One of the most important skills an employee can have is the ability to communicate well with coworkers. A popular way for employers to find out about your interpersonal skills is to ask about your bosses. Regardless of your personal feelings toward your bosses past and present, think about their management styles and incorporate that into your answer. Figure out what traits (e.g., good listener, willingness to help) your dream boss would possess and which characteristics (e.g., never around, not interested in new ideas) you could do without.
Q: Tell me about an effective manager you have known.
YES: The best supervisor I ever had was the person who led my training group when I was first starting out in the business. We spent two weeks going through an intensive training program in which we learned various sales techniques, industry jargon, and business concepts. This person would really watch our faces as he taught us something new. When he saw that we looked a little confused, he would ask what we were having difficulty understanding. Before moving on to the next topic, he would make sure that everyone in the group fully understood the previous one. He never assumed too much when teaching us new things, and he never made us feel dumb for not grasping an idea quickly.
NO: The best manager I ever had was at a part-time job I held during college. Since he had just graduated from college himself, he was always very understanding when we wanted to take off early or have a few days off.
Sometimes our favorite supervisors are the ones we can really be friends with. While everyone would like it if his best buddy were in charge, an irresponsible manager—and your affection toward him—will not impress an interviewer. When you discuss a supervisor you respected, make sure that you are taking that person's business savvy and his ability to manage people into account. Talk about his interpersonal skills and why you respected his style of management. How was the person able to accomplish so much and get your support in the process?
Q: What type of management style do you think is the most effective?
YES: I've always learned well from people who act as coaches rather than experts. When someone comes to me with a problem, I try to act as if I'm reasoning through the problem with the person, learning as I go. I never just give an answer. I want employees to develop confidence in creating answers for themselves.
NO: I like a manager who doesn't continually remind you that she is your superior. I respect the kind of person who leaves you alone and lets you get on with your own work.
This question is very similar to the previous one. That said, it can be answered in very much the same way. Rather than give a particular example of the manager or leader you've admired most, talk about the attributes that person possessed. You can even add a personal or popular example of someone who you think is an effective leader. If you can, let the question lead to your own management style; talk about the things you have learned from these leaders and how you try to incorporate them into your own managing persona.
The top five interview misdemeanors are: 1) forgetting to bring extra copies of your resume and references, 2) wearing jeans to the interview, 3) not knowing the name of the person with whom you are interviewing, 4) arriving late, and 5) using foul language. Any one of these can knock you out of the running.
Q: How would you describe your own personal management style?
YES: Rather than tell someone what to do or answer a question directly, I try to encourage my employees to help find the solution. For example, if asked a question about how to proceed on a project or task, I will prompt the person to tell me what he thinks we should do. In addition to questions, I want to hear solutions. I like being able to lead my team, but I want to know that they are working to help solve problems as well. I like to think that by involving my staff in questions and problems that arise in the department, I am teaching them how to be effective leaders.
NO: I'm explicit in my directions. I tell my staff what needs to get done, how to do it, and when to finish. The work is up to them.
Talk about your management style and interpersonal skills with your staff. Do you allow them to be creative or are you a take-charge sort of person? Think about how your staff views you. Are you a micromanager? Describe a particular skill you've learned from a leader you admire and discuss how you try to incorporate that into your own management style. Be careful that you portray yourself as a fair leader and not as a tyrant. It is also important to provide an indication that you can be flexible in your approach to managing others—situational leadership means that you can and do accommodate your style to the situation and the needs/preferences of staff members.
Q: What type of people do you work with most effectively?
YES: My favorite type of coworker is someone who is not afraid to voice her opinion. I love to work with people who are creative and willing to brainstorm ideas before deciding upon a particular solution. Confidence is always important as well.
NO: I like working with people who are confident in their work and who show a lot of pride. I can't stand working with people who leave all the answers up to someone else … you know … those people who do what they are told but never volunteer any of their own opinions. I really hate working with those kinds of people.
The key here—and in every question, really—is to remain positive. Far too many people answer this question in a way that fails to highlight the positive points they like in their coworkers; instead they drone on and on about the things they hate. A negative attitude is never in a job description, and it's certainly not something you should convey—either intentionally or unintentionally—during an interview. Make sure the company would approve of the characteristics you are describing. For example, if you are a bit of a chatterbox, you might love to have a few other talkative people in your department, but this is not the type of thing you should mention in your interview. Always remember that the interviewer is interested in how well you will fit in with the company's other employees, not how well they'll fit in with you.
Q: Is there anything that your current supervisor does that you really dislike?
YES: The one thing that really makes me uncomfortable is when my supervisor gives feedback in front of others. Whether the feedback is positive or negative, I just think it is more appropriate for any commendation or criticism of one's work to be done in private.
NO: I don't like it that my boss always has to have the final say. Even if other people muster up the courage to offer their own opinions, he always goes with the solution he came up with in the meantime.
Though this question obviously targets a negative situation, the goal is to eliminate the negative spin as quickly as possible. Briefly touch upon an issue that has bothered you in the past, but try to describe it as a positive learning experience. Avoid personal criticism of a current or former supervisor, as it may only serve to lessen the interviewer's opinion of you.
If asked why you are changing jobs, stay positive. You want to let your interviewer know you are moving toward your goal, not running away from a bad job.
Q: What are the steps you take to organize and plan for a major project?
YES: The first step I take in planning any project—no matter how big or small—is to brainstorm the best, worst, and most likely scenarios that could occur. Then I work backward: I ask what steps I can take to ensure the most desirable outcome. What can I do to avoid the worst-case scenario coming true? I then compose a schedule that allows for a realistic time frame to complete the project. By figuring out all the possible scenarios in the beginning, I find that I am well prepared to deal with any problems that may arise during the project.
NO: Because each project I work on is so different, I plan for each one in a different way. I feel that I work better and more effectively when I take a fresh approach to a project.
Whether or not you approach each project in the same way, it helps to have a similar plan of action that you use time and time again. It is just this sort of planning that shows you have strong time management skills and that you are a real professional. Describe to the interviewer your general approach to mastering new projects. What are the steps you take before you begin? How do you set a timetable, determine priorities, delegate tasks, and still have enough work left over for yourself?
Q: Tell me about a time when you've had to work under intense pressure.
YES: I was working on a strict deadline to complete an end-of-quarter report at the same time that I was on the road working. I did not have all of the files and information in front of me, so there was a lot of calling back and forth. Luckily, my staff really pulled together to help me, and the report turned out great.
NO: My boss had gone on a vacation for two weeks, so my department decided that we could take a mini-vacation as well. As the time drew nearer to my supervisor's return, we realized that we had been pretty undisciplined and had fallen way behind. We had to cram two weeks’ worth of working into just two days. It was difficult, but we did manage to pull together, work as a team, and get everything done.
Focus on your time management skills when answering this question. Also be sure that the situation you describe is one you succeeded in. You want to show the interviewer that you are a hard worker who knows how to deal with difficult situations. You also want to assure this person that when faced with these situations, you can easily emerge victorious. Be sure to give a specific example, and give enough detail to communicate both the intensity of the situation and the ease with which you handled it.
Q: How do you manage your time on a typical day?
YES: I always reserve the beginning of my day for work with my major accounts. Because these are the accounts with a higher risk and return potential, I like to devote as much time as I need to these people. After I finish servicing all of my accounts, I go through my e-mail. Internal e-mail is usually the last thing that I do, unless there is a pressing issue that I think needs immediate attention.
NO: I really prefer to let the day handle me. I tend to prioritize duties as they come my way throughout the day. What is my most pressing task one moment could be my least important ten minutes later. That ever-changing aspect of the job is one of the things I enjoy most.
Again, the interviewer is trying to find evidence of your time management skills. Though the ability to juggle many tasks as they occur is important, the interviewer also wants to know that you attack each and every day with a certain plan in mind. She will also want to be sure that you don't give priority to the more exciting work and avoid dull, necessary routines that are important in the long run.
Q: Describe a time when you acted on someone's suggestion.
YES: At one point, some of my employees commented that my office hours were inconvenient for them. They suggested that I keep open office hours earlier in the day so that they could find the time to come speak with me when there was something bothering them or something they wished to talk about. I changed the hours and have found a lot more employees dropping by to share feedback with me, which I really appreciate.
NO: Each morning, I would arrive to the office about ten or fifteen minutes late. My boss suggested that I start waking up an extra ten or fifteen minutes early in order to get to work on time. I did, and I haven't been late since!
The interviewer wants evidence of your willingness to listen to other people's ideas and act on them. Show that you are willing to accept constructive criticism and suggestions and use them if you think they could be beneficial. In answering this question, you're also revealing how coworkers feel about you. Have they felt comfortable enough to offer you suggestions in the past? Are you an approachable person? Do coworkers believe that if given a suggestion you'll listen fairly and objectively? When given a suggestion that leads to some sort of improvement, do you give credit where it is due? In answering this question, you want to reassure the interviewer that you are a reasonable and fair person and that you respect the ideas of others.
Q: Tell me about a time when you had to defend an idea to your boss or someone else in an authoritative position.
YES: After working for my current employer for just a few months, I realized that many of our biggest accounts were not happy with the public relations services we were providing. It seemed that our Manhattan-based PR firm was having difficulty satisfying our West Coast clientele. As West Coast companies make up nearly 80 percent of our business, I approached my boss about changing PR firms. Because we had been using the same firm for nearly ten years, he was quite reluctant to change. When I showed him the demographic shift in our customer base and had him speak with several of our clients who had voiced concerns to me in the past, he agreed that we might be better off switching agencies.
NO: After talking to many of my company's employees, I found that they were in serious need of some motivation. I went to my boss and suggested that we try to make the workplace a bit more fun by doing things like Hawaiian Shirt Day. Though my boss and all those above him laughed at these suggestions, I still pursued the idea. In the end, I was never able to convince them that such an event would work, but I was happy that I had tried nonetheless.
The most important thing here is to make sure that you describe a time or situation in which—after defending your idea'you were able to see it through successfully. By explaining such a situation, you are telling the interviewer three important things about yourself: 1) that you have good ideas, 2) that you will fight for what you believe in, and 3) that those in higher positions respect your opinion and are willing to take a chance on your ideas.
Q: Which aspect of your own management style would you like to change?
YES: One thing that I have been working on is not telling people what to do when they ask me a question. Rather than tell them the answer to the question, I like to talk to them and help them work out the problem. This is something I have been working on for a little while, and it's a technique in which I can already see improvement.
NO: I would like to be able to control my temper a little bit better. Far too often I find myself coming down too hard on employees who come to me with a small and simple question. I've usually got so much on my mind, and my employees should know the answers to many of these questions already. I have been working on this problem, and it's something I am making progress in.
Though this question specifically asks you to bring up a negative point of your personality, it doesn't mean you can't speak in a positive way. One of the best ways to answer this question is to talk about an aspect of your management style that you are already trying to improve. Make sure to point out a characteristic that you wouldn't be embarrassed or afraid to mention otherwise. Rather than focus on the problem at hand, explain the steps you are taking to improve this characteristic, and be sure to give evidence that you're making progress.
Q: Have you ever become defensive around your boss or peers?
YES: For several years, the book publisher I worked for had always printed its flyers in a black-and-white, four-page layout. While I understood the need to remain economical, I suggested that we change our format to an all-color, two-page layout. The cost would be about the same, but I strongly felt that the overall effect would be significant. My boss complained that we couldn't afford to do that, but I assured her that we would pay just about the same amount of money to do it my way. In the end, my boss agreed to try it, and the result was fantastic! Sales generated from our new flyers increased by 30 percent.
NO: I feel like I am always on the defense in my current job. Though one of my main duties is to come up with new and creative ways to sell our products, it seems like my current boss has her own set way of doing things and dismisses any idea that is not her own. On several occasions in the past few months, we have gotten into heated debates about whether or not my ideas would do well. Defending my ideas is just another one of the things that I have come to accept as an everyday thing.
You should describe a situation in which you emerged victorious. Think about a time in which you were passionate about something or convinced that an idea would work and had to work your hardest to sell those around you on the idea. Discuss how you persuaded those same naysayers to okay the idea. Avoid any discussion of personality clashes, feelings of resentment, or heated exchanges. Tell what the outcome of your persistence was. Be sure to end on a positive note.
Q: Have you patterned your own management style after someone in particular?
YES: If anyone has taught me about this business so far, I would have to say it was my first boss. I began working for him right out of college, and he really taught me everything there was to know about the business. He was extremely organized, articulate, and business savvy. His tremendous interpersonal skills allowed him to deal with people very easily, and I was always impressed by the way people seemed to respect him. Throughout my career, I have tried to adopt many of his traits. I strongly believe in having open lines of communication between employees, and this is the most important lesson he taught me.
NO: Not really.
Here's a great rule to remember when it comes to interviewing: If you can answer the question in five words or less, you had better come up with another answer. While it certainly wouldn't be prudent to talk the interviewer's ear off, short answers that don't reveal much of yourself or your background will not be looked upon favorably. You should always be sure to elaborate on what you say. Describe the management style of someone that you know personally. Be specific in your answer, and be sure to explain how you have tried to follow this good example.
Q: Describe a leader you admire.
YES: I've always admired the way the president of my current company conducts business. She is very down-to-earth and knows everyone's name. She is completely approachable and willing to listen to any idea someone may have—whether it's the receptionist who answers the phone or the vice president of finance. Her “just another working gal” mentality really helps keep the spirit of teamwork alive.
NO: I've always admired Jerry Garcia. He inspired a lot of us to let our hair down and have a ball with our lives. A great musician, too, and what about his ice cream!
You don't have to know the person in order to imitate his or her style, though it might seem more realistic if you do. Feel free to give personal or popular examples of leaders you believe are effective. Be careful of offending the interviewer and refrain from citing your admiration of controversial leaders, as it could be detrimental to the overall impression you leave. Talk about why you admire this person and why you think he or she is a great leader. What has he or she done to accomplish so much? What are some of the lessons you have learned from this person, and how are you able to incorporate these tactics into your professional life?
Q: What personal characteristics do you think add to your overall effectiveness?
YES: I think that I have a strong ability to create deeper relationships with people than business usually allows for. I am able to know more about a client than just the amount of money she brings to my company each year. I get to know my clients on a more personal level, and I keep them in mind all the time. If I read an article that I know one of my clients might enjoy, I'll send the clip along. In doing so, I find that my phone calls are returned much more quickly--and happily--than the next person's might be.
NO: I think that my strong ability to manipulate others allows me to nudge people in my direction when they might otherwise go another way. I seem to be able to convince them that they need what I have to offer, and this is a talent that has served me well in my sales career.
What is it about your personal style that makes you unique from the other candidates that the interviewer has met with? What traits do you possess that make you more effective? Without sounding cocky or exploitative, talk about why you think you are able to get cooperation from others.