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How to Interview for Your First Management Position, Part 1 of 2

by THEA kelley | July 28, 2022

You may not yet have held the title of “manager,” but if you’ve landed a managerial interview, you probably have leadership experience and/or potential. Here’s how to demonstrate in a job interview that you’re ready to join the management team.

First, let’s look at some common challenges in interviewing for first management positions:

  • Understanding and owning the experience you do have
  • Presenting your experience and skills clearly and confidently
  • “Walking the talk”: proving your skills through your behavior in the interview process
  • “Talking the talk”: speaking the language of management
  • Looking like a leader

In this post we’ll explore the first two items in this list. In a followup post we’ll look at the other three.

Understand the experience you do have.

Maybe you’ve never hired people, written their evaluations or made disciplinary decisions. Nevertheless, chances are you have relevant experience, such as the following:

  • Managing a project.
  • Taking initiative to solve problems or improve processes.
  • Orienting and mentoring new hires.
  • Mentoring or coaching any employee.
  • Filling in for the manager when they were out.
  • Collaborating on interviewing and evaluating job candidates.
  • Designing or adjusting workflows or schedules.
  • Monitoring and reporting on performance other than your own.
  • Participating in strategic planning.
  • Forecasting revenues, inventory needs, or any other aspect of the business.
  • Giving presentations to management or employees.
  • Facilitating a training or other activity (which requires that you manage the group).
  • Enhancing the team culture, for example by promoting inclusiveness.

What did you see on that list that you have done? Prepare to explain specifically how you did it and how it benefited your group. “I’m good at doing X” isn’t enough. In what ways are you good at it? And what results have you obtained?

Present your experience and skills effectively through storytelling.

Think about a situation when you’ve used these skills successfully. What did you do that helped create a good outcome? Storytelling is crucial for an effective interview.

If you’re getting stuck, sometimes it helps to ask yourself, “How would a less skillful person have handled that situation?” For example, let’s say you helped to resolve a conflict between two teammates. You could have tried to resolve it with both of them in the room, resulting in a shouting match or sullen silence. But instead, you talked with each of them privately and clarified the situation and possible solutions, then brought them together. And what did you say to them? How did you listen? How did they respond?

Prepare your stories using a structure like STAR or SOAR so you’re ready to give great answers to behavioral interview questions. In the process, you may notice common themes. For example, maybe you have a talent for helping people look at problems in a new way. Or maybe you’ve helped people advance toward their longer-term career goals. Knowing what you’re especially good at can make you memorable and help you differentiate yourself from other candidates.

For more tips, read my post “How to Answer Behavioral Questions for Managers.”

Prepare for management interview questions.

Aside from the behavioral questions that you answer with stories, you’ll also want to plan your best answers to questions like these:

  • Do you have management experience? How many years?
  • Tell me about your communication/decision-making/leadership style.
  • Have you led meetings? Tell me about how you prepare for an effective meeting.
  • How would you describe the culture in your business unit?
  • How have you supported your company’s values and culture?
  • What does diversity mean to you?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

There’s more! Take a look at Part 2 of “How to Interview for Your First Management Position,” in which I provide powerful tips to help you “walk the talk,” “talk the talk” and look like a leader.

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