How to interview for your first management role

Manager interview questions
  • What’s your management style?
  • Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult employee.
  • What strategies do you use to motivate a team?
  • What has been your biggest success so far in your career?
  • Describe a time when you led by example.


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:

  • A time when you influenced and encouraged others (and how you approach influencing and encouraging others in general)
  • A time when you and a team were successful and what your contribution was
  • A time when your problem-solving and/or delegating skills directly impacted a coworker, team, or initiative
  • 5. How Do You Establish Priorities for Yourself and the People You Supervise?

    Sometimes there are a number of projects taking place at once. Hiring managers know that without clearly agreed-upon priorities, a workforce can become split and frustrated, waiting for key pieces of work in order to be able to complete their own tasks and meet deadlines. So how have you—or how would you—ensure that members of your team know how to organize their day and what to work on first?

    For this question, you can share a story about a time you needed to establish priorities for yourself at a past job. How did you decide which tasks to attend to first? If you’ve led a team or been a project manager, what criteria have you used to determine priorities for the team and how did you communicate them? Make sure the story is representative of your leadership style: For example, do you tend to let each worker figure it out on their own or with each other first and come to you with questions or do you step in from the get-go? Does it depend on the employee or situation?

    And you can add specifics: What software or tech do you use for project management and when do you need to reinforce priorities outside of it? Are there daily meetings? How are those run? Have you ever coached an employee on how to manage their time or prioritize their own workload?

    25) What Was Your Least Favorite Experience As A Manager?

    Talking about failure is much more difficult than talking about success. So this interview question helps you see two things:

  • What being a “bad” manager means to them
  • How they handle their mistakes
  • Do they take responsibility for the problem? Or do they make excuses?

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