Are you applying for a job that will involve managing other people? If so, there’s a high chance that you will be asked to describe your leadership experience in your job interview.
Questions about your prior leadership experience help interviewers to learn how you have acted in past situations where you had to take charge. While you may not have a lot of professional leadership experience, such as expertise in managing large teams, you’ll likely have a few examples that you can mention.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss four ways to describe your leadership experience in an interview. We’ll also walk through three examples that you can use to get a better sense of how you can describe this experience.
Why Am I Being Asked About Leadership Experience?
If you are applying for a leadership position, employers often ask about your past leadership roles or experience.
For instance, if you are applying for a job as a senior full-stack web developer, you may be asked about a time when you led a project. This is because being a senior developer involves managing projects and taking lead on new initiatives.
Team members who have leadership abilities are more likely to stay committed to a task. They also develop better relationships with their team members and co-workers.
When you are asked to describe your leadership experience, you should be able to mention an example or two of when you exercised your leadership or management skills. For instance, you may want to discuss a time when you led a big project at your last job. You can also mention a time when you managed a few employees and what type of leadership you practiced. These will give the interviewer a better sense of how you have responded to situations that require good leadership in the past.
How to Describe Your Leadership Experience
There are a few ways that an employer could ask about your leadership skills.
They may ask you to “Describe your leadership experience.” Or, they could be more specific and ask you to “Give an example of a time when you demonstrated leadership to navigate a conflict in the workplace.” However the question is phrased, the interviewer wants to hear more about your experience exercising leadership skills.
Here are five tips that you can use to strategize your answer to this common interview question:
- Reflect on your past leadership experiences
- Use the STAR technique
- Explain how you have worked well with others
- Describe a time you went above and beyond
- Mention statistics
Now that you know the five tips, let’s take a closer look at how you can implement each one in your next interview.
#1: Reflect on your past leadership opportunities
Before you go into the interview, take some time to think about when you have exercised leadership skills in the past.
Have you taken lead over a project at work? Have you had to step up to ensure a project stays on track? Have you managed other people in the workplace? These situations would all involve some degree of leadership.
When you are asked this question, there is no need to discuss an example from the workplace. If you have practiced leadership through a volunteer project or through a hobby, then you could mention an example from that project. Suppose you are part of your local Rotary club. You could talk about how you took leadership over a fundraising initiative.
Some other leadership roles and experiences that you can mention include:
- Travel abroad
- Social activities and groups (book clubs, theater, dinner groups)
- Volunteer/nonprofit leadership roles
- Student government and organizations
- Passion projects
#2: Use the STAR technique
The STAR interview technique is a structured process used to answer behavioral interview questions. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. You can use this framework to phrase your past work experiences in a way that adequately demonstrates your skills and how you helped solve a particular problem.
Here are the main components of the STAR framework:
- Situation: Explain the context of a problem.
- Task: How were you involved in solving a problem? If you worked on a team, talk about your specific contributions to the team.
- Action: What action did you take to solve the problem?
- Result: What was the outcome of the action you took?
Using the STAR framework will help you better structure your answers, and it will ensure that you give clear and specific examples in your answers.
#3: Explain how you have worked well with others
One core aspect of leadership is being able to work well with others. Without good relationships with team members and co-workers, you cannot be an effective leader.
In your interview, you may want to spend some time discussing an example of when you worked well in a team. This example should include some mention of how you took a leadership or management role in that team.
Suppose you were responsible for leading a project at your last job. You could explain how you kept the project on track and developed closer relationships with teammates by evaluating which tasks they would be best qualified for.
In addition, good leaders know when to acknowledge team effort. An interviewer will not just want to hear about how you succeeded, but also how you helped other people succeed in their roles.
#4: Describe a time you went above and beyond
Keep in mind that leadership can be exhibited in something as simple as spotting a problem at work and finding a solution. Employers will appreciate any time that you went above and beyond the basic requirements of your job. You don’t have to have served as a project manager to describe a time that you were a leader. If you found a way to make workflow more efficient, better execute a task, or help new members of the team, employers will love to hear these examples of leadership.
#5: Mention statistics
There is no better way to exemplify your leadership skills than to mention statistics or other quantifiable outputs. Statistics give you the ability to clearly show how your leadership skills have had a direct impact on a business.
Suppose you were in charge of boosting retention rates on a consumer application. You could talk about how your leadership led to a specific percentage-point increase in retention over a given time frame.
Examples of Leadership Experience in a Job Interview
Describing your leadership roles can be difficult, especially if you are applying for your first job that involves managing people. To help you discuss your leadership experience, we have prepared a few sample answers you can use to prepare for your interview.
“In my last job, I was a marketing associate for a consumer company. After noticing poor performance on one of our social media marketing campaigns, I was asked to help coordinate the creation of a new social media campaign.
"Career Karma entered my life when I needed it most and quickly helped me match with a bootcamp. Two months after graduating, I found my dream job that aligned with my values and goals in life!"
Venus, Software Engineer at Rockbot
To respond to this task, I first met with everyone I would be working with to hear their ideas and facilitate an open discussion on how we should move forward. Then, I worked with those people to assign tasks relevant to their interests and expertise. My manager liked my approach to this project and gave me full authority over designing and launching the new campaign.
My approach to leadership made other people feel confident sharing ideas, and as a result many team members stepped up and outlined great ideas that we implemented. In the end, the marketing campaign led to a 15% increase in web page views when the quarter ended.”
“In my role as an accounts manager at Henderson & Peters, I was responsible for managing a number of clients’ accounts and overseeing the rest of our accounts team.
I used my experience as an accounts associate to determine which methods of managing accounts work effectively. Then, I explained these methods in a handbook that I shared with my team members. I then facilitated feedback from those team members, which helped me make a number of improvements and expand the list of best practices in the handbook.
Upon receiving the handbook, a number of our accounts associates reached out to say they appreciated the ability to share their thoughts. In addition, a number of associates scheduled calls with me later on to discuss how they could implement the techniques I shared. After two quarters, our account retention rate had been boosted by 10%.”
“In my spare time, I have been volunteering for a local non-profit that builds websites for candidates for local government positions. When I joined as a volunteer, I was put in charge of improving the speed of a core project.
To tackle this challenge, I conducted research into different ways to optimize the speeds of a website using the technologies in which the project had been built. I then discussed my findings with the head developer, who approved a few of my suggestions. The head developer asked if I could take the lead on implementing a few of the optimizations I suggested.
This led to me working with other developers to make enhancements to the site. To start, I scheduled a meeting to get the broader team’s thoughts on my plans and to create a timeline. Then, we implemented my suggestions as a team, which took a total of three days.
After the project was over, rendering speeds on the project improved by 10%.”
Even if you are not applying for a management position, having leadership skills is important. Whether you want to be an accounts manager or an entry-level accountant, leadership skills will come up on your job at some point.
If you are asked to discuss past leadership opportunities, think back to a time when you had to step up as a leader and work with others. Then, you can use the STAR framework to help you think through the situation, how you responded, and evaluate the result of your work.
Being able to effectively discuss your leadership experience is a good way to set yourself apart from other candidates in a job interview process. This will help you move one step closer to getting hired!
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.