Career Advice

7 Strong Signs Your Boss is Testing You (+Ways to React)

manager supervising employee's work

Your boss is acting odd lately. They issue unusual requests, stop providing any direction, or, on the contrary, ask you to justify every move you make. 

Sounds familiar?

These may be signs your boss is testing you. Such “tests” can be a nerve-wracking experience, but they also mean that your boss sees potential in you. 

What Does It Mean When Your Boss is Testing You?

When your boss is testing you, it generally means that they are evaluating your core competencies, skills, and work ethic, to determine your suitability for a project or position. As part of such “tests”, you might be probed for your problem-solving skills, your ability to work under pressure, your attention to detail, your flexibility or adaptability, and your overall work performance. Ultimately, a boss testing you is a sign that they want to ensure that you are the right fit for the current role or a strong candidate for promotion. 

7 Definite Signs Your Boss is Testing You 

Keeping tabs on employees’ capabilities — which include employee comprehension, agility, network, direction, and expectations — is some of the key ways to evaluate employee engagement. Therefore, it’s common for managers to periodically test the worker’s capabilities, especially if they are new to the role or seeking out a promotion. 

If you’re wondering how to tell if your boss is testing you, watch out for the following seven behaviors. 

1. You Get Tasks Outside of Your Job Duties 

A sure sign that your boss is testing you is if you receive requests outside of your standard roster of tasks. In most cases, your boss wants to gauge your problem-solving skills and expertise in adjacent areas. Doing great with such tasks can position you as a high-performer, avid learner, and good candidate for moving up the career ladder (in the future). 

That said if out-of-scope tasks continue to fly in and your workload is much higher compared to others, you may be taken advantage of by your boss. That’s a behavior you should fight back on. 

2. You Are Challenged with Tight Deadlines 

When a boss sets tight deadlines for you, it either means they are testing your ability to self-manage or to perform under pressure. Perhaps, they also want to determine whether you’ll attempt to meet the impossible timeline alone or seek help from other team members (which tells a lot about your personality).

At any rate, don’t despair and try your best to accommodate the last moment request. If you feel that the time frame is too tight, approach your boss directly and explain your need for an extension. 

3. They Closely Monitor Your Progress 

If your boss is suddenly “asking for updates” or “checking in” with you just too often, it may mean that they are testing your ability to take initiative and maintain ownership over specific tasks. Such behavior is often the case for newly hired employees. 

Your best strategy is to perform as usual, provide timely updates, and otherwise showcase your competency to eliminate any doubts your supervisor might harbor. 

4. You Receive Constructive Criticisms 

By providing constructive criticism, your boss is letting you know what you need to work on and where you should focus your efforts. It’s a mechanism for ensuring that you’re progressively learning and developing. So don’t treat it as a jab — view it as an incitement  for specific correctional actions. 

5. They Put You In the Spotlight During Meetings 

If your boss suddenly starts calling on you more often during meetings, singling you out, or giving you more “talking time”, then this could be a sign that they are testing your leadership abilities

Also, if you get more requests to do presentations or lead team discussions, you’re probably getting propped up for a managerial position. So do your best to showcase your public speaking and other interpersonal skills!

6. They Provide Vague or Unclear Instructions 

You read the new task details, but the exact meaning of it eludes you. Your boss may purposely give you these types of tasks to test your ability to think proactively and independently, and to determine if you can figure out the solution without assistance. 

Or, on the contrary, they may want you to become more proactive with acknowledging instances when you need help or input from other team members. So try solving the vague task first. If you struggle, approach your boss to request more detailed instructions. 

7. They Ask You to Elaborate on Your Decisions 

Your boss calls you in and asks why you’ve completed a certain task the way you did or decided on one option over the other. If that’s the case, they’re probably testing your analytical skills and want to get a better glimpse of your decision-making process. 

Be forthcoming and rationally explain what prompted you to make a specific call. Provide concrete justifications, rather than just saying you had a “gut feeling”. 

How to React When Your Boss is Testing You at Work 

When you feel that your boss is testing you, stay calm and try to understand the purpose of the test. By knowing what your boss is trying to accomplish, you’ll know how to respond. Then try to ask in a way that is expected of you.
If you struggle to understand the manager’s expectations, ask for clarification. Doing so   shows that you are proactive and willing to learn. Finally, learn from all the provided feedback — it is here to shape you into a better professional!


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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