Looking for a management role? First, you have to manage the interview…
Whether you’ve already been a manager in another organisation, or you’re looking to move up the ranks, interviewing for a management position can be demanding – which is why preparing your interview answers in advance is absolutely vital if you want to stand out from the crowd.
To help inspire you, here are 10 of our favourite manager interview questions and our advice on how to answer them:
Manager interview questions
What’s your management style?
If you’re faced with this question at an interview, always show instead of tell.
In other words, don’t just talk about your management style – tell them how it actually works.
And since the ability to pay yourself a compliment without coming across as arrogant is often tough, aim to define what good management means to you first. Then talk about yourself positively by explaining what you’ve done, rather than simply repeating words like ‘responsible’ and ‘good leadership skills’.
For example, stating ‘I focus largely on meeting sales targets’ is unlikely to make your interview stand out. Instead, consider saying something along the lines of ‘my ability to motivate a team through incentivised goals has meant my store has become the highest performer in my area.’
Remember: Quantifiable achievement will always beat self-serving rhetoric.
Right answer: ‘In my opinion, a good manager gives consistent, clear direction and is always available to provide help and advice – but doesn’t take over. Therefore, that’s how I strive to act. I also think it’s important to ensure colleagues have the chance to reach their full potential. I hold regular meetings to discuss the career goals of each member of my team. Sometimes I find they’re not actually sure what they’re aiming for, so it’s an opportunity to provide direction and boost their morale.’
Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult employee
Difficult people are an inevitable part of life – and as a manager, your ability to deal with them in the right way is extra important.
You’d be surprised at the amount of useful skills you can demonstrate in answering this question well – as long as you can clearly explain the problem and adequately describe the resolution (and its impact). If in doubt, always follow the STAR technique.
And don’t worry if things didn’t run smoothly in the example you choose to provide. It wouldn’t be a difficult situation if they did. In fact, hiding away from any slip-ups will only make your example come across as clichéd. Instead, use examples of specific challenges to show how you’ve learnt to better cope in similar situations that may arise in the future.
It’s also a good idea to prepare your example in advance – that way you should be able to leave any emotional bias out of it.
Right answer: ‘I think it’s important to remember that determination can sometimes cause problems – even if the person means well. For example, I once managed someone who constantly met their targets – but their approach to teamwork wasn’t aligned with the company’s culture. Although they appeared successful, it turned out they were taking leads from colleagues and passing them off as their own. So I sat down with them to make them aware of what was wrong with that behaviour and stressed the importance of our collective team targets, rather than trying to work against each other. Not only did they turn things around, they also regained the respect of the team.’
What strategies do you use to motivate a team?
The most important thing to remember when answering this question is that you should always have more than one strategy.
Everyone has different work styles, personalities and performance levels, meaning how they respond to motivation differs too. In other words, it’s never a one-approach-fits-all when it comes to motivating a team.
To let the interviewer know you understand this, explain that you always take the time to get to know your team members in order to understand how they work. Then, talk about how you utilise a variety of techniques based on what suits their individual personalities best.
As always, it’s a good idea to use examples to show how you’ve succeeded at this in the past. Not only will this provide context for the strategies you use, it’ll also prove they actually work.
Right answer: ‘My main strategies are based around recognising colleagues’ achievements, giving consistent feedback and also ensuring my teams understand the full context behind the work they’re doing. However I’ll focus more on some strategies than others depending on the individual. For example, I find that those who are most goal-orientated tend to respond best to understanding the impact of their work, while colleagues that are under-performing are best motivated when given set areas to work on and improve.’
What has been your biggest success so far in your career?
Good news – you’ve just gained temporary clearance to blow your own trumpet.
Although talking about self-proclaimed greatness is something many people find difficult, in an interview it’s sometimes the only way to make yourself memorable. It’s also the key difference between career progression and career stagnation.
So set your inhibitions to one side for the sake of this question. The interviewer has asked it entirely so they can hear about the best version of you – so unless you go completely off topic, you can’t go wrong.
Just always make sure you prepare in advance. Otherwise, you could end up referring to a recent achievement on impulse, which may not necessarily be the best one. And don’t be afraid to include stand-out achievements such as results, growth and transformation.
Right answer: ‘My biggest success so far has to be last year’s launch of our new range of snack bars – which was the first ever health snack to sell a million units in the UK in under 12 months. After landing the UK distribution deal, I was given three months to gain traction or they’d pull the plug. This wasn’t easy, but through communicating with hundreds of distributors, I managed to negotiate enough contracts to make the product take off. We even managed to make a decent profit – helping turn an underdog product into a household name.’
Describe a time when you led by example
Being a good leader isn’t just about telling others what to do. It’s also about showing them how it’s done.
So when you’re asked a question, you’re essentially being tested on your own competencies as well as your ability to succeed – which in turn has a positive effect on your team members’ performance.
To answer this question well, make sure you focus on what you actually did as well as the outcome your behaviour resulted in.
For example, saying you set the bar high by signing 45 customers up to your store loyalty card is good – but further explaining that your attitude resulted in your colleagues gaining another 100 sign-ups helps to prove that not only are you succeeding, your team is too.
Because there really is no ‘i’ in team…
Right answer: ‘In my last job, we had a drive to sell charity raffle tickets. The team were really on board with the cause and we had a friendly rivalry going with other stores in the area – so the pressure was on. The problem was that customers just didn’t seem interested. So I took things into my own hands and tried different types of wording in our marketing as well as a few persuasion tactics. After a few hours, I’d managed to sell X amount of raffle tickets. After I explained the new approach, the team went on to sell a combined X amount that weekend – making us number one in the area.’
What are your salary expectations?
When completing your interview preparations, always have this question in the back of your mind.
Have a look at the average salary for someone working in the industry, in a similar role or area and who possesses similar skills to yourself, and you should get a basic idea.
But remember: this is only the first interview. You haven’t been offered the job. There’s no need at this stage to try and begin negotiations. Giving a salary range will suffice, but be prepared to be more specific if you need to.
And don’t be tempted to sell yourself short. Even if you think you’re on a slightly different page when it comes to pay, it’s better to get it out in the open early. That way, salary isn’t the elephant in the room – and you can avoid wasting time if wage is a sticking point.
If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at our average salary checker.
Right answer: A broad (but realistic) answer e.g. ‘I‘m looking for a base salary between £40,000 and £45,000.’
How do you avoid miscommunication?
Whether you’re managing a team you see in person every day, or you’re spending a lot of time working remotely, maintaining a steady and efficient stream of communication will always take work.
Utilising instant messaging and communication tools may help here with general day-to-day chat, but there’s really no replacement for talking things through in person when there’s a problem. Especially if it’s something particularly sensitive, or something that could be lost in translation.
To answer this question well, focus on the key elements and methods that allow you to avoid miscommunication – whether it’s by being sure to provide context in messages, or providing the opportunity for staff members to ask questions on a task they aren’t sure of.
Remember: all it takes is one rushed email or poorly thought out brief to throw off your team’s dynamic. Something that, as a good manager, it’s your responsibility to mitigate against.
Right answer: ‘I find that avoiding miscommunication comes down to using the right methods for certain types of contact. For example, if I have a quick question to ask another member of the team, I’ll usually drop them a message on chat. But if it’s something I need to refer back to later – then I’d use email. However, sometimes things can get lost in translation so speaking directly – whether it’s in person or over the phone – can be essential in certain situations.’
What would your co-workers say about you?
OK, we admit it: some people are just good at interviews. Sometimes, in fact, regardless of their ability to do the job. You could call them lucky (also, probably a lot worse), but somehow they always seem to manage to think on their feet come interview time. If you’re one of these people, we’ve got bad news for you: this question is essentially your Kryptonite.
A classic interview question, this can also trip up the most modest of candidates who don’t feel comfortable singing their own praises. However, always avoid reciting long lists of favourable-sounding adjectives (‘hard-working’, ‘reliable’ and, dare we say, ‘nice’). Testimonials are what recruiters really want.
Use real-life examples to try and give the interviewer a true picture of what you can do.
Right answer: ‘They’d call me dedicated and goal-orientated. After leading a recent project, I was nominated for an award by my peers which represented some of the values the business strives for. I’ve also brought along a few testimonials from people I’ve managed in the past, if you’d like to see them.’
Tell me about a time you supported a member of your team who was struggling…
The real question: can you balance the needs of your team with the organisation’s objectives?
Whilst it may seem easy to answer on the surface, there’s actually one big hidden consideration to think about before selecting a story to follow up with. While a great many companies value teamwork, emotional intelligence and empathy in their people, the cold, hard truth is they do so because they think that helping and caring is of benefit to their bottom line.
The best answers stress that not only did you support a member of your team, but your support translated into higher performance for the company – or, at least didn’t negatively impact it.
Essentially, you want to show the interviewer that you’re nice…but nice in a way that balances empathy and productivity.
Right answer: ‘In my previous workplace, I was in charge of a team of six. During one project I noticed a member of the team was struggling with a research task, which meant the rest of the group had to pick up the slack. I took him out for a coffee and asked what was wrong. He explained that he was snowed under with some tasks from another project and also struggled with the research methods being asked of him. I spoke to the person heading up the other workstream and agreed to lessen the individual’s responsibilities, plus also sourced some extra help to guide the individual through the research methods he was struggling with. Together, these two things quickly improved his performance.
If you were offered the job, what’s the first thing you would change?
If you’ve been brought in to innovate, or get the sense that this role is about making changes, you may be asked to highlight some areas which are in need of an overhaul.
But be cautious here – it’s a bit of a loaded question.
No one likes a know-it-all, or someone who will come in and disregard the opinions of their new co-workers. So make sure when you suggest areas for improvement, you don’t come across as high-handed. Instead, stress consultation and the need for information gathering before committing to any of your initial ideas.
Words like evolve, examine, contribute and develop can be more effective than change, overhaul, transform or fix. Initiative is a key skill for managers, so show that you can bring new ideas to the table and that you’ve already thought about what your first priorities might be. The 30-60-90 day plan is a good structure for answering this question.
But do so in a way that doesn’t look like you’re trying to reinvent the wheel on day one.
Right answer: ‘After getting to know my new team, my first priority will first be on meeting key stakeholders and understanding their priorities. On a tactical level, in my first month I’d plan to do a really deep dive into your marketing strategy. I think I can help evolve what you’re doing from a paid social perspective in particular, using some of the insights and partnerships that I formed during my previous role. I’ve noticed that you aren’t utilising certain channels, and I can’t see any examples of using influencer content to help promote the brand, so there’s definitely a real opportunity here to help the business grow.’
Preparing for a management interview
OK, so you’ve got your interview answers sorted. But that’s not where your preparations should end.
Other things you need to make sure you’ve got covered before a management interview include everything from researching the company and potential questions to ask at the end of the interview, through to what you’re going to wear on the day.
Because when it comes to interviews, there’s no such thing as being too prepared…
Need more interview questions?
Not sure any of these questions will come up? Don’t panic. We’ve got plenty more…
Buy James Reed’s new book: Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again and start loving Mondays now.
If you are looking for a new role, contact your local Reed office now.