Discussing Your Leadership Skills in a Job Interview

Power and influence are funny things. Sometimes the more we chase after them, the more they elude our grasp. And there’s plenty of truth in the old saying: “If you have to tell people that you’re powerful…you aren’t.”People tend to put their trust in a “leader” who seems knowledgeable, who seems confident in her decisions, and who has a track record of getting her followers safely to wherever they need to go. When we identify someone like that, we latch onto them, whether they specifically ask us to or not. In fact, we’re more likely to follow someone who doesn’t seem to be grabbing at power for its own sake and who places her follower’s needs ahead of her own.In other words, gifted leaders act and speak as if they’re sitting in the driver’s seat accidentally—as if they were pushed into this role by a desire to help others or serve the greater good, and the perks of leadership are incidental, or even a little distasteful to them. Natural leaders give away credit and thanks, they think twice before they bark orders, and they usually don’t applaud themselves publicly for the authority they happen to hold over others.So when you’re asked, point blank, to explain exactly how powerful you are, this can feel like an awkward catch-22. Especially if this happens during a job interview. Here are few things to keep in mind as you address this question.

Consider the Context

Determine what your interviewers are really asking. Sometimes the “leadership” they need is that of a cheerleader or motivator who can rally others behind a cause or goal. Sometimes employers need a “leader” who sets an example—someone who others want to imitate, a trendsetter who can be pushed in a certain direction where the crowd will hopefully follow. Sometimes a “leader” is someone who takes on an unpleasant task others don’t want, like issuing a round of layoffs in a calm and decisive way. And sometimes a “leader” is simply an expert or a knowledgeable guide. As in, “We need someone who understands our new software system and can guide us through the implementation process.” Try to assess what this word means to these specific employers before you answer.

Focus on What You’ve Done, Not What You “Are”

Show, don’t tell. “I’m a strong leader!” will always sound somewhat ridiculous—This statement isn’t meant to be issued in the first person. But you don’t have to use these words. Instead, simply describe something you’ve done in the past that might impress these employers or conform to their own definition of this term. Describe a time in which you rallied a burned-out team, or a time in which you stepped in to handle an icky task nobody else had the courage to touch, or a time when you stood up in front of a room and explained a complex subject to a group of people using simple, understandable terms.

Discuss Your Philosophy

Recognize that most employers won’t ask you to do this, simply because they don’t know you yet and they aren’t sure that you have a “leadership philosophy”. Not everyone does. But don’t wait to be asked. Explain your philosophy after describing the leadership challenges in your past. For example, after sharing your greatest accomplishment, switch gears by saying “I believe I was successful on that day because I always check to make sure the team is behind me before I leap forward”, or “I believe that the best way to gain respect is to give respect,” or “I believe that the best leaders are the ones who learn from their mistakes.”

Let Your Resume Tell Your Leadership Story

If you truly are a powerful and effective leader, this will show in everything you do…Including your resume. Visit MyPerfectResume and use the resources on the site to list and describe your credentials.