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How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions for Managers

by THEA kelley | March 16, 2018

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. Why prepare stories instead of answers to specific questions? Because a good success story can typically answer a variety of different questions. For example, a story about managing a project could be used to answer questions about project management, creative problem solving, coaching, getting consensus, communicating a vision, motivating people, technical skills specific to the project, and much more. A good story is a multi-purpose tool!

There are potentially hundreds of behavioral interview questions, and you can’t possibly anticipate them all. But if you have a good list of stories you’ll be ready to handle just about any question.

How many stories do you need? I suggest you work on at least 15, preferably more.

“Wow,” you may be thinking, “Fifteen or more? How am I going to come up with that many?” It’s easier than it sounds.

Four Methods for Developing Plenty of Interview Stories

Try each of these methods. By the time you’ve done that, I’d be surprised if you don’t have a good list of stories.

The Behavioral Questions Method:

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 at least 100 questions.

Go through your list of questions, and every time a question brings a story to mind, give it a unique, specific title and add it to your list of stories. For now, don’t worry about the questions you don’t have good answers to. After you’ve developed your list of stories, you’ll very likely find that one or more of your stories can answer those questions.

The Key Selling Points Method:

This method has the advantage of generating stories that call attention to your greatest strengths.

First identify your key selling points as a job candidate–the aspects of your background and skills that are most likely to make you stand out in interviews. This is a very important exercise in itself, because you need to know what to proactively emphasize in your interviews.

Then ask yourself “What stories do I have that illustrate these key points?” Since these are some of your greatest strengths, you’re likely to have accomplishments (stories) in these areas. Add any stories to your list.

The Job Postings Method:

This method wil help you generate stories that are highly relevant to the jobs you’re interested in.

Look at job postings that are typical of the job you want, especially any roles you’re about to apply or interview for. For each task or qualification mentioned, ask yourself “Do I have a story that shows me successfully performing this task or demonstrating this qualification?” Add these stories to your list.

After going through all three of these methods, you’ll probably have plenty of stories.

Stories-within-Stories Method:

Some of your stories may actually contain mini-stories. For example, if you managed a project in which multiple problems arose along the way, your solution to a specific problem could become a story in its own right. Voila, more stories!

Next Step: Prepare to Tell Your Stories Effectively

Now, 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.

Examples of 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 to questions like the following.

“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.

“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) 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 talk about more than one, as long as the answer isn’t too long. (Generally, a minute is a good length, or occasionally up to two minutes.)

“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?

When Should You Prepare?

The best time to prepare for behavioral interview questions is way in advance, 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.

As a manager, you may also want to learn “How to Interview with Potential Direct Reports.”

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