How to show you’re a leader in your next interview

Even the simplest questions can send inexperienced interviewees running for the hills.
Talking about your strengths and weaknesses, preferred management styles and difficult decisions you’ve made in the workplace comes much more easily when you’ve got a long, successful career to draw from.

If you don’t have an extensive work history under your belt though, it can be much more challenging to prove you’ve got the skills employers need. With less real world examples to refer to, how do you show interviewers what you’re capable of ?

Demonstrating a skill such as leadership can seem really difficult in an interview.  It sounds terrifying, but you do have leadership qualities, even if you’ve never used them in the workplace, so answering this question is a simple case of doing your homework and finding examples wherever you can: school, hobbies, internships, volunteering or sports.

Why do leadership skills matter?

Most employers are interested in your leadership potential, even if you’re applying for an entry-level role. There’s often scope for a position to grow or for employees to work their way up through the company, so it’s helpful to hire candidates with a wide range of skills. Perhaps you’re applying for a junior role but the interviewer knows that a management position will open up in the team next year and wants to train you for it.

Of course, leadership isn’t just about managing people. It’s about getting the best out of your team and helping them succeed. That’s why leaders require key competencies like good communication, confidence, delegation, making tough decisions and motivating others. Leaders should also be good listeners, negotiators and problem solvers, so that they can help resolve difficult situations. All of these characteristics are hugely beneficial in any role, but particularly when you your team is looking to you for support or inspiration.

Impressing interviewers with your leadership examples

Don’t worry if you’ve never taken on a leadership role at work or if you’re interviewing for your first job. You’ve got lots of experience to draw on, even if you don’t realise it:

In the workplace

If you haven’t worked in a managerial capacity before, you can still talk about one-off projects or situations where you took the reins. Did you organise a work event or a staff training day? Have you ever run a meeting or supervised new recruits? These are all experiences you can draw on in your interview, particularly if you relate them to the leaderships skills outlined above.

In your studies

You’ve worked hard to complete your AAT exams, so use that experience to demonstrate your leadership skills. Maybe you formed a study group and set revision goals to help keep everybody on track; this highlights your ability to motivate others, stay organised and work towards objectives.

Your social life

Have you started a book club with friends and worked out the finer details on everybody’s behalf? Are you the captain of your local football team? Even planning a group holiday with your friends requires organisation, decision-making, negotiation and problem solving. Family activities like planning your children’s birthday parties or organising your annual camping trip are also provide opportunities to talk about leadership skills.

At school

If this is your first job, interviewers won’t expect you to have management experience but they might want to hear about times you took the lead in other situations. Think about group projects you headed up at school or extra-curricular roles you took on.

Were you a prefect, or the editor of your school yearbook? Talk about the challenges you faced in recruiting other students to help out, making sure photos were collected in time for the print deadline, and how you considered the whole team’s views when selecting a theme or design. These organisational and decision-making skills are transferrable and will be highly valuable in any job. Focus on the positives: what did you learn from the experience and what strengths did you display?

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Don’t worry if you’re not a natural born leader; it’s something you can explore more in your next role and there’s nothing wrong with telling the interviewer that it’s an area you’re keen to get stronger in.

If you’d like to improve your leadership skills and boost your CV before your next interview, why not find out more about studying CIMA? You’ll learn new employable skills like decision-making, problem solving and communication, as well as gaining fundamental accounting knowledge and experience. You’ll become a confident, strategic business leader as you train to qualify as a Chartered Global Management Accountant.

This article was provided by CIMA. 

Zarna Amin was the former Marketing Manager of CIMA.

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