Interview With Michael

Behavioral based interview questions leadership


When asked, "what is the most important skill you're looking for in job candidates", the number one answer given by employers was "leadership". This includes all job candidates, not just those applying to executive and management level positions. Not surprisingly, leadership is one of the most common competencies (ranked just behind teamwork) that come up in behavioral interviews. In fact, some company's entire interview process is made up of leadership behavioral questions.

While management is an important skill companies are seeking, it's only one component of leadership. Management is a hands-on competency that involves planning, organization and controlling functions. In addition to management skills, leadership includes the ability to listen, motivate and inspire.

Even if you're just applying for an entry-level position, you need to be comfortable responding to leadership related interview questions. Every serious job seeker should come to an interview prepared with at least one example of a leadership experience they can share. It doesn't even have to be a job related leadership role. Recent college graduates can talk about leadership experience gained through voluteer work, clubs, projects, or even hobbies.

What exactly are "Leadership Skills"?

We just go done explaining that leadership skills are not the same thing as management skills, even though they're often confused (see above section). However, the term "leadership" often means differents things depending on who you ask. So what exactly are "leadership skills"?

Most people understand the word "leadership" to mean having the ability to lead a group of people or an organization. However, as interpreted by most executives, employers and hiring managers, leadership include much more than just managing people and projects.

The term "leadership skills" typically encapsulates several business critical competencies including effectively communicating vision, motiving and inspiring others to excel, empowering others, help others to grow and develop, turning vision into reality, delegating responsibility, and making tough decisions. These are the skills that interviewers will be testing for when conducting behavioral leadership interviews.

Leadership Interview Questions

With respect to the job interview, hiring managers are typically trying to determine if you have the type of leadership skills and competencies required to be team leader, department head or manager (either immediately or down the road).

Below are several of the most popular interview questions asked about leadership ability.

  • Explain a situation where you served as a leader during: a group project, an organized work project or activity, or a community service project. Explain in detail your role and how individuals responded to your leadership.
  • Please provide an example of how you've demonstrated leadership skills.
  • Please share with me time when you effectively delegated.
  • Tell me of instance where you lead by example.
  • Explain a situation where you had an opinion that differed from a manager. Were you able to persuade the manager to change his or her opinion?
  • Explain a time when subordinates you supervised disagreed with your directives. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about someone you have mentored or coached to achieve success?
  • How do you resolve conflict? What specific strategies have you used to be successful?
  • If your managers were asked to rate your leadership skills, how would they reply? What would subordinates say about your leadership style?
Directly below you'll find other common behavioral questions designed to learn about your leadership style and ability. Practicing these questions will help you prepare for leadership questions relating to managing projects, making decisions and communicating with others.

Project Leadership Interview Questions

  • How frequently do you meet with project members?
  • Identify important project members?
  • What steps do you take to motivate others?
  • Explain how you've solved a conflict by utilizing effective listening skills?
  • How do you organize projects and prioritize tasks?
  • Provide examples of when and why you were satisfied with past project results?
  • Can you reach project objectives in fast-paced settings?
  • Do you meet project deadlines? If you haven't met a deadline in the past, explain why.
  • Do you effectively delegate responsibilities? Could you have better utilized team members' assistance in the past?
Interviewers want to discover the methods you utilize to organize projects, supervise others, and meet objectives. Be sure to explain in detail the steps you take when overseeing projects and handling common problems. Interviewers will want to know how you: delegate responsibility and utilize team members, manage time to meet deadlines, and motivate others.

Decision Making Leadership Questions

  • Explain a circumstance where you made a decision without all the relevant facts.
  • What steps do you take to resolve complicated problems?
  • Explain a time when you changed an opinion after acquiring new facts and data.
  • Explain a situation where you made an incorrect conclusion. What factors led to it?
  • Should a decision maker be right all the time?
Effective leaders typically make smart choices. They must also be willing to make unpopular decisions or act when others are unwilling. People often avoid making important decisions because they fear they'll become unpopular or be criticized by management. When answering these questions, provide personal examples from previous work experiences. Describe the steps you take to solve problems, make decisions, conduct risk management, and evaluate results.

Personal Communication Leadership Questions

  • Do you prefer relaying information through public speaking or written reports?
  • How do you formulate arguments and present them to others?
  • What are other ways of communicating aside from speaking? How do you utilize non-verbal communication?
  • How do you clarify unclear or vague messages?
  • What steps do you take to remain engaged during conversations?
Poor communication is the root of many work problems. When co-workers fail to communicate, organizational efficiency breaks down and time must be devoted to correct avoidable problems.

When asked about how you communicate with colleagues, describe in detail how you relay important messages and follow up. Also, describe how you listen attentively to others and ask good follow up questions.

How to Answer Questions About Leadership

While no one likes to brag about themself, this is one question where you are required to sell yourself. When answering questions about your leadership ability or potential, it's important to be truthful, but if you're too humble you may end up selling yourself short.

The best way to ensure you perform well on leadership questions is to prepare in advance. The best way to prepare is to develop a great leadership interview story using the STAR format.

The STAR format allows you to develop a general structure for your response, using bullets to identify each key aspect of your story, without scripting it word-for-word.Below is an example of how to use the STAR format to present a leadership experience for the question, "Describe for me a time when you were required to lead and motivate people you worked with."

S/T (Situation/Task)

The first step of the STAR format is to provide a brief description of the situation or task. You want to give just enough background information to paint a vivid picture, but you don't want to overwhelm the interviewer with too much detail. Keep the focus on the overall leadership challenge you faced.

Example Situation/Task Bullets

  • When I worked with Bear Sterns during the recession, lay-offs were a weekly occurance.
  • My team had to absorb the duties of other employees that had been let go, while still facing the possibility of being laid off themselves.
  • Consequently, we were working around the clock and morale was low.
  • Since the members of my team were wearing many hats and working over time, mistakes were being made.
  • As the team leader, I was responsible for maintaining optimal performance and rebuilding morale during this difficult time.

A (Approach)

After explaining the situation, elaborate on the actions you took to address the challenge. Specifically, communicate to the interviewer how your leadership was instrumental in overcoming the challenge. What was your leadership strategy? Did you empower others to help solve the problem? Were you open to feedback from your team? Did you make everyone feel valued, like they were part of the solution? Make sure to demonstrate that you were more than just a great manager. Show that you were a great leader.
  • I held a meeting with my entire team to discuss strategies for dealing with the challenges we faced.
  • I let my team know that I appreciated the hours of hard work they were performing, notwithstanding the stress they were all dealing wity.
  • I let my team know that I didn't have all the answers and was looking to them to identify ways that we could more efficiently deal with the extraordinary work load.
  • I let them know there were no right answers, and no stupid ideas. We were brainstorming and everyone's suggestions would be respected, considered and appreciated.
  • We spent several hours brainstorming ideas on paper, then as a team identified the three ideas with the most potential. Each member of the team was then assigned to do a little bit more research to determine how implementable each idea was.

R (Results)

At the end of the day, it's all about results. You're STAR leadership story should effectively communicate that you can deliver results, even in the face of adversity. Tell the interviewer how your actions led to positive outcomes for your team, and for your employer. Also, use quantifiable results as much as possible. Adding real numbers to your outcomes makes them that much more impressive (e.g., increased sales by 50%, cut costs by 15%, etc). When quantifiable results aren't available, used compelling anecdotal results (e.g., saved one of the company's most valuable accounts).

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