Hiring managers often ask about leadership in the hiring process, even when recruiting for an entry-level position. An employee who feels comfortable taking control of projects and managing others is more flexible and promotable, offering greater long-term value to the company. While you know it's important to say that you're a leader, backing up your statement with examples from your career and explaining your leadership style is a bit more challenging. When forming your answers, keep in mind that organizations want leaders who balance the value of democratic teamwork with the need to get a job done.
Prepare for leadership interview questions by thinking backwards. In other words, think about major accomplishments in your career that showed your leadership skills, and use those examples to come up with answers. Consider the leadership challenges you faced, and what you did to promote productive teamwork in your past positions.
Brainstorm leadership-style interview questions that you might be asked. The career websites Monster and Workopolis suggest that the following questions are common: "What's you're leadership style?"; "What's your management style?"; "Are you a leader?"; "What do you dislike about managing other people?"; and "Tell me about how you demonstrated leadership in your last position."
Practice answers that show both your team spirit and decisiveness when answering questions about your leadership or management style. For example, Monster suggests that if an employer asks about your management style, it's best to say that you have an open-door policy but you get work done on time. You want to show that you appreciate team contributions but you have the confidence to make the final call and see that projects get finished. Complete your response with a personal anecdote. For example, you might say "In terms of my leadership style, I start by meeting with my team to discuss their ideas. Next, I work with them to distribute responsibilities. If questions come to me during the project, I look for group input but I understand the importance of making quick choices to stay on track. At Company X, I led a group organizing a customer conference. The team debated about the location, but I ultimately made the final decision and got everyone on board by explaining my rationale in a meeting."
Answer negative leadership questions with a positive spin. Avoid talking about people that frustrate you; focus instead on the logistical aspects of leadership to keep yourself from walking into dangerous territory. For example, if you're asked what the hardest part of being a leader is, talk about the challenges of budgeting or how tough it is to figure out all the steps of a project initially.
Keep questions specifically related to people short and sweet, and keep your tone as positive as possible. For example, if you're asked to describe a time when you had to manage a difficult person, say something like, "I find that most people are committed to working hard, but I can think of one challenging situation. I sat and talked with the person and found he was having difficulty with the workload because he didn't understand how to use Program X. I scheduled some training for the employee and that strategy solved the problem."
Show off your leadership ability and your initiative by asking the right questions in the interview. Inquire how the company hopes someone with your background could help, and what the company's long- and short-term goals are. These kinds of questions show that you're thinker and a planner -- important qualities in any competent leader.
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