How to Spot a Control Freak Boss on your Interview

Updated March 1, 2012
Micromanagers like to think of themselves as perfectionists, but they probably aren’t.

They only expect perfection out of the work of others and seldom put themselves in the position where their imperfections may be judged. You see, even perfectionists have imperfections, and that can make the world a very stressful place.

Job seekers are known to brag about being perfectionists or they use it as the convenient answer for that dreaded what-is-your-greatest-weakness question.
If you haven’t learned this through using Big Interview by now, saying that your greatest failing is that you are “too much of a perfectionist” or that you “work too darn hard” have become clichés that cause hiring managers to wince during job interviews.

You can make the same point with examples of how you function on the job when responding to behavioral questions you’ll likely be asked.

A job interview is a two-way street, and whether you are the hirer or the hopeful, you might want to be on the lookout for micromanagers, especially the most radical of that breed— the controller or control freak.

The former is the psychiatric label because science refrains for using the word “freak” to describe any condition, no matter how freakish or outlandish. However, in the office working under a controller or discovering a new hire fits that category can lead to nightmarish scenarios.

This is the year of the psychopath CEO, as famously reported by Bloomberg and other sources, and that is still being argued. However, there is little argument about the abundance of micromanagers in the workplace.

We all know one or have worked with one and, to be candid, some companies don’t necessarily regard controllers in management positions as a bad thing. Those who work closely with them might feel differently.

Controllers do tend to see themselves as perfectionists, and they are known to be very demanding on themselves. That’s because they fear failure. So, if you’re hiring someone for an executive slot, let’s say, you might be thinking that this is the kind of person you want.

If you are the job applicant and you detect signs that the hiring manager interviewing you may be a controller, you might see it as a career asset to work closely with such a demanding boss.

The down side of working with controllers comes down to a matter of trust. Controllers tend not to trust the people with whom they work, even their superiors. They are not very good at delegating authority, because they think they have to do everything themselves. That’s the micromanaging part, of course, and that’s not always a bad thing if that person answers directly to you. On the other hand, controllers don’t like being controlled, as in taking orders.

Psychologists with tell you that they often devise elaborate schemes to make their superiors look bad with the ultimate goal of taking their job.

If you have a controller as your boss, remember that there is no way he or she is ever going to take the blame for anything that goes wrong with a project you are working on. Controllers want to know what their underlings are doing pretty much all the time and it is part of their nature to intrude on the lives of those who work under them.

Your ideas never seem good enough for them, and then you might discover them claiming credit for the same down the road. Switch that around to the controller being subservient to you and you can see how tangled the web could become.

“Whether sprouting unsolicited advice on how you can lose weight or using anger to put you in your place, their comments can range from irritating to abusive,” reported Dr. Judith Orloff in the Oct. 12, 2010, issue of Psychology Today (“How to Deal with a Control Freak”). “What’s most infuriating about these people is that they usually don’t see themselves as controlling—only right.”

What are some of the telltale signs of a controller you might be able to spot in a job interview?

  • Do their stories or comments betray trust issues with people they work with?
  • Do they seem comfortable in telling about how they function working as part of a team? (Remember that most job applicants know you want them to work closely with others.)
  • Do they describe themselves as perfectionists too often?
  • Do they interrupt you to make their own points?
  • Do they seem bored or not to be listening closely when you are doing the talking?
  • Do they regard being stubborn as one of their strengths?

None of these points means that your potential boss or potential employee is a control freak, but they certainly open the door to pursue specifics, such as a resistance to taking orders, taking exceptional umbrage to other peoples’ messes and a reluctance to admit they are wrong.