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How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions for Managers

There’s good news and bad news about behavioral interview questions – the ones that often start with “Tell me about a time when.”

The bad news: they’re harder to answer.

The good news: most of the managers you’re competing with don’t know how to prepare for them, so if you follow the tips in this post you’ll stand out from the competition!

How to Prepare Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers for Management Positions

Your best tool for answering behavioral questions is a long list of stories – preferably 20 or so.

“Wow,” you’re probably thinking, “Twenty stories? How am I going to come up with that many?”

It’s easier than it sounds. Just follow these three steps.

Step One:

Pull together a list of maybe 100 behavioral questions. I’ve listed 10 below and you can easily find dozens more by searching online for phrases like these:

  • behavioral interview questions
  • behavioral interview questions for managers
  • behavioral interview questions (your field) managers

Also, think up likely questions based on the skills and tasks mentioned in the job postings you’re coming across in your job search.

Once you’ve done that you should have 100 questions.

Step Two:

Go through your list of questions, and every time a question brings a story to mind, give it a unique, specific title and start a list of stories.

You may find additional ideas for stories by asking yourself: “What are my best strengths, and do I have stories to illustrate those?” and looking through your resume, recent performance evaluations and any recommendations you have received.

(Why list stories instead of just answers to questions? Because stories are multi-purpose. One story involving project management might be used to answer various questions about motivating people, managing deadlines, dealing with difficult situations and so on.)

Step Three:

Plan and practice your stories, using an interview storytelling technique like SOAR (Situation, Obstacles, Actions, Results) to make your stories clear and compelling. You’ll soon be ready to answer a wide range of behavioral questions.

Here are some common questions to get you started.

Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers for Managers

Of course I can’t provide ready-made answers for you, because half of good interviewing is being authentic. (The other half is being strategic.) What I can offer are suggestions to help you think through your own answers.

“Give me an example that demonstrates your decision-making process, and how and when you involve others in the decision.”

Like other questions about your management style, this question requires some introspection and self-awareness on your part. Do you know how you make decisions? If you’ve studied management and leadership you may have taken assessments and gained some vocabulary that will help you answer questions like this.

If you don’t have that theoretical background, think about successful decisions you have made in the past. How did you gather data to make the decision? How did you decide when you had enough? How did you analyze the data or consider the information? Did you involve others in the decision-making process early on, to gain buy-in? Or was it necessary to act more quickly and authoritatively?

“Give me an example of a method you have used successfully to motivate your staff.”

This question makes me think of an episode of The Simpsons television show in which Homer is promoted to management. One of his first motivational techniques is to ask people “Um, are you guys working? Could you work any harder?” Instantly, everyone starts working harder. In real life it’s not so simple.

What has worked with your team? If you’re an inexperienced or self-taught manager you may not be aware of how you motivate people. Like the question above, the answer may require some introspection on your part. There’s also a lot to be said for doing some reading about these things before you start going to interviews. You may discover motivational techniques you’ve used with staff, volunteers or in teammates without even realizing it.

“Rate your management skills on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 representing excellent management skills. Provide three examples from your past work experiences that demonstrate your selected number is accurate.”

Would you hire a manager who only rated himself a “7”? Or would you think he lacked confidence? What about one who considers himself a “10”? Would you think he’s not entirely transparent and may not take feedback well? Whatever number you choose, illustrate it with the most impactful stories you have.

With a question like this it’s easy to overlook the fact that a specific number of examples was requested (three). Listen carefully. It can be helpful to repeat part of the question before answering, to anchor it in your mind: “One to 10, with three examples. Okay . . . ”

“How do you give feedback to your direct reports? Give me an example that illustrates your approach.”

Don’t forget to describe how the employees responded to your feedback. The proof is in the pudding.

“Tell me about a time when you had an underperforming team member. How did you handle the situation?”

The best answer would be a story telling how you used your coaching and training skills to help the employee become successful. Stay objective and calm in your description of any negative behavior – don’t complain! Keep the focus on the effective methods you used to foster better performance.

You may think of a story where you terminated the employee, but that’s best left for when you’re specifically asked about firing someone.

“How do you handle complainers? Give me an example from your experience.”

It’s a good idea to ask yourself what might be behind a question like this. The interviewer may be worried about a morale problem they’re having (which could be a red flag for you, by the way) and is hoping you can create a more positive environment. Or it may be a trick question, to see whether you have been quick to label staff members as “complainers” instead of listening to see if their feedback might be useful.

“What is the most innovative idea you ever had? What did you do with it?”

What if you can’t think of an example? Maybe the word “innovative” is hanging you up. What about a process you improved? A project you led or delegated in a different way than most people would? A problem you solved after others had failed? Any of these could truthfully be framed as an “innovative idea.”

What if you’ve had many innovative ideas? There’s no rule that says you can’t add one or two more to your answer, as long as the answer isn’t too long. (Generally, a minute or less is good.)

“Give me an example that shows how you empower your people to bring their ideas forward.”

This may be easy if your staff often come to you with ideas.

If not, let me offer a reframe: Unless you always tell your team exactly what to do, chances are they’re sometimes telling you how they’re going to do their work – or simply going ahead and doing it, in their own way. That could count as “bringing their ideas forward.”

And what is it that you do – whether you’ve thought of it consciously or not – that lets them know it’s safe to think for themselves? If you think it’s just “something about me,” then how does that “something” express itself?

“Tell me about a time when you reorganized or downsized a department (or significantly changed employee work assignments).”

Your answer should show skills and qualities such as business acumen, analytical skills, good planning, empathy, and attention to “the people side” of the situation, including how the employees responded to your actions – both those who were let go and those who remained. Overall, what were the positive results of the change?

“Who have you coached recently? What were the results?”

Remember that coaching isn’t just a process of telling, of instructing. It’s also about asking questions. When have you asked questions that helped someone think things through and move forward?

Preparation Time

The best time to prepare for behavioral interview questions is before you even have an interview scheduled. Start now, do a little every day, and be the well-prepared, thoughtful, confident candidate who gets the offer.

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