Interviewing for a management-level position is more involved and requires a distinct strategy than a typical job interview. While I authored a popular comprehensive interview guide for executives, this follow-up piece covers what you need to keep in mind when interviewing for a management position. The following are six tips to prepare for your next management interview.
6 Tips When Preparing For A Management Interview
1. Understand the typical management interview process.
To begin with, let’s break down the typical management interview process. While every company’s hiring workflow is unique, and the structure will likely vary across roles and departments, you can expect three to four interviews for the typical leadership role, including:
- An initial recruiting interview
- A hiring manager interview
- A panel interview with peers/cross-functional partners
- A presentation interview or working interview
Note: The scope of the target role tends to determine the number of interviews, as larger tech companies will often have more standardized interview processes, while startup companies tend to have more fluid hiring processes.
2. Learn how to customize your interview responses to each audience.
Because you’ll be meeting with different people throughout the interview process, you’ll want to customize your interview talking points to the different audiences you’ll likely speak with through your management interview process.
Tip: Though you might share similar examples throughout your various interviews, you’ll want to focus on different aspects of the stories depending on whom you’re meeting.
For starters, the recruiter will probably want to focus on your work history, high-level qualifications, and how you might gel with the company and culture. Conversely, your prospective manager will want to better understand your leadership experience, working style, and ability to gain buy-in. Finally, your peers and cross-functional partners might want to know your communication preferences, collaboration style, and how you deal with potential conflict.
Before your big day, take time to consider how you might customize your interview talking points to each of these audiences.
3. Be ready to own your fabulousness.
As you think about the examples and stories you want to share during your conversations with these stakeholders, consider how you’re going to stand out from other candidates.
In today’s labor market, you can’t simply be qualified for the role, you also need to articulate what sets you apart from other leaders. To put it another way, you need to own your fabulousness.
Leading up to the interview, you might find it helpful to craft a “fabulousness phrasebook” with quick stories that you can sprinkle throughout your interview. Here are a few examples from some of my interview coaching clients:
- Since I spent a decade as an engineer at IBM before transitioning to accounting…
- As a result of working and living across five continents…
- Because I’ve worked for both hyper-growth startups and tech giants…
4. Get clear on your leadership philosophy and management style.
When interviewing at the management level, you also must be ready to share your leadership philosophy and approach to managing people and relationships. Importantly, you’ll want to come equipped with examples of how you’ve gained buy-in, managed conflict, and navigated challenging relationships. You might expect questions like:
- What’s your leadership style?
- How do you motivate your employees to do their best work?
- Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with a colleague?
When you think about your responses to these types of questions, consider how you might weave in aspects of your fabulousness, since most candidates claim they’re a “great manager,” and you want to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
Tip: You may be tempted to use “We…” when sharing leadership stories during your interview, but while it may sound counterintuitive, use “I…” when possible to focus the attention on what you specifically did as a leader in the situation to empower and mobilize your team.
5. Prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
While on the topic of communicating your people management and leadership skills, you’ll also want to think about times you centered diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), especially when targeting a role in the tech industry. Depending on the company and culture, these management interview questions might look like this:
- What is your approach to understanding colleagues from backgrounds different than your own?
- How do you foster a sense of belonging on your team?
- Can you tell me about a time you advocated for diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Tip: Actions speak louder than words, so come to your interview prepared with concrete examples of how you championed DEIB.
6. Expect the unexpected in management interviews.
Lastly, you must learn to expect the unexpected when interviewing for a leadership position. This includes having a strategy for answering unusual and curveball questions, as well as being ready to think on your feet.
When in doubt, I recommend treating your interview the way you would an important meeting or presentation, as it’s an opportunity for your prospective employer to see what it will be like to work with you.
If you were asked a question you weren’t prepared for in a meeting, for instance, how would you respond? Perhaps you would ask additional questions to collect more information before answering and/or follow up after the meeting (AKA your interview) once you’re able to research the topic further.
Likewise, what would you do if an executive derailed the meeting or arrived late? Maybe you would strategically guide the meeting (AKA the interview) back to the agenda while ensuring you get your points across. You might also schedule a follow-up meeting (AKA interview) to close the loop.
Tip: When in doubt, refer to your talking points and connect them to the interview question, company, and position.
Conclusion: How To Prepare For A Management Interview
As a leader, you’ve likely conducted your fair share of interviews as a hiring manager, but sitting on the other side of the table (or Zoom screen) as a candidate requires a different strategy. You’ll enter your next management interview with confidence and conviction if you:
- Understand the typical interview process at the management level.
- Develop your key talking points and know how to customize them depending on your interviewer.
- Come prepared with concrete examples of your leadership style in action.
- Get clear on what sets you apart from other managers.
- Stay ready for the unexpected.
You’ve got this!