on-going series on those simple-sounding, yet tricky to answer interview opener questions; ‘Top-5 ice breaker questions and how to handle them’.

In this week’s episode, we tackle the topic of speaking on behalf of other people about yourself. Yes, it’s time for:

 

 “What would your boss say about you?”

 

In a similar fashion to some of the other questions we’ve covered in this series, you must tread quite a fine line with the answer to this. Too flippant and you won’t convince the interviewer and you’ll leave yourself open for probing follow up questions, or the usual “why do you think they would say that?”.  Too detailed and personal, or negative, and you risk turning the employer off altogether. Again, we’ve looked at the online advice and guides on how to answer this question and once again, it’s a very mixed bag. So, let’s dive in and see how we would come to the right answer(s):

 

Variations

The question can be asked in a variety of ways, falling into four main categories:

  1. Positive version. Example: “Name three positive things your last manager would say about you”

  2. Neutral version. Example: “What would your colleagues say you are like to work with?”

  3. Negative version. Example: “What area would your boss say you need to improve on?”

  4. Positive/negative version. Example: “How would your manager describe you, both positively and negatively?”

 

What’s being assessed here?

This question is probing your ability to see yourself from another person’s perspective, as well as giving the interviewer some pointers as to what you may be like as an employee. The question is really asking you to assess yourself in your current job, with some reference to how you interact with others around you.

Let’s also quickly clear up some confusion that we’ve seen online. The question is not asking you what the CEO of your current company (who you may never have met) would say about you. It’s referring to your line manager, or senior manager with whom you have a reporting line. But just to make this clear, you can refer to them directly in your answer, as we’ll explain in the examples.

 

How to answer?

This question is interesting in that it can have quite a wide variety of responses, depending on how the question is phrased.

Referring to the four categories we outlined earlier, responses can be given along these lines:

  1. Positive version. This is your chance to show off, although not to over-step the mark into bragging. Focus on the positives and how you’ve really contributed to your team and your firm. Your boss may only have positive things to say, and if they’ve supplied you with a letter of recommendation, now is the time to roll this out as evidence

  2. Neutral version. Again, focus on the positives. No need to offer anything negative unless expressly asked for it. However, note that the negative version can often be the follow-up to the positive or neutral version – so it’s important to be fully prepared, as we’ll explain below

  3. Positive/negative version. For this one, you’ll need a handful of positive points, and one or two weakness areas to talk about (outnumber the negatives with the positives, for obvious reasons)

  4. Negative version. This is the weakness question (discussed in our previous post) in disguise. There’ll be other opportunities in the interview to talk about strengths, so don’t feel this is some kind of negative assault on your application

 

Preparation

Whichever way you end up being asked this question, it’s clear you need to prepare some positive and negative points about your work experience. As mentioned, this is a time to shine and show off a little (without over-stepping into bragging territory), but you also need to be prepared with the negatives.

For positive and negative material, think about any reviews you’ve had, and the positive and improvement areas fed back to you in those meetings. Think about successful project or activities and any praise or recommendations you received on the back of those. Think about training and development that has been identified for you, and any times there’s been difficulties and issues at work and how those have been resolved.

 

Essentially, you need to prepare material for the positive versions, and do your ‘weakness’ question preparation from our last blog post to cover the negative points. In fact, the two questions are so closely linked, it’s best to prepare both at the same time.

 

Five rules of thumb

The five rules of thumb to answer this question are:

  1. Keep it brief. Once again, as with all these ice-breaker questions, the key to success is brevity. Don’t say so little that it sounds like you’re ducking or avoiding the question. Equally, don’t launch into a five-minute monologue about what a totally amazing employee you are. It’s fine to show off a little here, but remember that nobody likes a bragger

  2. Be realistic. Think about both the areas in which you’ve excelled and been praised for, ways in which you’ve really helped your team and made significant contributions to a project, but also areas where you could improve

  3. Use examples. Where you can, use examples to back up why your boss would say particular things about you. Evidence-based answers are always the most impressive and well received. Evidence can include review comments, reading excerpts from letters of recommendation, or relaying comments that have been made at work during or after projects

  4. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Don’t say you don’t know, you never see your boss, or focus on the negatives – none of this is helpful. If the question only asks about negatives, answer it as a weakness question and go on to describe measures taken to improve this area. Never leave answers as just as a negative

  5. Be honest. Don’t forget that before you get an offer, the hiring firm will seek references. So, your answer will need to at least partially match up with what your boss might actually say. Again, this is a good argument for using references and review material to craft your answer

 

Pro Tip: Have 3 positives and 3 weaknesses ready

This way you are prepared for any variations of the question.

 

Try an example 1: positive version

Interviewer: 

“Can you tell me three positive things your boss might say about you?”

Interviewee:

“I think my director would say I’m diligent, knowledgeable and a good leader. Diligent because I take pride in our work and so I’ll pull out all the stops to meet a deadline, then closely follow up to make sure everything is working well for the customer. My director has had great customer feedback because of this. Knowledgeable because I’m very interested in my subject area and keep up-to-date with industry topics, trends and developments. I attend conferences and workshops when I can, and my boss has said this really helps the team when I bring new understanding back to them. And finally, a good leader because I always make sure to bring every member of the team together on projects, play to their strengths and keep them motivated, and this has come up several times in 360 feedback sessions”

 

Let’s look at what this reply tells us:

  1. It mentions the director – so there’s no confusion

  2. It’s brief and gives three points, as asked for

  3. It’s honest and believable – evidence is supplied from customer feedback, manager feedback and even 360 feedback

  4. It’s altruistic – it’s all for the benefit of the team, not just about the individual

  5. It focuses on core soft skills – diligence, learning ability, leadership

  6. It creates a USP; “I’m the one who brings back new learning and IP into the team”

 

Try an example 2: neutral version

Interviewer: 

“So, what do you think your boss would say about you?”

Interviewee:

“Well, I recently had a review with my divisional manager, so I have a pretty good idea of what she might say. Across reviews, my ability to demonstrate initiative and critical thinking have been brought up by her as strong points, as well as my ability to pull together and motivate the team when leading a project. As a CRM solutions consultant, I plan and configure solutions designed to customer needs and with the implementation stage, I’ve always been quick to identify and resolve problems and keep customers happy. Rather than throwing the problem back to the team, I always try to do what I can first, and I know this has been appreciated higher up.”

 

Let’s look at what this reply tells us:

  1. It mentions the divisional manager – so there’s no confusion

  2. It’s brief and gives three main points, just like the positive answer above

  3. It’s honest and believable – evidence is supplied from review sessions

  4. It’s altruistic – it’s all for the benefit of the team, especially by reducing their workload

  5. It focuses on core soft skills – initiative, critical thinking, leadership

  6. It creates a USP. “I’m the one who tackles problems head on and saves the team a headache”

 

Try an example 3: negative version

Interviewer: 

“What area would your boss say you need to improve on?”

Note: Treat this as the full weakness question – see our previous blog post for examples

 

Try an example 4: positive/negative version

Interviewer: 

 “How would your boss describe you, both positive and negative?”

Note: So, for this one, we can combine the positive answer (from above), with a weakness answer (from our previous blog post), and come up with this:

Interviewee:

“I think my director would say I’m diligent and knowledgeable. Diligent because I take pride in our work and always meet a deadline, then closely follow up with the customer – my director has had great customer feedback because of this. Knowledgeable because I’m very interested in my subject area and keep up to date with industry topics and trends, attending conferences and workshops. My director says this really helps the team to stay current. On the other hand, I have sometimes found it hard to share what I’m engaged on with others in the team because I’ve tended to think I can do a better job. This came up in a 360-feedback session with my director. So, I’ve been working on understanding colleagues more, trusting them and sharing and delegating responsibilities. This has actually freed me up to do my own work better and I’ve also learnt some different approaches to the same problems from others.”

 

Let’s look at what this reply tells us:

  1. It mentions the director – so there’s no confusion

  2. It’s brief and gives three main points, two positive and one negative (so skewed to positive)

  3. It’s honest and believable – evidence is supplied from customers, manager feedback and 360-feedback sessions

  4. It’s altruistic – it’s all for the benefit of the team

  5. It focuses on core soft skills – diligence, learning ability, self-criticism, and the development of team player skills as a response to feedback

  6. It’s positive – the person has acted to remedy the weakness and seen a positive outcome from that

  7. It creates a USP. “I bring new IP back into the team and I identify and overcome issues”

 

Now it’s over to you to try your own examples…