How to Answer "What's Your Management Style?"
If you’re interviewing for a position that requires supervising others, any sensible hiring manager will ask you, “What’s your management style?”
And for some reason, this question always seems a little awkward to answer. How can you respond in a way that shows you can be an effective leader who’s right for the team while not sounding too grandiose (and at the same time not being too humble)?
While there are plenty of ways to make an impression that strikes that balance, here’s one way that I think works particularly well.
Define “Good Management”
The secret to getting this question right is setting the parameters for how good management should be judged. To do this, you want to explain what you believe makes a strong manager, so that the scope of all the things a manager could possible be is narrowed down a bit. This ensures that you and the interviewer are on the same page on how to evaluate the story you’re about to share.
Management style is so hard to put your finger on, but I think in general a good manager gives clear directions and actually stays pretty hands-off, but is ready and available to jump in to offer guidance, expertise, and help when needed. I try my best to make that my management style.
Add Your Spin
Now that you’ve defined what a good manager is and stated that’s your model, one up yourself and offer something extra that you do in addition to what’s already been established. Making the point to set the parameters early in your response will allow you to introduce an additional leadership trait that makes you exceptional.
In terms of what makes me unique, I also go out of my way to make sure I know when my team needs help. I don’t hang around and wait to be called upon by my direct reports—I go to them. That means plenty of informal check-ins, both on the work they’re doing and on their general job satisfaction and mental well-being.
Give an Example
Of course, all of this only works if you can back up what you’ve said. Give some evidence of your management prowess by offering a brief story of how you demonstrated the traits you’ve described. Since management can be such a lofty topic, you’ll have to be mindful of using a story that isn’t too long—you don’t want your interviewer to lose interest, after all.
I remember one project in particular at my most recent position where I supervised seven staff that involved everyone working on a separate aspect of the product. This meant a lot of independent work for my team, but rather than bog everyone down with repetitive meetings to update me and everyone else on progress made, I created a project wiki that allowed us to communicate new information when necessary without disrupting another team member’s work. I then made it my job to make sure no one was ever stuck on a problem too long without a sounding board.
Ultimately, despite the disparate project responsibilities, we ended up with a very cohesive product and, more importantly, a team that wasn’t burnt out.
That’s it! Now that you have the basic structure down, just make sure you don’t flub the ending. Try connecting your response back to the position or switching it up and asking a question of your own. Practice, practice, practice, and you’re set.
Photo of people courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author