Congrats on landing a brand management interview! Now that you’ve got one toe in the door, I’m here to help you make your very best impression.
As an MBA student, I spent hours prepping and interviewing for brand management positions. Now a brand strategist, I work as a consultant to develop business brands and help corporate professionals polish their personal brands so that they shine in their chosen field.
Let’s take a look at how you can put your best foot forward when you’re interviewing for a brand management role. We’ll explore some of the key responsibilities of a brand manager, the skills you need to demonstrate to succeed in an interview, the four types of questions you’ll likely be asked (with sample questions and answers), and some tips and strategies to help you showcase your expertise, emotional intelligence, and enthusiasm.
What Does a Brand Manager Do?
The brand manager or brand director is, in many ways, the “owner” of the brand. They’re tasked with driving brand growth and are typically responsible for the brand’s profit and loss statement—meaning the brand’s successes and failures fall at their feet. Brand managers are also often charged with leading innovation as well as deploying the brand’s marketing plan and overseeing multimillion-dollar budgets.
More specifically, a brand manager’s role will span any or all of the following activities: conducting market research; monitoring and forecasting market trends; planning brand extensions and new product innovations; managing large budgets; developing, overseeing, and analyzing marketing campaigns; and organizing high-profile events for launches or ad campaigns.
What Are Interviewers Looking for in a Brand Manager?
Brand management is a highly visible and very important strategic role in a company, so recruiters and hiring managers want to know that you’ve got the chops for it. That means they’re evaluating candidates based on:
- Leadership ability: As a brand manager, you’ll need to be comfortable and effective when leading cross-functional teams internally and when working with external vendors.
- Interpersonal skills: Because you’ll be leading initiatives that involve people throughout the organization, you’ll be asking for things from colleagues who do not report to you. Your ability to develop positive relationships and motivate and influence others will be key to getting things done.
- Excellent organizational and project management skills: Brand managers typically have many balls in the air at once. Because you’re overseeing so many projects—and juggling all the steps and parts of each project—strong planning and organizational skills are critical to keeping everyone on task and making sure that nothing slips through the cracks.
- A combination of analytical and creative thinking: Brand management requires you to be just as comfortable working in a spreadsheet (analyzing market data, forecasting, budget setting) as you are overseeing new product innovation, packaging design, or creative development of an advertising campaign. The best brand managers are able to switch seamlessly between deep analysis and innovative thinking—and use both to solve problems.
- A deep expertise in—or a passion for learning about—the specific industry: You’re going to live, breathe, and sleep your brand and your market, so passion, knowledge, and curiosity about your industry and products go a long way in terms of your effectiveness and happiness on the job. Whether you’re a brand manager for a hip new cosmetics line or a decades-old cleaning supply company, you’ll have to become an industry expert, and it helps to be fired up about learning.
- Stellar communication skills: Because brand management is such a high-profile position within an organization, you’ll likely be giving a number of presentations to senior leadership. You’ll also be a liaison between many different departments, including research and development, marketing, finance, production, and more, so your verbal communication skills are just as important as your written ones.
4 Types of Questions You’ll Get in a Brand Management Interview
The exact questions you’ll be asked in a brand management interview will of course vary depending on the scope and seniority of the role, the industry, and the specific company’s culture, but here are four types of questions you should be prepared to answer in almost every scenario—plus sample questions and answers in each category.
(And for more prep help, make sure to review other common interview questions that are likely to come up no matter what kind of job you’re interviewing for.)
1. Case Questions
This genre of interview question typically presents candidates with a fictional scenario and tasks them with solving a business problem. The more senior the brand management role you’re applying for, the less likely you are to be asked a case question. But if you’re interviewing for a post-MBA brand manager role and preparing for an interview with a recruiter from a large consumer goods company, for example, you might have to tackle one or more of these.
When it comes to case questions, it’s less about getting the “right” answer and more about showing people how you think. The interviewer will want to see that you approach this type of question logically and methodically. In other words, your analytical and creative thinking skills will be on full display. This is also your chance to demonstrate your ability to apply frameworks (such as the 7 Ps of the Marketing Mix, Porter’s Five Forces, or the Segmenting, Targeting and Positioning (STP) Process) to help you organize your approach and your answer. And finally, case questions give you an opportunity to showcase your knowledge of the company, industry, and competitive landscape.
If these questions make you sweat, allow yourself a deep breath and take your time answering. Jot down some notes while the question is being presented. Ask follow-up questions for clarity. Explain your thinking along the way. Don’t rush headlong into an answer and don’t just assume that your interviewer is following your logic—the more precise you can be in your explanation, the better.
What It Might Sound Like
Suppose your interviewer says: “Our company is considering entering a fast-growing new market. How would you evaluate this market opportunity given our current brands’ reputations and resources? What would you need to know before making a decision?”
Your answer might sound something like this:
“‘I’d first try to understand all the external pieces of the equation, such as the size, growth, and potential profitability of the new market; the consumers we’d be targeting; and our competition in this market. Then I’d evaluate internal factors such as our strengths and weaknesses, our pipeline and resources, and brand positioning.
“So first, I’d analyze the market to determine the rate of—and reasons for—growth. Is it a brand-new, uncrowded market? Is it growing rapidly because more brands are entering the market or because consumer demand is increasing? Is it based on a disruptive new innovation, and if so, do we have the technology needed to compete in this area?
“I’d then look at it from a customer standpoint. Would we be serving the same target market in a different way, in which case our brand equity would help pave the way, or would we be trying to reach a completely different consumer? If it’s a different consumer, are they near or somehow connected to our target market—for example, are they the children or spouses of our target market? Would we be able to leverage our brand heritage in order to win over consumers in this new market?
“Next, I’d evaluate the competition. Have our leading competitors already entered this market, or would we be among the first in our category? Will it hurt us if we are a ‘late’ entrant into this fast-growing market, or will it help that a top competitor has already paved the way?
“Then I’d look at internal fit: If the size and health of the market make it a compelling opportunity for us, would a new product in this market align with our brand’s values and vision? Does it make sense to the general public and feel like a natural extension of what we’re already doing, or would our roll-out campaign require repositioning, lengthy explanation, or consumer education?
“I’d also want to understand what would be involved from a resources standpoint. I’d look at our current strengths and weaknesses to see how much of a leap it would be. Would our brand (and team’s) core competencies make for a smooth and profitable entry into this new market without draining our resources? Would reaching into this new market fill a gap that was previously a competitive weakness? Can we leverage our current manufacturers and suppliers, or would we need a whole new distribution pipeline?
“These are the primary factors I’d consider when evaluating a new market opportunity, and the answers to each would help determine our entry strategy, positioning, and rollout.”
2. Behavioral Questions
Behavioral questions are based explicitly on real stories from your experience. They typically begin with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…” Some common ones include “Tell me about a time you failed” and “Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership skills.”
With a behavioral question, the interviewer is looking to see how you’ve previously handled yourself in various situations as an indicator of how you’ll do so in the future. They’re seeking depth of experience, as well as self-awareness, problem-solving ability, and a willingness to learn from the past.
Use the STAR method to structure an effective response:
- Situation: Set the scene, and provide details of where, when, and what.
- Task: Describe your role and responsibility.
- Action: What actions did you take to address the situation?
- Result: What was the outcome of your action? If you can quantify your positive results, this is an excellent opportunity to do so. In some cases, the outcome might not have matched your expectations. In the case of a “failure,” be sure to address what you learned from the experience and what you would do (or have done) differently the next time.
Prepare in advance for behavioral questions by mining your past experiences for wins, losses, tricky situations and lessons learned (read this for six types of stories you should have on hand). Practice telling these stories using the STAR framework and don’t ever lose sight of the main point you’d like to convey for each.
What It Might Sound Like
Behavioral questions can be very general and open-ended, no matter the type of position you're interviewing for. Even when they are centered around marketing or branding, such as, “Tell me about a time you’ve run into a challenge while launching a new brand initiative,” you’ll find that you can go in a number of directions with your response.
Here’s what one of many possible answers could sound like:
“I began my career at a small, but fast-growing startup. It was the kind of environment where we each wore a lot of hats. We worked very hard, but we enjoyed a culture of true collaboration and we all felt passionate about the brand. We were about to roll out a big marketing campaign—we’d planned for months and needed to make a big splash. In order to meet our intense timeline goals, we realized we needed to bring on more team members and we needed to hire them quickly.
“I was tasked with the role of bringing on two new team members who could jump right in and help. I’d never hired anyone before, but I ended up finding two candidates who seemed great. One of them blended seamlessly into our team and got up to speed on new projects so quickly that it felt like they’d always been there. The other new hire was a different story. Things seemed fine for the first week, but they quickly started falling behind on tasks. They’d grumble when given assignments that would keep them at the office late and they rarely delivered on time. Their attitude began to affect morale on the team. Not only that, but it was starting to look like various pieces of our brand campaign wouldn’t be ready for the big rollout.
“I decided to speak with the employee to ensure that they understood what was expected of them. It quickly became clear that they hadn’t understood our startup company culture or bought into our brand’s mission—in fact, they weren’t entirely sure what it was! With our campaign deadline looming, I convened the team for a strategic conversation. We realized that we’d have to take action quickly, but immediately firing and rehiring at this late stage of the game didn’t seem feasible or fair, so I reassigned the employee to other, less mission-critical tasks. The rest of us came together and worked extra hard, burning the midnight oil to meet our brand deadlines.
“While we eventually had a successful rollout from a marketing standpoint, our team was burned out and I had to acknowledge my hiring misfire. It wasn’t entirely the new employee’s fault; in my hurry to get a competent extra set of hands on board, I hadn’t taken the time to fully explain what it’s like to work on our team. They didn’t know what they were getting themselves into—and a lot of that responsibility fell to me.
“I now understand the importance of having employees buy into a brand’s mission and embrace its core values. If you don’t feel aligned with a company’s mission or culture, you’re not going to feel as motivated to give it your best every day. Just as a brand needs to communicate clearly who it’s for, and who it’s not for, a company should do the same for its potential employees. When I hire now, I always take the time to give the candidate a clear look at our team culture and I make sure to look beyond core competencies to be certain it’s a fit all around.”
3. Situational Questions
The situational question is a close cousin to the behavioral question. But whereas behavioral questions directly ask about your experience, situational questions veer more toward the hypothetical. Think: “What would you do if...?” In a brand management interview, for example, you might be asked: “What first steps would you take if the biggest influencer in our category began making disparaging remarks about our brand?”
As with behavioral questions, situational style questions are used to evaluate your emotional intelligence, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills. They may also, much like a case question, showcase your ability to think on your feet and put your business knowledge to work.
Interviewers want to see how’ll you react in difficult situations. Do you stay calm under pressure? Act with integrity? Know when to escalate matters and when to address them yourself? Your response should demonstrate that your decisions aren’t directed by emotion or fear, but rather by a desire to do the right thing, act in a transparent manner, and find a solution that aligns with the company’s vision and values.
Depending on the situation, you may have experienced a similar event in your life. If you can think of a relevant situation you’ve faced that you successfully navigated or at least learned from, this is another good time to employ the STAR method.
If the question touches on an issue you’ve never encountered, you’ll need to engage in some on-the-spot creative problem-solving. You can approach it as a case question and methodically apply a logical framework to address it, explaining your reasoning as you go. Or you can point to a real-life example in the business world, describe how it was handled, and explain why you’d take the same approach or do things differently. (One caveat: Be careful when selecting an example. If you’re being critical of a brand team’s approach, you want to be sure that neither your interviewer nor the company were involved with it in any way.)
What It Might Sound Like
If you got the question above about an influencer making disparaging remarks, your answer might sound something like this:
“I would first assess the need for a response. Is the influencer and/or their followers outside of our target market? If they’re within a market that our brand is looking to repel rather than attract, then we may not need to do anything at all. If, on the other hand, they’re a major voice for our target demographic, then a response might be needed, but first I’d want to know what they’re actually saying in order to assess the urgency of the situation.
“The urgency of our response would depend on whether or not the influencer was making damaging claims about our brand or was simply putting it down in favor of a competitor brand. For example, are they accusing our brand of acting unethically, or in a way that violates our company’s core values? Are they claiming that our product doesn’t work—or worse, that it harmed someone? If the answer to any of these questions is, ‘Yes,’ then I’d make sure to alert the senior leadership on our brand team, so that we could consult with our legal and communications departments in order to plan out an appropriate response.
“The type of response may depend on whether or not the influencer’s remarks have merit; if our brand has hurt someone with a faulty product or offended a group of people with a poorly conceived ad campaign, then it’s important that we get out in front of the problem and course correct right away. If the influencer’s claims are without merit but are gaining traction with our core users, then we still might want to respond, but it may not be as critical to do so immediately and the message itself would be different, of course.”
4. Brand- and Industry-Specific Questions
These questions can run the gamut from “What do you know about our company/brand?” to “Give me an example of one of your favorite brands. What are they doing right?” to “Who is your favorite clothing designer and why?” to “Give me an example of an excellent marketing campaign.” This is your chance to show that you’ve done your research, you’re engaged in the industry, you’re curious about other industries, and you have opinions and a point of view that you’re willing to express.
Remember that your interviewers have likely asked these questions dozens of times, so don’t go straight to the obvious. In other words, don’t just pick the major brands that are currently getting all the buzz. Try to come up with brands that are doing something different and are really changing the game in their market. This will demonstrate that you’re paying attention to what’s going on and that you have more than a surface-level understanding.
Not only do you want to have a well-considered perspective on other brands, you should be able to speak knowledgeably about the brand you’re interviewing with. Without being overly critical or unimaginatively flattering, be prepared to express an opinion. “Do your research on the company/brand you are interviewing for,” says Damian Chiam, a partner at creative and marketing executive search firm Janou LLC. “Have a point of view of their brand and high-level ideas of where you see opportunities for [it].”
What It Might Sound LIke
Say you were prompted with this: “Give me an example of one of your favorite brands in the personal-care space. What are they doing right?”
Your answer could go something like this:
“I love what Native is doing, particularly with their aluminum-free deodorant. First, I like that it actually works, which few in the natural deodorant space can claim, and which is probably why I first heard about it through word of mouth! Native’s visual brand identity feels clean, fresh, hip, straightforward, and simple—very much in alignment with its natural, no-frills positioning and its Innocent brand archetype. It also photographs well, which is important for the Instagram-obsessed market it’s targeting! The pricing is a bit steep, but I think the brand takes a smart tack acknowledging that fact with their “Invest in yourself” messaging. Native understands its market—consumers who are willing to spend a little more to feel confident about the safety of products they’re putting in and on their bodies. And even though the brand was acquired by Procter & Gamble, it still has that indie-brand feel. I think they’ve stayed very true to the heart of the brand while integrating it into a giant corporation.”
More Tips for Acing That Brand Management Interview
Now that you know how to prepare for and approach the four most common types of questions you’ll be asked, here are a few more tips to making sure you knock that interview out of the park.
- Be specific. Don’t make the interviewer dig for information. Just as any proposal or claim you’d make as a brand manager would need to be backed up by data, the stories you tell as a job candidate have more of an impact when they’re delivered with specific evidence and results.
- Remember that people respond to powerful storytelling. As a brand manager, you’ll be expected to understand the marketability of a good story. Demonstrate your ability in this area by telling your own stories in a succinct and compelling way. “Tell good stories to keep your interviewer engaged,” Chiam says. “The most memorable interviews are when the interviewee takes the interviewer on a journey of their experience in a way that gives detail and color.”
- Remain calm, gracious, engaged, and enthusiastic. As a brand manager, you’ll be expected to present a polished personal brand, too, and it’s important to convey that during the interview process. Think about how you’d like to be seen and then look and act accordingly. Identify what you want to be remembered for and make sure you convey those key points along the way. Your success is dependent upon more than your specific answers; how you approach the questions and how you conduct yourself are just as important.