This article looks at seven classic questions asked in interviews for line management roles.
It looks at what interviewers are trying to find out when they ask these questions and some example answers.
Finally, we look at a few mistakes people make when interviewing for line management roles and how to avoid them.
Let’s start by looking at what line management is.
To ace the interview for a line management role, it’s crucial to understand clearly what the job will involve.
Line Management is the first layer of management in an organisation.
It involves managing, supporting, and motivating a small team of employees to meet the organisation’s aims.
As a line manager, you need to ensure that all team members are working together, and you will need to manage any conflicts within your team.
In addition, you will be responsible for reporting your team’s performance upwards to senior management and communicating messages from them back down to your team.
If you would like more detail on what a line manager does, please see our article: What Is A Line Manager?
The role of line management does not vary much from organisation to organisation.
The similarity of the roles means that the questions that interviewers ask don’t vary much.
The characteristics interviewers are looking for are very similar.
Interviewers want to understand how you will interact with your team with this question.
When answering this question, give real-life examples to illustrate your management style where possible.
As a candidate for a line management role, you probably won’t have much management experience at work to speak about.
If so, think about examples you could use from sports and other teams you have been part of.
During a recruitment process, it is important to back up what you say about your skills by real-life discussing examples of them.
‘I think that communication is a key part of management. As a manager, I would provide everyone with clear instructions and ensure that they understand that I am always available to support them if they are unsure about something.
Setting clear, achievable goals and ensuring that everyone feels part of the team is a great way to build morale.
For example, when I was captain of my local football team, I used to ………’
Here your interviewers are trying to find out how you will deal with the different personalities and working styles of the people that will make up your team.
They will be looking for examples of times when you have taken time to get to know your team members and how they work. You can’t motivate people if you don’t understand what makes them tick.
They won’t expect you to have advanced people management skills. However, they will expect you to demonstrate that you have basic people management skills and an awareness that you have more to learn.
Your answer should include a time when you successfully used different approaches with different people because you had taken the time to understand that their character.
“I vary my approach to motivation depending on the individual. For example, I once managed a very talented individual who lacked confidence. As a consequence, they had been overlooked by previous managers.
I encouraged them to present their work at team meetings and praised their contribution in front of the team. This public acknowledgement made a big difference to their motivation.”
A big part of line management is dealing with underperforming team members.
Interviewers want to see that you won’t shy away from dealing with the issue. You need to show that you are comfortable having difficult conversations.
Your answer should demonstrate that you would deal with it pro-actively but in an empathetic and encouraging manner. Often underperforming team members just need a little help and encouragement.
You should show that you understand you would need to work with the HR department on this type of issue.
Finally, you should show that you are a good decision-maker. Make clear that you are able to distinguish between a one-off event that would probably be best ignored and more persistent behaviour that would need to be addressed.
‘In my previous role, one of my team members began to have time management issues. So when he had submitted work late three times, I sat down with him and discussed it.
It became clear that he was struggling with some low-value administrative tasks. So, over time, we spread these responsibilities amongst the rest of his team, which allowed him to start producing work on time.’
The interviewers are not trying to catch you out with this question. Instead, this question aims to see how self-aware you are.
We all have blind spots and weaknesses. We have to learn to manage them as no one can do everything well.
The interviewers want to see how self-aware you are.
A good answer will show them that you know the areas you find difficult and explain the strategies you use to manage them and minimise their impact.
‘Historically, there have been times when I would find myself jumping in to fix a problem. Unfortunately, jumping in like that would often leave my team members feeling demotivated. They felt that I didn’t trust them to solve the problem.
I have learned my lesson. Now I always let team members have three attempts at completing a task before I start helping. Allowing them three goes at it means that they feel that I have confidence in their ability to complete the task and at the same time makes them feel supported if they are struggling with something.’
This is another question that people can struggle with if they don’t understand it.
The interviewers aren’t asking the question as a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question.
The question is an invitation for you to discuss how you organise yourself.
Line management requires you to juggle multiple tasks and prioritise.
No one can manage without a system.
The point that the interviewers want to explore is how you keep yourself organised. They want to hear you explain your system and discuss it.
‘I use a variety of tools to help me stay organised. I use an online calendar because it makes sharing my calendar and projects straightforward. That way, my team know where I am and where I’m focusing my time.
I start my day by making a list of priority tasks, and I approach the most challenging tasks first. Despite this, there are times when priorities change throughout the day, and tasks have to be rescheduled. It’s all about having a positive attitude and willing to adjust to sudden changes. If you are organised, then it is easy to make sure that things don’t get forgotten when you have to make changes.’
This question is really just asking you to give them an overview of what you are like and how you approach things.
It is a great chance to talk about your strengths and support them with examples.
Take care not to make it too much of a sales pitch. It is generally better to include some negatives, although they should be relatively minor.
‘My colleagues would describe me as a people person. They see me as a punctual and thoughtful person who works well under pressure. I can sometimes be impatient with people, but I’m aware of that and working on it. My colleagues know that I don’t mind them pulling me up for being impatient as it’s a bit of an office joke.’
This question is asking what you think a line manager’s role is and where you would focus your time and energy.
They want to be sure that you understand the role that you are applying for and have some good ideas about where you would start if you get the role.
A good answer will show that you understand the essential elements of management and can communicate clearly with your team and prioritise tasks.
‘A line managers role is to ensure that his/her team is working efficiently and effectively. To achieve this, a line manager needs to communicate clearly with his/her team and ensure that they feel motivated and appreciated for their contribution. Line managers must also work with more senior management to relay information to and from their team.’
Applying for your first line management role is tricky. You probably don’t have management experience when that type of experience is what the interviewers are looking for.
By making it beyond the application stage of the recruitment process, you clearly have an appropriate CV for the role. You now need to act like a manager so that they can imagine you working as one.
See our article: 5 Ways To Show You Should Be Promoted To Line Manager – for more tips on this.
Certain behaviours will immediately signal to the recruitment panel that you are, or are not, ready for the role.
Let’s look at a few of the most common mistakes this can lead people to make.
Never speak poorly of previous employers across the board.
It is OK to be critical of certain specific aspects of a previous employer but only if you back up what you are saying with examples.
If you are negative about a previous employer across the board, you will appear to be blaming others for your problems. Negativity and blaming others are not traits that people want in a line manager.
Try to show the interviewers that you can work well with others, handle conflict and learn from challenging work situations.
Line managers are responsible for reporting their team’s performance to the rest of the organisation. Therefore, they need to be comfortable with numbers.
Line managers have to produce reports and metrics as part of their role. Also, they are usually given KPIs that their team must hit.
A way to show that you are numbers focused is to include specific metrics in your CV.
A CV saying ‘I reduced waiting times by 26% over three months from 18 minutes to 14 minutes.’ is far more impressive than ‘I reduced waiting times substantially’.
Adding the specific metrics and time scales makes you look like a manager already.
When you are job hunting you need to be as specific as possible about your achievements as it shows what you have achieved with your skills.
As a line manager, you will be dealing with multiple parts of the business.
At a minimum, you will communicate with finance, HR, your direct manager and your team.
Given that the role is so broad, strong candidates will have lots of questions about the business generally as well as the specific team they will be managing.
Lots of different parts of the company will have an impact on the role.
For example, as a manager, you will be involved in the review process for your team. You will need to carry out the process in the way that has been laid down by HR, so understanding a little about how the review process runs would be interesting.
Make sure that you have lots of questions. You can save them until the end of the interview or ask them throughout the interview.
They are an excellent way to demonstrate that you understand how the line management role fits within the organisation more broadly.
For more general interview advice see this great video.
Line management interview questions help recruiters assess your suitability for the role.
You need to act as if you are already a line manager. Doing this will allow them to imagine you as a line manager, and once they’ve done that, the job is almost yours.
Interviewing for line management roles is challenging. However, with lots of research, a positive attitude and a little luck, you’ll get there.
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