Interview Question: "Describe Your Leadership Experience"

Updated March 10, 2023

When interviewing for a job involving management, you may be asked to describe your leadership experience. This question is important to interviewers because your answer will show your experience and capabilities as a leader. Even if you don’t have extensive professional leadership experience, you likely have several experiences in your life that you can draw on to answer this question.

In this article, we explain how to describe your leadership experience when asked during an interview, and we provide sample answers to guide you.

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Why employers ask about leadership experience

An interviewer may inquire about your leadership experience to determine how well you can manage or direct a team of employees. Many employers believe that team members with strong leadership skills are more likely to remain loyal and stay in their jobs for longer periods of time. Good leaders may also be promoted in the future to higher-level positions.

When an employer asks about leadership, it’s important to show that you have the skills to help the company achieve its goals. As you think about experiences to include in your answer, consider several aspects of leadership. You may have led projects in your previous roles or managed an important project during your college years. These experiences are helpful to discuss, although the interviewer will likely also want to know how well you’ve been able to lead other people.

Leading people often involves making decisions and judgments about certain situations, which are important skills that interviewers look for in candidates. An effective leader must be able to act decisively, even without all the necessary information, so think about an experience in your life that demonstrates your confidence under pressure and decision-making ability. Remember that the process of making decisions often involves evaluating risks and planning for potential events that might threaten a successful outcome.

Related: Why You Need To Ask About Advancement Opportunities During an Interview

How to answer “Describe your leadership experience”

When responding to this question, it’s helpful to consider your ability to lead both people and projects. The employer cares about your ability to inspire and manage people, but they also may be invested in your ability to guide a project from start to finish. Your potential employer will want to know if you can take initiative and lead when the occasion arises.

Use these steps to plan an answer to this common interview question:

1. Think about your leadership experiences in the past

When thinking about how to answer this question, many people struggle to know when they have been effective leaders. If you can’t think of a relevant example in your professional life, you can use an example from your school experience, when volunteering or even when pursuing your hobbies. For example, if you were part of a sorority in college and organized a fundraising event for a local charity, you could talk about this experience.

2. Showcase your ability to be an effective team member

Every leader is part of a team, so try to emphasize your interest in being a team player and supporting others in your role. The interviewer might look for potential warning signs in your answer that you’re a leader who wants to take charge but struggles to execute plans or effectively utilize a team.

3. Outline the steps you took to achieve your goal

You can keep this portion of the answer simple, but it’s important to showcase how well you can guide a project. When outlining the steps, use the STAR interview response technique, which involves explaining the Situation, Task, Action and Result.

4. Discuss how you delegated tasks

Even if you were the leader of a project or team, think about how you delegated tasks to others and your reasoning for pairing people with their tasks. In the example of organizing a fundraising event for a charity, you could provide details about how you decided what type of event to organize, who supported your goal to raise money for an organization, the number of people who helped you with the event and how you generated income.

5. Quantify your accomplishments

Finish your answer with details about how you accomplished or exceeded your goals in a quantifiable way, such as the amount of money your event raised for the charity. If your efforts afforded you any special attention or awards, you could also include details about this if you don’t have a dollar amount or other quantifiable number to discuss in your answer.

By preparing your answer and considering your past experiences carefully, you can craft an answer to the “describe your leadership experience” question that clearly outlines your ability to lead others in any role.

Related: 12 Tough Interview Questions and Answers

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Example answers

Leadership skills are important in any role, whether you’re interviewing for a position as a supervisor or applying for an internship during college. By showcasing your abilities to lead others and manage projects, you can increase your chances of successfully interviewing for a job you want. As you prepare your answer, consider how you can present your past experiences in a way that is succinct, clear and informative.

Consider the following sample answers when asked to describe your leadership experience:

Example 1

“In my role as the sales manager at Johnson & Williams, I was tasked with increasing the overall sales numbers from one quarter to the next. I used my experience as a salesperson to determine what methods work best for selling products and developed a presentation on three of the best ways to increase sales. When I gave this presentation, I encouraged the sales team members to share their insights and how they could apply the methods to specific deals that were currently in their pipelines. The following quarter, our sales numbers increased by 15%.”

Example 2

“While working as an intern at a software company, I set a goal to network with five of the top members of the company. I wanted to build relationships that could benefit me in the future, as well as learn more about how they had achieved success. By taking this initiative, I was able to build my confidence and determine what skills I needed to focus on to move up in my career.”

Example 3

“I have been volunteering with the animal shelter in my community for three years. When I came in as a volunteer, the staff was trying to increase adoption rates. I researched three other animal shelters and rescues to figure out what they were doing to increase their success rates. In this research, I found that all three were hosting events in their buildings, which increased the rate of adoption.

I discussed my findings with the volunteer coordinator, who approved my request to host a holiday-themed event for families. I worked with the staff and my fellow volunteers to plan activities and food to serve at the event. I also designed flyers and shared information about the event through the shelter’s social media channels. More than 150 people came to the event, which resulted in 50 pet adoptions.”

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