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How to interview for your first management role

Here are six ways to communicate your management abilities and leadership style in an interview.
Image: Businesswoman interviewing for job
Businesswoman interviewing for job.Simon Potter / Getty Images/Cultura RF

Looking to take a step up in your next job? If so, the interview process may be slightly different than what you have been used to. Interviews for management roles are likely to focus more on your leadership style, interpersonal communication skills, and your ability to navigate difficult situations. In addition to detailing your skills and experience, interviewing for your first management role is as much about your background as it is about your ability to inspire and motivate a team.

So what does it take to communicate your management abilities and leadership style in an interview? We spoke to a recruiter, career coaches and long-time managers to get their expert insights. Here’s how to interview successfully for your first management role.

1. Highlight scenarios when you have led a team in the past.

While you may not have had the title of manager in your previous roles, the best way to show recruiters and hiring managers that you are able to take this jump is to demonstrate how you have exercised leadership in other areas of your life.

“Leadership experience doesn’t always need to come from your everyday job,” says AWeber recruiter Bill Kennedy. “Many military veterans have relevant leadership skills. Have you coached a sports team? Do you belong to an organization in which you help organize and lead events? Include those as examples of times where you’ve led a group, team or project.”

2. Showcase your ability to stay calm & collected

Part of being a manager is multi-tasking with ease and displaying a sense of calm control during times of uncertainty. This is important to both your future direct reports as well as your boss-to-be. “The employer will want a candidate who is “low maintenance” and who doesn’t come with a lot of office politics and baggage,” says executive coach and career transition expert Cynthia Corsetti. “It’s important to use examples in your answers that demonstrate that you remain positive and focused on the results as well as building trusting relationships with co-workers, supervisors, and clients.”

Often times, this “courage under fire” comes down to what many people call “emotional intelligence” or EQ. “Emotional intelligence and self-awareness are important management skills,” adds Corsetti. “It would behoove a candidate to have examples of times when they were self-aware and were able to influence others by using excellent communication skills.”

3. Prove that you are committed to the management track

If you want to be a people manager, take tangible steps to prepare yourself. It’s important to strengthen your skills to ensure you’re prepared to step up to the plate. Actively assess the skills you already have, and talk to those already in managerial positions to determine what skills you need to acquire. Do your research, stay up to date on industry trends, and seize any opportunity to strengthen your abilities.

Sign up for classes, get a mentor, invest in a career coach. As you interview, prepare to show how you’ve taken concrete steps to hit the ground running in this new role. “Making the transition from staff to manager is all about being politically savvy, knowing the right people and not letting them down, and most importantly, showing that you have what it takes to do the job and once in it, that you will do it well,” says Dr. Michael Provitera, author of “Mastering Self-Motivation.” “There are three stages of breaking the glass-ceiling of staff-to-manager and here they are: Getting In, Breaking In, and Fitting In. Each stage is critical for success.”

4. Give specific anecdotes

In the interview, be ready to share tangible examples of how you worked with a team member or demonstrated leadership. “Be ready to speak about how you motivate your team, how you manage competing or multiple priorities, and what your idea is of a good manager. While your answers to these are certainly important, the more tangible examples you can provide, the better,” says Kennedy. “Take the opportunity to speak about specific examples of how you helped someone advance their own career (leaving out names or identifying information). Did you set up a mentorship program, help them find relevant materials to study, provide them with increasing responsibility because you saw potential in them?”

5. Situational, hypothetical and behavioral interview questions will abound — be prepared

According to Founder and CEO of Rocket Interview, Jeevan Balani, there are three main types of hypothetical questions, each with different areas of focus the interviewer is looking to test.

Problem-solving questions related to your job. For example, they might ask a project manager how they would handle losing key team members from their project.

Behavioral questions to better understand your mindset. Common topics in this category are ethics, leadership and conflict resolution. For example, an interviewer may ask a sales professional how they would handle an unhappy client.

Lateral thinking questions to test creativity and critical thinking skills. An example from a Google interview is, “You have a colony on Mars that you want to communicate with. How do you build a system to communicate with them?”

6. Have the perfect answer to this key question: “Why should we hire you?”

A job interview is an exercise in sales. You must sell yourself and deliver compelling reasons why a hiring manager wants to take a chance on you.

“So when asked, “Why should we hire you?,” you need to tell a potential employer what YOU can deliver (in terms of education, experience, skills, abilities, talents, interests, or attitudes) that might uniquely match the requirements of the position in question,” insists Timothy G. Wiedman, Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources at Doane University. You must, he adds, “provide an indication of persistence in pursuit of a goal and/or leadership abilities. And those traits may well be of interest to recruiters who seek new-hires with management potential.”

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