You Should Be Ready to Tell Stories
Once, while preparing a mid-level manager to interview for a managing director role, I asked her, “Which acts of leadership are you most proud of?” Her first instinct was to answer generically: “We’ll, we’ve met almost every deadline for three years in a row.” But when I pressed her for specifics about how she’d succeeded as a leader of people, she had a much more compelling and informative answer:
“I once had this really talented direct report who was always late. Timeliness is one of our company’s core values, and the employee and I discussed and tried to troubleshoot the issue many times. He would improve, maybe for a week. Senior management noticed when he arrived late twice to company-wide meetings. I didn’t know what to do. The thought of firing him really upset me, because he was talented.
“Then, I had an idea. I asked him to take charge of the morning staff meetings: to review and organize the agendas the night before, introduce the main topic and structure, and manage the time at the meeting. It was risky to reward someone who wasn’t following the rules, but frankly, no one else wanted the job. He embraced it and showed up on time religiously, knowing that the team was depending on him.”
This manager’s story revealed her ingenuity in dealing with people, playing to their strengths, problem-solving, and working with a team. The ability to convey so many details to your prospective employers is why storytelling is the most powerful tool in your interview kit.
As you prepare for a management interview, mine your work experience for management and leadership wins. Even if you haven’t been a manager before, you’ve still demonstrated leadership in training others, managing projects, motivating colleagues, contributing ideas, thinking strategically, and holding others accountable. Take some time to reflect on your work experience and jot down significant moments when you led. These are the basis for your stories, which should reveal one or all of the following:
How Would You Describe Your Leadership Style?
Sometimes it seems that there are as many formulas and paradigms for describing leadership styles as there are people to lead. This article reveals eight different styles, but to make it simple, I’ll provide four that I like to reference:
As a leader you might have two or even three blended styles, but for this question, you’ll want to talk about the style you use most and give examples of when and how it has worked to get people motivated and essentially do their work more efficiently. For example, a relational leader I know wowed her interviewers with a story about an employee who suddenly started complaining frequently. Instead of addressing the employee’s complaints directly, she simply asked, “Why now?” The employee broke down and shared her fear that the workload was too much. Together they came up with a step-by-step plan for prioritizing her tasks, getting help from coworkers and, ironically, taking more structured breaks. The employee is now more motivated than ever, and comes to the leader with problems she can’t solve herself quickly rather than letting them build. The leader’s new bosses later told her that they were impressed with what this story said about her capacity for listening and empathy.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Are Likely to Come Up
In addition to developing their interpersonal skills, managers must be familiar with DEI principles and resources and why they matter in the workplace. Be sure to go over these and be prepared to speak about diversity, equity, and inclusion in an interview.
Keep all of the above in mind as you prepare for the following questions you’re likely to get when interviewing for a management position.