It’s common for interviewers to ask, ‘describe a time you demonstrated leadership’ even when you’re not applying for a managerial position. If you’ve never been in charge of people before, you might be at a loss for how to answer this question.
Not to worry, because there are plenty of experiences that provide leadership experience that employers will value. We’ll give you some ideas and share pointers for answering interview questions about leadership below.
Why do interviewers ask about demonstrating leadership?
Leadership is a desirable quality in many different types of roles, even those that don’t have direct reports. Having leadership capabilities ensures you’re able to make smart decisions, get your work done without being micromanaged, and positively influence those around you.
In addition to understanding how well you’ll fit in the role for which you’re interviewing, hiring managers also ask about leadership experience to see whether you might be a good candidate for upward advancement. Companies are always looking to nurture promising talent, and having natural leadership capabilities puts you in a strong position to grow with the organization.
What interviewers are looking for when they ask about your leadership experience
When asking about leadership, interviewers aren’t necessarily looking for a time when you gave direction to others (although this is certainly relevant if you have this type of experience). They want to hear about leadership qualities in action, like confidence, independence, problem-solving, critical thinking, and planning.
They also want to learn more about the leadership style you gravitate toward–whether you’re comfortable actively taking the lead or if you prefer a more subtle approach. This can help them understand how you might fit on their team.
How to answer the interview question ‘Describe a time you demonstrated leadership’
Explore different aspects of leadership
Leadership doesn’t just mean bossing people around. There are plenty of professional experiences you can use as an illustration of your leadership qualities. Here are a few ideas:
- Being the point person on a project
- Showing a new coworker how to use your company’s software
- Taking on responsibilities for a more senior colleague while they were out
- Making an important decision under pressure
- Motivating teammates to complete a difficult task
Share an anecdote
Using scenarios like the ones above, think of a few real stories from your current and prior jobs you can talk about. Describe the situation, challenge, and leadership skills you exercised to solve the problem or complete the task.
Relate it to the job
You want your answer to be relevant to the new job as much as possible. If it’s a customer-facing role, talk about a time you had to be a leader among a group of people. If it’s a tech-heavy job, share how you stepped up to troubleshoot a challenging software bug.
How not to answer
Say you haven’t led people
Don’t call attention to your lack of leadership experience. While it might be true, it doesn’t help you as a candidate. Instead, focus on other relevant experiences that have helped foster the qualities found in a strong leader.
Be too specific
You don’t want to come across as too rigid, so avoid giving an overly detailed answer about your leadership approach. You want employers to view you as coachable, especially if there’s the potential to move into a leadership role in the future.
Sample answers to ‘Describe a time you demonstrated leadership’
Use your answer to highlight leadership skills that connect your prior experience with the job’s responsibilities. Even if you haven’t sat in the boss’ chair yet, with the right preparation, it might happen sooner than you think.