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Friday, October 8, 2010

should I accept a job without a manager in place?

A reader writes:

I have been interviewing exclusively with one company, and they finally offered me a sales position. On paper, everything looks fine, compensation, territory, requirements, responsibilities, etc. The negative is there is no Sales Manager in place. They are being very selective in hiring for that position so I don't know who my manager would be. 

I've decided to turn the job down for fear of the unknown. What happens if my manager's style is different than mine? What if his/her expectations are different? What happens if we don't get along? The questions and concerns kept building.

I don't know if I made the right decision. I'm happy with my current manager but don't love the product I'm selling. I'm not looking at any other jobs. I have had bad managers in the past so I'm worried about that repeating. Once I let the company know of my decision not to accept, they told me, "You don't get to pick your manager" and "the world is evolving and changing where people come and go -- there are no guarantees anywhere." Who's right here? Should I have done/do anything differently? 

I'd argue that the manager should be a huge factor in evaluating any job offer, right up there with compensation and the type of work. The old saying "people don't leave jobs, they leave managers" is true; your manager will be an enormous factor in your quality of life and can make you either miserable or thrilled to come to work every day.

Now, of course there's an obvious difference: You could be excited about the manager and accept the job, and then the manager could quit a month later, which is what this company was pointing out. That's always a risk, and there's no way around that -- but what bodes badly in your situation is that the company is deriding your concern. And that's a red flag.

When you're interviewing for a job where the manager hasn't been hired yet, the best thing you can do is to get a really solid sense of how the company expects their managers to approach management. I would address it head-on -- for instance: "Normally I'd be paying quite a bit of attention to the manager for this position, her style and approach, and making sure that we're a good match. Since there's no manager in place yet, I hope I can instead talk with you about what the company seeks and values in a manager."  You want to know what the employer's management philosophy is, what other managers in the company are like, and what they look for when hiring a manager. You want to know whether the company wants all its managers aligned on things like expectation-setting and performance management, or whether each manager run things differently. You want to hear about times in the past when a manager hasn't worked out and why. 

And throughout this conversation, you are listening for thoughtfulness -- has the company even thought about these issues or are they winging it? If they haven't thought much about this stuff, you have little reason to assume that their hiring process will lead to a great manager. 

If an employer doesn't seem to understand why you're asking these questions, or why this would be a concern for you, that's a huge sign that this is an employer that doesn't appreciate the value of good management. 

In this particular case, the company who you turned down falls in that category. When they told you "you don't get to pick your manager," they were displaying a fundamental disregard for the impact of management and why an employee would care about that management.

Plus, they're also wrong: People pick their managers all the time -- by leaving them.


Charles said...

Even before reading AAM's repsonse that red flag - "You don't get to pick your manager" - jumped right out at me.

This makes it sound like the company is just looking for "a warm body" to put into the manager's position (or any position.) Not a good method for hiring.

In my opinion, turning down this job offer was a smart, very smart, decision. So, OP, don't regret it, as you already have a job you can wait until a better offer comes along.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responsind to my original posting and the additional comments, Charles. It's been a few days now and I feel better about my decision. They did tell me that they were going to align a manager along with other managers who I spoke to and liked. However, once you're in place, then you have to hope that the new manager shares those same fundamental qualities. I hope I still left the door open for future dialogue once the new manager is in place and we can work effectively together. However, I may be black-balled as well. That, I don't know. In the meantime, I keep plugging away at my current job to see what happens from the sidelines.

I'm a new fan of this blog! Thanks again!


David Sherman said...

Dear Poster.

Reflecting on Charle's comments, I believe you missed a great opportunity.

With no manager present, you have strong freedom to be creative and engage your job responsibilities in your own way.

If fact, upon taking the job, you could have begun acting as the department manager in tone and decisions.

You could have stepped up and become that vacant manager.

David Sherman

Anonymous said...


What happens when that manager does come in? Assuming I did what you said and stepped up, I don't have managerial experience so that vacant position was not an option. Plus, I work for a great manager now and enjoy being an individual contributor. In the world of sales, individual contributors who succeed are compensated better than managers. Plus, managers are in direct line of fire if sales goals aren't met by slacker salespeople. Most companies and teams have a few of these.

Charles said...


Yes, you're right there might have been that opportunity; However, since they didn't mention the OP taking on those job duties until a manager could be found I would not take the job hoping for such an opportunity.

More likely a new manager could have come in and "cleaned house" to place all her friends into the jobs. I've seen that too many times.

The new manager could be a disaster for the company and place the blame on "new" employees who she did not have any say in hiring. I've seen that too many times as well.

It really is an unknown risk taking a job without a manager in place.

Rebecca said...

I am appalled that the employer actually told a candidate "there are no guarantees anywhere"... I would have heard "we don't keep our word." Sounds like you made the right decision, OP.

Anonymous said...

I have a different take on it. 1. They're being very selective in filling the sales manager position. 2. They thought enough of the OP to offer them a job. 3. If they trend correctly and the OP is qualified and a good fit, they give a lot of thought to hiring.

Which leaves me baffled why the OP isn't cool with a manager as new as they are. The prospective employee doesn't get to pick their manager. jmho The assumed negativity speaks loudly that the prospect may have problems with authority, taking direction or staff interaction in general.

If I were the hiring manager in this situation the prospects lack of confidence in their own abilities would throw up a red flag.

btw I've left jobs and managers I've loved for better opportunities so I don't put a lot of stock in the 'people leave managers' statement. I think people leave because they want to, their reasons are their own.

Anonymous said...

The company's belligerent response is proof that OP made the right choice.

Anonymous said...

I guess I don't see why there not being a manager would make you turn down a job you obviously liked enough to apply for, and consider leaving the "great manager" that you work for.

In a sense, the company is correct, you don't get to pick your manager, and even if there was a current manager they could end up leaving 2 days after you started and you'd be in the same spot you would have been had you accepted the job.

In regards to the red flag comments, it looks like I'm alone in this, but I took it as written from someone who was a bit upset that they went through the effort of interviewing and doing all the background work needed to offer a job only to have the job turned down because of a situation that the applicant knew going in.
I would be upset myself and would be wondering why didn't they say something up front and remove themselves from consideration before all the extra work was done.

That doesn't excuse the comment or make it professional or acceptable, but I wouldn't write off the whole company either.

Life is about risks.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess, you don't take very many chances? And, you'd rather spend (waste) extra time on a project even though the improvements are miniscule. Good opportunities will surely pass you up if you don't take a chance. The question is can you take a chance with less information than you're comfortable with?

Anonymous said...


Perhaps a bit more background on my situation would be useful to you- a) I have only been at my current employer for 8-months so my risk threshold is much lower than if I had been at my current company for a few years. B) I was overly methodical and deliberate in the process and along the way asked both the recruiter and others within the company how the search for the sales manager was going. Frankly, I stalled the process and tried to delay so I would have more facts and hopefully the position would be filled so it would be a non-issue.

In my original post, I should have clarified that my current tenure is quite short and it would be professional suicide to leave a job after a few months, then take another one only to find out the manager who I didn't know who was hired after me was a complete mess.

Finally, the total rewards for the new position are roughly in line to where I am currently. I do enjoy the product much more than what I currently sell. Most people will take the risk if the comp. was significantly greater than where they are now. However, I didn't see the logic in doing so with so many unknowns and a comparable pay package.

Anonymous said...

The OP is in sales but exhibiting fear about who's going to manage them.Now, as expected, that fear is materializing as logic, and methodical. I didn't do this because of that.

In your chosen field, I don't have to tell you that sales isn't your day to day office job. Fear of the unknown in sales is professional suicide. You need a strong drive and confidence to be successful. Plus a will strong enough to get back up and try again. A manager can't give you that - you either have it or you don't.

Relying that heavily on a manager (in a sales environment)says you aren't at a level where you can make it on your own. Or to be polite, you aren't ready to manage a territory.

jmho that job was tailor made to build your confidence/fortitude to lose the reasons/excuses. Going forward, I hope you don't let the f word skew your judgment on a growth opportunity.

Anonymous said...

You're kidding me right? The position was offered to the OP based on his/her sales performance skills and most likely went through a pre-screening to determine quota achievement and success. Don't get so angry. Obviously, you just were tele-marketed and don't like salespeople or many of them are more successful than you in the W-2department. After all, the person was offered a job, right? Duh.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:10PM: If your comment was directed at me (2:32PM) - I'm in sales & good at it.

I've seen staff be recruited, like the OP, and I see them leave once they realize they're responsible for their own growth. I'd much rather mentor someone willing to take a risk and challenge themselves.

Anonymous said...

Damn, these message boards have got judgmental lately. Somebody who doesn't want to go into a job with no boss is "ruled by fear" and presumed to be a lousy salesperson who'll never go anywhere. Somebody who thinks it's gross when a coworker doesn't wash her hands after crapping is a "germaphobe" and a "hypochondriac" and presumed to be a nosy busybody who cares more about handwashing than work.

What's next, somebody who doesn't wear pantyhose is immature and immodest and oughta be put in the stocks in the town square as an example?... oh wait, we already did that one.

Anonymous said...

Actually the OP brought up fear:

"I've decided to turn the job down for fear of the unknown. What happens if my manager's style is different than mine? What if his/her expectations are different? What happens if we don't get along? The questions and concerns kept building."

I agree with you on 1 point though, the forum is changing. jmho The advice is becoming soft. To be sure, a kind, agreeing answer but not an effective, this is how it is, response.

I'm not sure where or when the objective changed but I love the original AAM blog. It set the tone and was/is a great sounding board for managers without a peer group. jmho The edge that comes from working with and amid staff everyday (and enjoying it) seems to have gotten lost.

If AAM cares what the hell other managers are thinking, this one hopes my post will result in a little introspection. At the end of the day, this manager knows, it's still her blog and direction.

Ask a Manager said...

Interesting. I haven't noticed a change in tone/vibe in my posts and would love to know if others have! Anonymous, any chance it's just that I haven't posted a letter that spurs me to mean to someone in a while? If someone would just send me something absurd, I would happily chew them out...

Charles Purdy said...

Interesting discussion: I think another great question to ask the hiring folks in this situation is something like "How involved will direct reports be in the hiring decisions?" In past positions I've had when a new manager was being hired, candidates met not only with upper management but also with the team they'd be managing. Personally, I think this sort of full-spectrum interviewing can be very beneficial.

I don't know that turning down a position like this would be such a great idea. For one, you would have an opportunity, before your manager is hired, to interact with people higher up the chain of command (before the "filter" of your manager is put in place) and make a good impression.

But it's a personal decision, for sure.

Joey said...

I'm goingto agree with anon 11:15. The advice lately seems to be much more focused on options And relying more on the commentors feedback. Granted it's difficult to give specific advice without the advantage of having a lot of details. I also think the blog is becoming much more about recruitment and petty issues. I think some of the topics and advice on the older posts are much more relevant and focus on issues that are relevant to employed managers.

Ask a Manager said...

Thanks for the feedback on this -- it's very interesting to me and I'll think on it.

One challenge, of course, is that not everyone here is in the same category: some are managers, some are job-seekers, and some are employed non-managers.

Anonymous said...

People pick their managers all the time not just by leaving them, but by not taking a job after interviewing with the manager and realizing they wouldn’t be happy working for that individual.

The notion that “you don’t get to pick your manager” is ridiculous, you absolutely get to pick your manager, just like you get to pick what company you agree to work for. This whole notion of the employer has all the power over the worthless employee-peons (which is being made worse by the current economic and unemployment issues) needs to stop.

Employees have just as much power in deciding to leave a job, or not accepting a job offer, as the employer does in firing someone or offering someone else a job. Employers choose their employees and employees choose their employers, sometimes those are bad choices and the person leaves, either voluntarily or involuntarily, sometimes those are good choices and everyone is happy.