While some of us dream of landing in the corner office one day, not everyone aspires to take on a leadership role. And early in your career, you may not be worried about leading a team. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be asked leadership interview questions even when you’ve applied for an entry-level role!
No matter the kind of leadership questions the interviewer asks, or what you think your leadership abilities are, this guide will help you tackle the most common leadership interview questions:
- Why Do Companies Ask Leadership Interview Questions?
- What if You Don’t Have Leadership Experience?
- How to Answer Common Leadership Interview Questions
- 10 Common Leadership Questions and Answers
Why Do Companies Ask Leadership Interview Questions?
Even if you aren’t applying for a leadership role, the interviewer may ask you leadership interview questions. But why?
“Because any hiring decision is an investment, and the best investment is one that pays out returns over the long term,” notes Bernadette Pawlik, senior partner at Pawlik/Dorman Custom Search and recruiting insider and career strategist at Coffee & Consult.
You may not be considering a leadership position right now, but you might want one in the future. Ideally, you’d pursue that kind of role with the same company, so the interviewer is trying to assess your long-term career plans and how the company might fit into those plans.
What’s more, “leadership position” doesn’t have to mean “in charge of people.” You could lead a project or initiative, which requires leadership abilities. Entry-level roles often have leadership opportunities, so the hiring manager may also be assessing how you might handle being the project manager on an upcoming project.
What if You Don’t Have Leadership Experience?
If you think you don’t have any leadership experience, think again! While you may not have the word “manager,” “head,” or “lead,” in any of your job titles, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any leadership experience.
“Leadership isn’t a title,” says Pawlik. “Leadership is thinking big picture, understanding how the pieces fit together. You can learn this as a member of a team…and it could be a team in a project at school or being an athlete.”
So, as you’re preparing for your interview, think about the times you’ve worked through a large problem and helped solve it. Or consider how you’ve seen other people lead and what you’ve learned from them — both the positive and negative aspects of their leadership. This helps you explain what you would and would not do if put in charge of something.
How to Answer Common Leadership Interview Questions
The most important thing about answering leadership interview questions is to be honest. Pawlik warns that recruiters will know when you’re being inauthentic. “Don’t fabricate some tortured story of a leadership role. Everyone can see through that. Impart what you’ve observed by seeing other leaders in action and by demonstrating that you understand the mission of the company.”
To help you frame your answers, Pawlik suggests creating a five-point list of the type of leader you want to be. For example, her personal leadership list includes:
- Being supportive: The team knows she is there to help them get their job done and advance in their careers.
- Accepting mistakes: Mistakes are an opportunity to do things better next time.
- Everyone matters: Each person is important to the team’s success, and no role is more important than any other.
- Everyone is human: Everyone on the team (including the leader) has bad days.
- Client-focused: The team should always provide the best possible service to customers because it demonstrates respect for the trust clients have placed in the team.
After creating your list, use the STAR Method to identify a few situations that required you to utilize your leadership skills. In many cases, your answers will likely involve your soft skills, but don’t overlook your hard skills. For example, you may talk about a time you used your data analysis skills to present a new initiative to upper management, and you ended up in charge of the project.
Other skills you may mention are:
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10 Common Leadership Interview Questions and Answers
Here are 10 common leadership interview questions you may encounter, along with sample answers.
1. Tell me about a time you demonstrated (or used) leadership skills.
I was part of a group research project. The final presentation was a significant portion of our grade. While no one person was assigned to any role, I took the lead and helped people figure out which parts of the project they wanted to tackle. We worked together to figure out what parts interested them as well as played to their strengths. This helped ensure people were happy with their assignments and willing to do the work. As a result, we stayed on target and turned everything in on time. Ultimately, our presentation was well put together, and we got an A.
2. How do you handle conflict or disagreement on a team?
While I’m not a fan of yelling and screaming, I think that disagreement on a team can be healthy. It’s important that the team be honest and feel safe in expressing a dissenting opinion. Sometimes it takes the opposite viewpoint to identify and overcome any challenges the team is facing or may be blind to.
That said, it’s critical that holding a dissenting view doesn’t result in conflict. Conflict is when things get difficult, and people become less likely to listen and hear the other side. It depends on the specifics, but some things that can help avert bigger problems is to start a meeting by setting expectations. By saying up front that all opinions are welcome, no matter how opposite or off the wall they might be, you’re setting the stage for friendly and professional disagreement. If it spirals from there, a break may be in order, as well as a private conversation to see what might be driving the disagreement. And finally, having snacks available throughout the meeting can prevent people from getting hangry, which often stops conflict before it starts.
3. Tell me about a time you were given the chance to lead but turned it down. Why did you make that decision?
At my internship, the person overseeing my work offered me the chance to project manage a new security feature the company was rolling out on the website. It was an exciting opportunity, and I seriously considered it. However, when I looked over the specifics of the project (namely the timeline), I realized I would not have the time to devote to it. I was in my junior year and taking a heavy course load. I had to spend a lot of time in the lab and just couldn’t guarantee I’d be available to handle emergencies if they happened.
While my supervisor was disappointed (as was I), he understood and complimented me for being honest and realistic about what I could and could not do.
4. How do you give and respond to constructive criticism?
When I give constructive criticism, I try to make sure it really is constructive. So, before I say anything, I stop and think about what I’m saying and what I’m trying to accomplish with my feedback. Am I saying this because I see a problem and am truly trying to help that person? Or is my feedback really around my personal preferences? If my feedback falls into the “helping” category, I make sure to choose my words carefully and frame them as positively as possible and try to avoid sounding passive-aggressive.
On the flip side, I always try to assume that whoever is giving me feedback is doing so with positive intent. They may not have the best communication skills, so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and find the helpful information they are trying to convey.
5. How do you set priorities when you’re in charge of something?
I find that breaking the large task down into smaller tasks works best for me. If I know the final product is due on X date, I’ll work backward and figure out what smaller tasks need to be done in reverse order, then decide what date that task needs to be completed by.
If I’m working with a group on a project, I’ll coordinate with other team members on their tasks to ensure we’re all hitting our due dates so no one member falls behind. And if I see that person is having trouble with due dates, I’ll talk with them to help them identify the problem and solutions.
Other Leadership Interview Questions
- Have you ever been a mentor?
- How do you boost morale on a team?
- Who do you look up to as a leader, and why?
- How will you contribute to our company culture?
- What would you do if the team was suddenly short-staffed before a major deadline?
Get ready to answer other common interview questions:
- How to Answer: ‘Why Do You Think You Are Qualified for This Position?’
- How to Answer: ‘What Motivates You?’ in a Job Interview
- How to Answer: ‘What Are Your Reasons for Leaving a Job?’
- How to Answer: ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
- What Is a ‘Good’ Weakness for a Job Interview?
- Interview Questions, Answered: ‘What Is Your Greatest Strength?’
- How to Answer: ‘Why Are You Applying for This Position?’
- What Are Your Career Goals? How to Answer This Interview Question
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