Nothing sours a new job like a terrible boss. By recognizing these warning signs during the interview process, job seekers can help avoid potential career derailments.

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For much of the last decade, one of my favorite TV shows was NBC’s “The Office” – well, at least the first few seasons with Steve Carell playing Michael Scott, the world’s least competent boss. Almost everyone recognizes something about Michael Scott, who wants to be everyone’s best buddy but who is so obnoxious and mercurial that everyone avoids him – yet he remains completely oblivious to this universal revulsion.

The far more realistic and cringe-inducing portrayal of the “bad boss” type, however, was David Brent, the weaselly character from the original BBC series, “The Office,” upon which the NBC series was based. Where Scott was essentially a flawed but good person, Brent used humor to mask a cruel streak that made him lash out whenever he was cornered, creating a greater sense of fear among his employees.

During job interviews, most potential bosses you meet will rarely act like Michael Scott and/or David Brent in such an over-the-top manner. But there are some ways to pick up on the subtle hints during the interview process that can help you avoid working for one of these monsters – neither of whom are a laughing matter in the real world.

A lack of attention. Is the interviewer on time for the interview? Look for signs of distractedness, such as answering phone calls or checking for texts. Does the interviewer avoid eye contact, stare at a computer screen or lean away from you? Big red flags, all.

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Asking impertinent questions. Obviously, you never want to hear any probing questions about your health history, marital status, religion or other clearly illegal subjects. But also be aware of those who only ask superficial questions that can be answered by your resume. This shows a lack of professionalism and an unwillingness to invest in your future success.

Giving incomplete answers. Can the interviewer describe your role in the company? Does he or she avoid the topic of why your predecessor left? If you keep getting vague answers to your questions, the hiring manager is likely hiding some deep flaws in management.

Poor interaction with others. How do the other co-workers interact with your potential supervisor? Do they avoid contact? Are they excessively formal? Or are they too casual? Their reactions help determine whether your boss motivates through fear or is not being taken seriously.

Extreme niceness. Counterintuitively, excessive friendliness can be a warning sign that problems are being glossed over. Your interview should be a serious and formal evaluation of your fit for the company, so it should not be all giggles and smiles.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at