Updated 18 February 2019
Whether you are a seasoned professional applying for a managerial role or a recent graduate looking for your first job, you should expect to encounter behavioral questions about leadership in your interview.
Many people assume that leaders are only found in senior-level positions. But any employee, at any employment level, can show leadership potential.
Leadership is not just about managing others – leaders innovate, they inspire and motivate their co-workers, and they make tough decisions when no one else is prepared to step up.
Employers highly covet those that demonstrate leadership skills.
This article will explain what is meant by a behavioral interview; how interviewers determine leadership; when you will be asked leadership questions; how to use the STAR technique; and the top 10 leadership interview questions to prepare for.
Behavioral interviews are now standard practice for many employers. Your interviewer wants to test not just whether you possess desired skills, but whether you can identify times you have demonstrated those skills. The purpose is to predict how you will perform in your new position.
Many start with, “Tell me about a time you…” because you are required to talk about specific situations, explain what action you took and what the result was.
Questions regarding leadership are one of the most common types of behavioral questions. Leadership qualities are so valuable to employers that some will even base their entire interview process on them.
Great leaders do more than tell others what to do. They bring value by creating a supportive and collaborative environment. A great leader recognizes and nurtures the skills of those around them. They promote productivity and boost morale.
When interviewers ask about leadership, they are looking for specific qualities, including:
Many jobseekers assume that if they’re not looking for a management role, they will escape leadership interview questions. In fact, employers are looking for potential leaders at any employment level, including entry- and graduate-level.
Businesses look for employees who are dedicated and likely to progress within the company, and your interviewer will ask you leadership questions to assess whether you are a good long-term investment.
Therefore, whatever your experience level, it is vital you prepare for behavioral leadership questions by referring to specific times you have demonstrated leadership qualities.
When preparing your answers for leadership interview questions – whether it be for entry-level, graduate or team leader interview questions – your task is to present a real workplace situation, what action you took and what the outcome was.
The STAR technique is the best way to ensure you don’t miss out any important details:
Situation: “One of the responsibilities of my previous role was to collate sales data.”
Task: “At the end of the last financial year, I noticed that sales for a product were falling.”
Action: “I took the lead by calling a team meeting to address the issue. I suggested we create a package of deals to offer customers bulk quantities of the product for discounted prices. I scheduled weekly check-ins with my co-workers to assess sales and hear any concerns.”
Result: “Our customers were very receptive. By the new year’s second quarter, not only had sales recovered, but profits for that product had risen by 15%. Our team was rewarded for boosting our sales numbers, which made us eager to improve further.”
Why this answer is good: the candidate demonstrated leadership qualities by recognizing an issue, taking the initiative to solve it, and supporting and encouraging their co-workers to succeed.
You can apply the STAR technique to any question concerning leadership. Below are 10 strategic leadership interview questions to prepare for:
You don’t need to have been in a specific leadership position to answer this question. For example, you could relate your situation to a volunteering position, or a group project for one of your college classes.
Emphasize through your task and action how you took on a leadership role or demonstrated leadership qualities.
“I took the initiative to organize a black-tie gala at my college and successfully secured a venue and band for a reduced fee. I also oversaw a team of six other students who secured raffle prizes from local businesses. The event was a success, and we raised over $2,000 for our charity.”
As well as what makes you great, you should be prepared to talk about any weaknesses you may have.
Self-awareness is an important trait for any leader, so admitting weakness will not make you unsuitable. However, you should always state how you try to overcome your weaknesses and are a good leader in spite of them.
Perhaps you fell behind on a project because you were reluctant to delegate work. You adjusted your approach and trusted your team to work independently. As a result, your team worked more efficiently and the project was completed on time.
To answer this well, focus on a scenario in which you inspired and motivated those around you. For example:
The result should always be that your team expressed satisfaction with your leadership.
Some examples of leadership styles are:
This question requires you to give a scenario in which you have demonstrated your conflict-resolution skills. For example, you could refer to a situation where two co-workers disagreed. Explain that you took the time to listen to both sides of the story before offering a compromise.
The result should always be that the problem was resolved thanks to your action.
This question challenges you to show self-awareness and demonstrate that you are prepared to take your co-worker’s advice on board.
“I previously worked for a small retail company. At one point, a co-worker disagreed with the way I was handling a customer complaint. After a discussion, we agreed that the customer’s satisfaction was paramount and that issuing a refund was the best solution. I assured the co-worker that their concerns were valid and that I appreciated their input. The customer was happy with the outcome and complimented our complaints procedure.”
Adaptability is an indication of leadership potential. Leaders flourish even when forced to step outside their comfort zone.
Perhaps you were suddenly hit with a tight deadline and you rallied your co-workers to complete the work on time. Alternatively, perhaps you used persuasion skills to convince sponsors to fund a charity event.
The result should positively demonstrate how you can perform well under challenging circumstances.
Good leaders are innovative and forward-thinking. If you can demonstrate a time you successfully oversaw a positive change, you will demonstrate leadership potential.
Perhaps you implemented a new administrative system at your previous job or introduced a formal mentoring program to support new employees. Maybe you invented and filled a new position on your college society’s committee.
Some measures of success include:
“For me, success is about going above and beyond expectations. In my previous role as Retail Team Leader, my goal was to motivate my team to deliver impeccable customer service. I actively praised team members who went out of their way to assist customers. We had succeeded when several customers contacted head office specifically to compliment our store’s customer service.”
A good indication of leadership potential is the ability to balance your workload.
To answer well, give an example of a time you had difficulty prioritizing your workload, eg when you received two urgent deadlines to work towards simultaneously. Explain how you managed your time efficiently, whether you delegated any tasks to co-workers, and how you overcame the challenge and completed your work on time.
In addition to the STAR technique and the 10 sample leadership questions above, here are some tips to help you prepare your own leadership examples:
Leadership skills are essential for every job candidate, including those just entering the job market, and leadership potential is one of the top attributes forward-thinking employers look for in candidates.
Your task now is to come up with some past experiences where you demonstrated your leadership skills and practice adapting them to each question. Stick to the STAR technique to ensure your answers are insightful and well structured, and you will be in good stead.
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