Finally got caught up on my Apprentice watching this weekend. Well, kind of. I think I missed the first episode. I watched the one with the bathing suits (um, yeah...attractive) and the Star tours (kind of annoying) and the El Pollo Loco bowls (Paradise Bowl? And who is your target market?).

First,  let me say that I hate the tent thing. It doesn't really add anything to the game except whining. Trust me, I would be the biggest whiner there. Then again, I didn't stand in line for my shot at a totally humiliating job interview. I think it takes a special kind of person with a desire for fame and business success to go there. Oh yeah, and potential humiliation. And pretending that nepotism doesn't totally tick you off. Because Ivanka and the lesser Donald add so much to the show.

I won't be recapping the episodes blow-by-blow, as I mentioned before. Part of that is my waning interest; it's enough to watch the show, but not enough to take meticulous notes and painfully pull from my snark reserves. And it may just be that it's early in the season, or that I took last season off, but this year, even the annoying ones are kind of milquetoasty. More on that I am sure in future posts.

 So what I am left with is kind of my original intention behind even watching the show in the first place: the parallels between the she show as an interview process and an actual interview process. Also, the parallels been the tasks and working on teams. Come on, it will be fun to pretend that something on this show is rooted in reality. Because the last time you screwed up something at work, you were forced to sleep outside and shower with a hose, right?

Unfortunately, on The Apprentice, there's not one "lesson" per episode that is harped on continuously so viewing audience, which producers must really disdain, will "get it". Have you ever watched "Seventh Heaven"? Come on, admit it. You noticed how one family's troubles on any given week all revolved around a theme ("lying is bad", "tattling is bad", etcetera). That isn't the domain of The Apprentice.  So I am just going to blog about cross over between what I see and real-life work situations.

So my first post is going to be about troublesome managers. There will be time to talk about leaders in these challenges later. I am talking about the big boss manager...the Trump, who will not hesitate to humiliate you in the meeting room. I've seen these kinds of managers before. Their thinking about their team members is binary. Either you are making them look good or they want you gone. It isn't really about what's right for the business but for them and their career. And disagreeing with them? Forget about it. Ever been there? It would be less humiliating if you all got into a conference room and orbited around them like the sun.

The problem is that when you are in an interview situation, and you are the interviewee, interviewing the manager isn't so much crossing your mind. But it should. This is the person that can, and hopefully will, be paving the way for future career moves. They will be championing your projects, talking you up to senior management, providing you resources. or making your life a living hell. We are all putting on a good face in the interviews, even toxic managers.

So while the Apprentice contestants knew what they were getting into, the rest of us have to piece together a manager's style profile during an interview. There are some things that you can do during the interview. It takes some reading between the lines, because nobody is going to say "I'm incredibly difficult to work for. I won't trust you most of the time and when you are successful, I will take credit for your work". During the interview process, you should be asking questions that will give you subtle insight into the manager's personality. Some ideas:

1) Ask the manager to describe their management style. It's kind of an open ended question. Ask it and let them talk. This is an interview tactic, by the way. You can tell a lot by what a person leads with. Don't be afraid to ask follow-up questions. If the manager talks about weekly reports, ask what they entail and how much time team members spend on them. There's a big difference between the manager that wants some bullet points on how things are going if they are asked about the team's progress or wants to balance workloads, versus the manager that wants to get all up in your business. Ask how the manager uses the reports. Careful with phrasing, since managers could be threatened by this if they feel you going to be questioning their every move. "What role do these reports play in workload balancing", could be a way of asking the question. Also, think about questions like "how often would we meet?", "do you prefer to communicate through meetings, e-mail, other means?", "what types of decisions would I have the autonomy to make and what types of decisions would require approval?". There are a bunch more questions in the genre you could use.

2) Ask other people on the team about team dynamics. Pay attention to what is said and what is not. If you just ask "what is it like working for so-and-so?", it could raise an eyebrow. But if you ask more broadly about the team and how the manager interacts with the rest of the team, you could get some interesting information.

 3) Ask the manager the qualities that make the most successful people on the team that way? This will give you insight into how the manager evaluates success and their ability to recognize individual strengths. It will also show you the manager's relative comfort level in championing the strengths of others.

4) Ask about turnover on the team. Think about the balance between people who left the company, made moves within their career path and were encouraged to leave. There's no "right" ratio. In fact, good managers not only nurture those that show promise but are honest with employees that might not be in the right job. You can also ask about whether the team has been growing (headcount growth is generally a signal that a team is considered successful). Internal moves onto the team can be suggestive of the team's reputation at the company.

5) If you can, discreetly find an external reference. If you know someone who has left the team, or works in the same department on a different team, call them and ask what they think about you joining that team.

Some other readers might have some ideas about how to evaluate a manager's style. In my professional experience, my relationship with my manager is the single most important factor in how I feel about my job. And I do my best to emulate some of the great managers I have had. I'm interviewing people for an open spot on my team this week and next. So while I am thinking about this from the perspective of the interviewee, I am also thinking about it from the perspective of the manager.

And that kind of brings me to the reason why I would never try out for the Apprentice. It seems pretty clear that the Donald would throw you under the bus if you weren't successful, in his mind. I miss Carolyn.