A common misconception made by job seekers is that leadership questions will only be asked for management positions. This has been disproved time and time again. No matter what level in the company you are interviewing for, it is highly recommended to prepare at least one example that demonstrates your leadership ability.
Best-case scenario, your preparation paid off when you are put on the spot and asked to describe a time you demonstrated leadership. Worst-case scenario, you are not asked this particular question, but you have an impressive example to use in another question that just so happens also to demonstrate leadership. Win-win!
What Is leadership?
The term leadership can mean different things to different people. Merriam-Webster defines leadership as the power or ability to be in charge or command of other people. Your interviewer is going to expect you to demonstrate a higher level of leadership than Merriam-Webster’s definition. This higher level goes beyond the act of just managing individuals or projects.
Leaders possess skills at the root of who they are as a person. They don’t just take the initiative, but they spread their ideas and passions like wildfires to everyone else. A leader is not the same as a dictator. A leader builds a network of followers whatever the size and can empower, uplift, and develop them.
When applying this idea of leadership to the interview process, it becomes pretty clear what the hiring manager wants to hear. They don’t just want someone who can tell others what to do. But someone who possesses the skills listed above that are needed to run a team, department, or organization. No matter what position you are applying for, you can guarantee leadership skills will be desired. Whether you are applying for an entry or senior-level position, you can’t go wrong by showing the hiring manager that you have what it takes to move up the ranks into leadership.
Start by planning your answer
Now that you know what the hiring manager wants to hear, it’s time that you figured out an answer to their question. When being asked to describe a time you demonstrated leadership you are going to want to focus on a somewhat recent example. Mentioning something that happened ten years ago is not going to carry much weight in present day. This would raise the question, “Has he/she not demonstrated leadership in 10 years that they would have to give an example so far back?”
Any question that is asking you to recap your past and provide an example should be answered using the S.T.A.R. approach. If you are unfamiliar with the STAR format, then take 60 seconds to look at #8 on the article How To Answer The 16 Most Common Interview Questions.
Pamela Skillings provides a great example answer in her article Answering Behavioral Interview Questions: Leadership. Below is everything you could need to know from this article.
- When I was at ABC Company, we went through some company-wide layoffs.
- The team of five that remained in the department had to absorb the duties of the two that left.
- As a result, people were overworked and morale suffered.
- At the same time, more mistakes were being made because attention was so scattered.
- As the manager, it was my job to get performance back on track.
- I scheduled a meeting with the full team to discuss strategies.
- Communicated my appreciation for all of their hard work during a challenging time for the company.
- I asked for their assistance in identifying ways for us all to be more efficient –including me!
- I made it clear that this was a brainstorming meeting to come up with options — that no idea was stupid and that it was a safe environment for making suggestions.
- We spent an hour capturing ideas on a whiteboard, then voted on the five with the most potential. I then assigned each person to do more research on how we might implement one of the ideas.
- First of all, the team responded very positively to this approach. They loved the idea of being empowered to help find a solution. Instead of complaining, they channeled their energy in a more productive way once they knew that they would be heard.
- Right off the bat, we came up with two ideas that could be implemented quickly and save us a lot of time.
- One idea was to eliminate a weekly report. This freed up 8 hours each week — including two hours of my time and three hours for my top account manager.
- Another was to train Penny, our administrative assistant, to take on some of the tasks that were burdening our account managers.
- We also decided to incorporate brainstorming and idea evaluation into our staff meetings each month.
- We are now more efficient and morale is way up.
- My boss even asked me to help him roll this process out to the other departments in our division.
Remember that your answer is going to be unique from anyone else’s. At least it should be! Don’t give a generic answer about a team or project that you lead. Be as detailed as you can. If possible, go one step further and take a look at the job description. Try to find any obvious leadership skills that the company might desire and customize your answer according to the job description.
If you need some extra help practicing your answer to this or any other interview questions, check out Find My Profession. We have helped thousands of people find their dream jobs and would love to do the same for you!