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How to Answer the Interview Question “What is your management style?”

by THEA kelley | August 5, 2021

“What is your management style?” It’s an important interview question, and a cliche answer like “I’m fair and my door is always open” won’t cut it.

Let’s see how you can prepare an answer that’s both authentically “you” and strategically smart. In other words, describe your management style in a way that shows a strong fit between (a) your style and (b) what makes sense in the organization you’re interviewing for.

Explore your management style.

What makes you a good manager? Is it that you provide just the right amounts of guidance and autonomy? Is it how you reward people, how you coach and develop them, how you communicate? Consider the quantity and quality of meetings you lead, how much you participate alongside your direct reports or not, and so on. Your answer won’t be the same as someone else’s. Which aspects of your management style have led to strong performance from your people?

If you’ve had management or leadership training, you may already have useful insights about your style and vocabulary for describing it. If not, do a quick Internet survey of what’s been written about management styles. You’ll find a plethora of labels and systems. That’s good—it gives you lots of opportunities to find the description that makes you say “Aha! That’s me!”

For example, one system identifies four types of managers: Teacher managers, Always-on Managers, Connector Managers and Cheerleader Managers. Another refers to Visionary, Democratic, Transformational and Coaching management styles. And so on. Skim a lot of articles, then delve deeper when you find something that sounds like you at your best. Take some notes.

The idea is not to wow the interviewer with fancy terminology, but simply to discover ways to talk about how you manage.

Research the organization and the hiring manager.

What you say about your management style should gibe well with the culture of the company and team you’re interviewing for. Research the company online and through word of mouth. (Research the hiring manager too, looking for clues about their values and personality. Maybe you won’t find any, so don’t get stuck at this point, just give it a try and move on.)

Now plan your answer.

What did you find in common between your style and the organization’s culture (and maybe the hiring manager’s style)? That’s what you want to emphasize in your answer.

For example, let’s say you’ve identified that you generally use a participative management style (see the quote below). And let’s say you’re about to interview at Amazon. This company espouses 14 leadership principles, and you might sense that among those, “Hire and Develop the Best,” “Earn Trust” and “Learn and Be Curious” mesh especially well with your style. So your answer might sound like the one below.

“What is your management style?”

“I’m a participative manager, which aligns well with many of your values here at Amazon. I keep my staff very informed about goals and metrics, seek their ideas and opinions and involve them in making decisions, which works for me because, like Amazon, I hire and develop the best. Of the 15 direct reports I’ve had in the past five years, four have been promoted to higher positions in the company.

“I’m also big on building trust, and part of the way I do that is by being transparent about my own limitations and mistakes, as well as by giving staff a lot of autonomy and credit. By doing this, I build a culture that’s about team success and constant learning.

“I don’t need to be the smartest person on my team—as a matter of fact I love to hire people who are smarter than me. One of my earliest hires is now CEO of a very fast-growing startup called MarvaTech. My current team is rocking an initiative that’s on track to raise our West Coast revenues 20% this year. What’s making that work is that the team is totally engaged. Even when I occasionally have to steer away from a team idea that isn’t working, they know they’ve been heard and they’ve got a lot of ownership.”

Now that you know how to answer the interview question “What is your management style,” you may want to consider how to interview with potential direct reports.

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