First interview, second interview or the last interview- You need to showcase leadership to crack the job!
I have worked as a policy manager, project manager, and team leader. In fact, many of my clients have interviewed with multiple big companies including Amazon (Which literally has all of its interview rounds based on Amazon’s Leadership Principles). All of these engagements and experiences have made me realise that leadership is a core attribute that can get you the dream job. Whether you have been asked to prepare for leadership interview questions or a competency interview; your leadership will be the core soft skill that is put to the test.
It is needless to say that your leadership skills can make or break a team, project, or policy initiative. When you’re searching for a new role, the
interview process is your chance to prove your worth. To help you prepare effectively, I have compiled a comprehensive guide on the top 13 most common leadership interview questions and how to answer them using the STAR method. I have also provided a secret add-on to the STAR method at the end of the guide to ensure that your answers are genuinely different and effective. By the end of this guide, you’ll be well-equipped to handle any leadership interview questions with confidence and finesse.
Where do you start your interview preparation?
Well, you got your CV shortlisted, and now you’ve got your first or second interview where leadership or competency will be tested. Most people just jump into the explanation of the STAR method but I feel before we even get into the world-famous STAR method here are a few good preparatory steps:
Research the Company
Start by researching the company. Learn about their ideals, culture, products or services, and any recent news or developments about them. By doing this, you’ll have a better understanding and can shape your answers around them. Further enhancing your STAR responses.
Review the Job Description
Look at the job description again and check for requirements. Then make a list of your key traits that match what’s needed from a leader in this position.
Take time to reflect on your personal leadership experiences both past and current. Think about moments where you were a good leader such as team management, problem-solving, resolving conflict, and achieving goals. It’s best if you have specific examples for every skill.
Identify Strengths and Weaknesses
Take a good look at yourself and ask what makes you strong as a leader but also what makes you weak. You want to be able to talk about both strong points and areas where you have room to grow. Being aware of yourself is an important trait in leadership.
Now that you have completed the above preparatory steps, it is a good idea to dive into what exactly is the STAR method and how you can master the STAR method (Don’t forget about the secret add-on in the end).
The STAR Method
Quite simply the STAR method is a way to structure your stories. You can literally use the STAR method to create a story and put your toddlers to sleep. Nonetheless, for your interviews, the STAR method provides a structure to answer leadership interview questions, particularly those that require you to provide specific examples from your past experiences. The STAR method is so important to companies and recruiters around the world that some of them openly ask candidates to prepare their leadership interview answers only using the STAR approach.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, and as I mentioned, it helps you structure your responses in a clear and concise manner to effectively demonstrate your skills and abilities to potential employers. Here’s a breakdown of each component of the STAR method:
1. Situation (S):
Start by describing the context or situation in which the example you’re about to share took place. Provide enough details to set the stage and help the interviewer understand the circumstances. This could include information about the company, your role, the team, or any other contextual information that you would like to provide. This is where you hook the interviewer and make them want to know more. Think of it like a movie. If the first 25 minutes are boring then the audience loses interest anyway.
2. Task (T):
Next, explain the specific task or objective that needs to be accomplished. What were the goals, responsibilities, or expectations associated with the situation you were in? Be clear about what was required of you and your team and if possible provide some data and numbers here.
3. Action (A):
This is the central part of your response. Detail the actions you took to address the situation and accomplish the task. Focus on your own contributions and what steps you personally took to make a difference. Highlight the skills, qualities, and strategies you applied to resolve the issue or achieve the goal. Most people including me have messed this up by talking about their actions as “We”. Using terms like “We did this” or “We planned this” or “We took the following steps”, just undermines your answer. It is definitely great to be humble but focus on the Is in your interview. “I did this”, “I took this step”, “I planned”.
4. Result (R):
Finally, describe the outcomes and results of your actions. What happened as a direct result of your efforts? Be specific about the impact you had, whether it’s related to quantifiable achievements, positive changes, or lessons learned. Whenever possible, use metrics or data to quantify your success. In fact, if you don’t use a concrete metric to define your data then your answer will always be incomplete. I repeat, don’t finish your answers without any numbers!
The STAR method helps you structure your answers in a way that provides a comprehensive and well-organized response to behavioural interview questions. These types of questions are commonly used by employers to assess how candidates have handled past situations, as they believe past behaviour is a good indicator of future performance. By using STAR, you can showcase your skills and competencies effectively, making it easier for the interviewer to evaluate your qualifications and fit for the role. Mostly interviewers are looking for concrete metrics to define your suitability in the role through an evidence-based and data-driven approach. Thus, you must ensure to provide them as much numeric and contextual evidence through your stories as you can.
Example of answering leadership interview questions through the STAR Method
Understanding the STAR method is best done through a real-life example. Here is an example provided by one of my clients after their Leadership and Competency Interview:
Leadership Interview Question: “Tell me about a time when you had to lead a team through a challenging project.”
Response using the STAR method:
A couple of years ago, while I was working as a Project Manager at XYZ Company, I found myself in a high-pressure situation. Our team was handed the responsibility of launching a brand-new product in a market where competition was fierce. The project was a critical one, as the success of the product could significantly impact our company’s standing. The produce that was to be designed was for a data-driven approach to journey planning in emerging markets by leveraging a new codebase. We were allocated a budget of USD ten thousand and were asked to ensure that we followed a lean methodology.
As the leader of a team consisting of engineers, designers, and marketing specialists, my task was clear – to ensure the successful development, testing, and launch of the product within a mere six months. The stakes were high, and this project was a cornerstone of our company’s growth strategy.
To navigate the challenges, I took several strategic actions:
- I started with a kickoff meeting to set the tone and expectations for the project. This allowed everyone to understand their roles and the significance of their contributions.
- I created a detailed project plan, mapping out the milestones and deadlines meticulously. It was crucial to keep the entire team on the same page and focused on our common goals.
- Maintaining open lines of communication was my top priority. I held weekly status meetings to discuss progress, address any obstacles, and provide support where it was needed.
- When a major design flaw cropped up during the project, I encouraged an open discussion within the team to brainstorm creative solutions. We found a way to make the necessary adjustments without compromising the project’s timeline.
- Throughout the project, I provided ongoing guidance and support to team members, recognizing their hard work and dedication. It was important to keep everyone motivated and upbeat.
Thanks to these efforts, we successfully launched the new product on time and within the budget. In the first quarter after the product’s release, we witnessed an outstanding 30% increase in market share. The project’s success not only had a substantial impact on our company but also boosted team morale and cohesion. We went on to work together effectively on subsequent projects.
This example ticks all the following boxes for a good answer through the STAR method:
- It is complex enough to be taken seriously and is not a story of usual business activities
- It uses I, instead of we and focuses on the interviewee’s efforts
- It uses metrics to justify the results and provide good context to the story (30% increase, ten thousand USD)
- It follows a structured approach
- It is not excessively lengthy and delivers competency with a sharp focus
What is the right duration for answering a question using the STAR Method?
I have added this question here since it has been one of the most asked questions. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. Nonetheless, depending on your seniority, complexity of the role, professional experience and industry your answer can vary between two minutes to about eight minutes. Anything over eight minutes is often too lengthy.
The top 13 common leadership interview questions and how to get your answer started using the STAR method.
As promised below I have listed out the most common leadership interview questions that I and my clients have come across. I also provide a brief description of what your answers could include (Do note, that there is no general advice on how you should answer these questions that is why my description is brief and to the point. If you would like a more customised approach, check out my interview preparation service, here.)
1. Tell me something about yourself.
This seemingly simple question is often the opening question in an interview. It’s your opportunity to create a strong first impression. Start by giving a brief overview of your professional background and highlighting key achievements. Use STAR to structure your answer, focusing on how your skills and experience align with the position you’re interviewing for.
2. What is your leadership philosophy?
When answering this question, share your personal leadership philosophy and how it has shaped your leadership style. Use the STAR method to illustrate real-world examples of how you’ve applied your philosophy to lead teams effectively.
3. Can you describe a challenging leadership situation you’ve faced?
This question allows you to showcase your problem-solving and decision-making skills. Discuss a specific situation using STAR, emphasizing the challenges you encountered, the actions you took, and the results you achieved.
4. How do you motivate your team?
Demonstrate your ability to inspire and lead by explaining how you motivate your team. Share stories of times when you used the STAR method to boost team morale, improve productivity, or enhance team dynamics.
5. What is your approach to handling conflicts within your team?
Every leader must manage conflicts effectively. Describe a situation where you successfully resolved a conflict within your team, using STAR to outline your approach, actions, and the positive outcomes achieved.
6. Tell me about a time when you had to lead a team through a crisis or challenge.
Leaders are often tested in high-pressure situations. Detail a specific crisis or challenge you managed using STAR, highlighting your ability to remain calm, make critical decisions, and lead your team to a successful resolution.
7. How do you set and achieve team goals?
Explain your goal-setting process and provide an example of a time when you used STAR to establish and achieve challenging objectives, emphasising measurable results.
8. Can you describe a project that failed under your leadership? What did you learn from it?
Show your capacity for self-reflection by sharing an example of a project that didn’t go as planned. Use STAR to discuss the failure, the actions you took to address it, and the lessons you learned to prevent similar issues in the future.
9. How do you handle delegation and empower your team members?
Leaders must trust their team members and delegate tasks effectively. Walk the interviewer through a specific instance where you successfully delegated responsibilities using STAR to highlight the steps you took and the positive outcomes achieved.
10. What’s your strategy for continuous professional development as a leader?
Discuss your commitment to growth and development as a leader. Share how you’ve used the STAR method to identify areas for improvement, set goals, and track your progress in leadership development.
11. How do you ensure inclusivity and diversity within your team or project?
Address the importance of diversity and inclusivity in leadership by providing an example of how you’ve promoted these values within your team or project using STAR to explain your approach, actions, and the outcomes achieved.
12. Describe a time when you implemented a new policy or strategy successfully.
Show your ability to drive change and innovation by discussing a time when you introduced a new policy or strategy using STAR to emphasize the planning, execution, and results achieved.
13. Where do you see yourself as a leader in the next five years?
Conclude your interview on a forward-looking note. Share your aspirations and how you plan to evolve as a leader in the coming years, using the STAR method to outline your goals and the steps you’ll take to achieve them.
These leadership interview questions are great to begin your preparation with. While some of these questions might sound reductive or just not useful enough, it is important to note that these do often come up and having a prepared story for even the most common or reductive questions is a safe bet.
The secret sauce to the STAR method
As promised, now that you have reached the end of this blog. Here’s my secret add-on to the STAR method- Have you ever heard of the STARL method?
The STARL method adds an essential “Learning” component to the traditional STAR method. It focuses on the valuable lessons gained from experiences:
- Situation: Set the stage by describing the context.
- Task: Explain the specific objectives and responsibilities.
- Action: Highlight your actions and contributions.
- Result: Share the outcomes and achievements.
- Learnings: Reflect on the insights gained and how they’ve influenced your growth and decision-making as a leader.
Incorporating “Learnings” into your responses not only showcases your accomplishments but also demonstrates your adaptability, self-improvement, and personal growth as a leader, making you a special candidate for any leadership role.
Hope this was helpful. I understand that each person and each interview is unique. Thus, if you want personalised guidance or want to practice leadership interview questions with me, you can book a free meeting here. Moreover, if you would like to use AI to help you prepare for your interviews, check out this blog that highlights top AI websites to help you prepare for your interviews.
Thanks for reading and following me, much love and care.