Are you interviewing for a job in which you would have a leadership role? If so, expect the hiring manager to ask about the experience that qualifies you to lead, your leadership style, and your accomplishments. Even if you’re not applying for a leadership role, you might still have to answer interview questions on leadership.
Leadership refers not only to managing others, but also to being a strong example for your coworkers.
Hiring managers want candidates who will inspire their teammates to do their best work, even if they’re not technically managing the group.
Preparing for leadership-focused questions in advance of the interview will help you give strong answers in the moment and feel confident both before and during the interview. Use the sample questions and “Best Answers” listed at the end of this article to help you prepare your own personalized responses.
How to Answer Interview Questions About Leadership
Prepare for interview questions about leadership by thinking about the leadership skills that are most important for the position.
Analyze the job listing for more information on the type of leader the organization is looking for, as well as the types of tasks you will need to perform.
Another way to prepare is to look at this list of leadership skills and circle any skills that you think are critical to the job. Also, review this list of management skills employers look for in applicants.
Once you have a few key skills in mind, think back to all of the positions you have had where you’ve held leadership roles. These might not necessarily be management positions, but they should be jobs in which you were a leader in some way (for example, perhaps you often served as a team leader in a job).
If you’re a recent graduate or have limited work experience, you might not have experience directly related to the job.So, expand your thinking to volunteer work, clubs, and academics, all of which can provide useful examples of your leadership abilities.
Use the STAR Interview Response Technique
A thoughtful, relevant anecdote is often the best way to answer these kinds of questions, particularly when they are behavioral interview questions. These are questions that ask you to provide examples from past work experiences to prove your qualifications for the job at hand.
When answering behavioral interview questions about leadership, use the STAR interview response technique:
- (S) Situation: Explain the background of the situation. What was your job?
- (T) Task. What was the particular task you had to perform? If there was a particular problem you were addressing, explain what it was.
- (A) Action: What action did you take (or what skills did you use) to complete the task or solve the problem?
- (R) Result: What was the outcome of the situation? Did you complete the task well? Did you solve the problem?
Review a STAR Example Question and Answer
Please share an example of a time you unexpectedly had to take up a leadership role.
At my last job, I was a sales associate for a large company. Our company’s overall sales numbers were down from the previous quarter, and our manager asked all sales associates to suggest possible methods for improving sales. I gave a brief presentation on a solution I created, which involved changes to our sales training method. The manager liked my suggestion and put me in charge of a task force to implement this solution. I led a team of six, and we developed and implemented a new training method.
Ultimately, this solution increased our salespeople’s skills and confidence, and our numbers the next quarter surpassed our previous quarter by 15%. I believe that my ability to clearly communicate my plan to both my employer and my staff led to the great success of my project.
Why It Works: This candidate’s response effectively uses the STAR interview response technique to provide an example of her track record of leadership. Not only does she demonstrate her leadership and problem-solving skills, but she also uses a quantified percentage to illustrate the tangible results of her actions.
Review Leadership Interview Questions and Answers
Another way to prepare is to practice answering common leadership interview questions. The following list of common interview questions are related to leadership. Read the sample answers (under the “Best Answers” links), and then practice providing your own answers to these questions.
Here are a few of the questions most frequently asked about your leadership experience:
- What experience do you have that would help you in this role? - Best Answers
- What were your responsibilities at your current (or last) position? - Best Answers
- What were your biggest accomplishments and failures in this position? - Best Answers
- What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them? - Best Answers
Some questions will address your opinion of effective management styles and practices:
- What do you expect from a manager? - Best Answers
- What was it like working for your manager? - Best Answers
- Who was your best manager and who was the worst? - Best Answers
- If you knew a manager is 100 percent wrong about something, how would you handle it? - Best Answers
These questions are posed in order to gauge your self-confidence and persuasiveness as a leader:
- What can you do for this company? - Best Answers
- Why should we hire you? - Best Answers
- What can you contribute to this company? - Best Answers
- Why are you the best person for the job? - Best Answers
- If the people who know you were asked why you should be hired, what would they say? Best Answers
Employers also seek self-knowledge and reflectiveness in those they hire for leadership roles. Expect to be asked questions such as:
- How do you evaluate success? - Best Answers
- What is your greatest weakness? - Best Answers
- What is your greatest strength? - Best Answers
- How do you handle stress and pressure? - Best Answers
- What motivates you? - Best Answers
- What do you find are the most difficult decisions to make? - Best Answers
- What do people most often criticize about you? - Best Answers
- Do you prefer to work independently or on a team? - Best Answers
You will also most likely be asked about your career path and salary expectations:
- What were your starting and final levels of compensation? - Best Answers
- Why are you moving on? - Best Answers
- What are your salary expectations? - Best Answers
- What are you looking for in your next job? What is important to you? - Best Answers
- What are your goals for the next five years / ten years? - Best Answers
- How do you plan to achieve those goals? - Best Answers
Note that some of the questions above are not directly about leadership, but you can answer them in a way that shows your skills as a leader and helps to sell your candidacy to the hiring manager. For example, consider the question, "What can you do for this company?" In this case, your answer can focus on how you desire to be a strong leader for your department.
Tips for Giving the Best Responses
Sound like a leader. The tone of voice and body language you use when answering questions about leadership are as important as your actual responses. Sit up straight, maintain eye contact, and let your expression display your enthusiasm for your work and the company.
Look like a leader. As a job candidate who will be being groomed for leadership, you should be well-groomed in your appearance as well. Here are tips for what to wear to your interview.
Strategize like a leader. Whenever you can, use your answers to show how you would address common management issues for the employer. Research the company ahead of time so that you are well-versed in its organizational structure, company culture, mission, successes, and challenges. You should also prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer that shows that you have thought deeply about how you could bring value to their operations.
Give credit where it’s due. Good leaders acknowledge the contributions of their team members. As you describe instances where you assumed leadership, remember to credit the individual and collaborative efforts of those you managed.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Rehearse answers to the most commonly asked questions about leadership in a mock interview with a friend or in front of a mirror. Prepare responses that include quantifiable achievements, and make sure that your tone of voice and body language emanate confidence and enthusiasm.
BE A STAR: Use the STAR interview response technique to structure examples from your previous history that powerfully illustrate your leadership and management talents.
FOCUS ON THE EMPLOYER’S NEEDS: Use your research and knowledge of the employer to create a convincing “sales pitch” as to how, as a leader, you would make tangible and lasting contributions to their organization and their bottom line.