Updated: Sep 12
We've all heard of the vicious cycle--you need a job, but in order to get that job, you need a job with that experience. But to get that experience requires you to have the experience in the first place!
So how exactly do you land a management role when you've had no leadership roles to begin with?
How do you prove your worth and that you possess leadership and management capabilities at the interview?
Develop and leverage your soft management skills
First, leadership and management are largely based on soft skills--skills that are not technical and as such are largely dependent on your ethics, work practices, and how you relate to others.
These skills transcend industries and a variety of professions in those industries, so it's no wonder that, when you prepare for your first management interview, the questions that will be asked will be mostly soft skills-focused.
The more technical term for this type of interview is a "competency-based interview." These questions are also known as behavioral interview questions, assessing if you possess a set of designated behaviours that are crucial to the role you are being hired for.
Behavioural or competency-based questions showcase your prior experience and usually begin with the phrase (or similar) "Tell me about a time."
The soft skills required can be obtained, polished, and developed from a variety of sources.
For example, you may develop and strengthen your critical thinking skills by creating a habit of asking open-ended questions, undertaking research before jumping to a conclusion, considering all possible sides of a story, developing self-awareness, and not being afraid to challenge the status quo in your current job or at university.
Getting a coach can also help with this process as they will challenge your own ideas and empower you to ask reflective questions that will encourage a growth mindset.
Some other management skills such as being able to influence and motivate a group of people towards a shared objective, negotiation, effective communication at various levels, and conflict resolution, can be developed through enrolling on short courses, reading books, or listening to podcasts about leadership.
This helps prove that you are passionate about your own professional development, which is a huge bonus and a green flag to your prospective employer.
Experiences matter more than title
From my experience, what I have found beneficial when preparing for my first management-level interview was to leverage my existing experience as a leader. I would always bear in mind that leadership is not about the title, but more about how you carry yourself, the values you model, and the duties you perform.
I pulled from my experience in training my colleagues, volunteering to unofficially take the lead on new projects, and shadowing managers, and deputizing when my manager was unavailable, as proof of my management potential.
I also structured my answer using the STAR method (describing the Situation, Task, Action, and Result).
Some competency-based questions you can expect, include:
Tell me about a time you made a decision that no one else agreed with
Describe a time when you had to manage up
Give me an example of a time you delivered and led on a project
Tell me about a time you resolved conflict at work
You can also find more examples of competency-based management interview questions you can expect to be asked, in my free PDF available to download, The Top 10 Management Interview Questions.
How to answer situational interview questions
Another thing to consider is that your first management interview may involve situational interview questions. Situational questions present a hypothetical scenario, and ask how you would address it.
This is quite useful as the questions are poised to not ask you how you have managed a situation in your work experience, but rather how you would approach the scenario if it were to occur in the future.
The key here is to revert back, as much as possible, using the STAR method, to a similar experience you've had in the past. And if you don't have a comparable experience, don't worry, share what you do know and how you would handle the situation using your best educated opinion.
Some situational questions you can expect to be asked include:
Suppose a customer was upset because your team did not provide a solution to their problem, and the complaint was escalated to you. How would you respond in this situation?
What would you do if a member of your team was underperforming?
How would you measure and track your team's performance?
What would you do if you had to manage a difficult stakeholder?
In addition, now that you are assuming a management role, you will need to think about structuring your answers in a way that demonstrates an innovative outside-the-box approach, and shows that you are thoroughly organized and can plan ahead with the bigger picture in view.
Finally, don't forget to practice with a coach, colleagues, ex-colleagues, and leverage any friends or connections in your network who already work in senior management roles, as they will be able to give you guidance on what to say and what to avoid.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you’d also love my weekly newsletter I release every Wednesday for new and aspiring managers.
As a corporate coach, I have had the privilege of mentoring and coaching numerous managers throughout my career. From recruitment to tech, non-profits to education, and even hospitality. I have seen first-hand the transformative power of effective leadership. Seven of my own own employees were promoted and progressed to other roles internally as a result of my coaching leadership approach.
There are are a few ways that RWC can help you: