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 interview question always feels a little awkward to answer. How can you respond in a way that shows you can be an effective boss who’s right for the team without sounding too grandiose (and at the same time not be too humble)?
While there are plenty of ways to make an impression that strikes that balance, I’ve outlined one way below that I think works particularly well when it comes to discussing your management style in a job interview. But first, you need to know what your management style is.
What are some different management styles?
While every manager will have a unique approach, there are a few common styles you might adopt, and we’ll look to leadership types to sketch them out. Leadership generally refers to something bigger-picture and longer-term than management—think vision vs. process or quality vs. position—but you can still apply these common leadership archetypes to describe how you supervise one or more direct reports.
Keep in mind, these styles aren’t rigid boxes—even among leadership experts there are varied terms and definitions. So don’t think you have to pick a single style and stick only to that one approach. You can definitely mix and match and adapt to the situation at hand. You can also use these terms as jumping off points to think about what kind of manager you want to be and how you might strengthen your management skills.
A few common management styles are:
- Democratic management is when you prioritize collaboration and place value on input from everyone.
- Direct management is when you tell your team up front exactly what you want and how you want it.
- Laissez-faire management is when you provide the necessary resources but let employees do their work how they think is best, giving them a high level of trust and independence.
- Relational management is when you form strong connections and use them to inform your choices as a manager.
- Transformational management is when you focus on big ideas and encourage your team to think of and try new and innovative ways to get things done.
- Transactional management is when a leader uses punishments and rewards to motivate their team.
How to answer “What is your management style?”
Now that you know some of the broader kinds of management styles, here’s how you can talk about your personal approach in an interview:
1. 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 boss could possibly be is narrowed down a bit. Even if you directly reference one of the common management types, you should still make it clear how, specifically, you define it so that you and the interviewer are on the same page on how to evaluate the story you’re about to share.
This might sound like:
“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.”
2. Add your spin.
Now that you’ve defined what a good manager is, 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.
So you could say:
“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.”
3. 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. To keep yourself on track, consider using the STAR method or following this guide for telling effective stories in an interview.
“I remember one project in particular at my most recent position that involved everyone working on a separate aspect of the product. This meant a lot of independent work for my team of seven people, 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.”
4. Finish strong.
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.
So you could wrap up simply with something like:
“I look forward to bringing these strategies to this position. I can tell you’ve got a highly skilled team here, so I’d focus on being there when they need me, but not necessarily holding their hands through entire projects.”
Sample answers for “What is your management style?”
Here are some more example answers that put all this advice together.
Example answer for managers focused on teamwork
“I try to employ a very democratic and collaborative management style. I think it’s so important that everyone feels heard and supported. I want all the members of my team to feel like we all work together, not that they all work for me or that they’re all individuals who happen to share a manager. I like to make sure that everyone gets to give their input on any big projects or initiatives—even when they’re not the kind of person who feels comfortable speaking up at meetings.
“For example, at my last job, we were coming up with a marketing strategy for a new product. At the kick-off meeting, I laid out everyone’s roles including my own for the sake of clarity and transparency. Then we did a team brainstorm. Afterward, I gave everyone the opportunity to share additional ideas with me one-on-one, and one of the newest members of our team suggested a strategy that tied everything together. We agreed as a team that this was the way to go. The group had weekly check-ins where everyone could share any problems they ran into and others could give their input. We ended up with a highly successful campaign that exceeded our quarterly sales goals by 15%, but more importantly, we did this without anyone getting overwhelmed and with people always willing to step in and help others along. All of us learned from each other as well. From what we’ve talked about so far, this feels pretty similar to the work environment the team here is used to—would you say there are any big differences so that I can be ready to meet them where they are?”
Example answer for first-time managers
“I think that a good manager focuses on the bigger picture and allows direct reports to play to their individual strengths. They’re there to help and guide and make sure everyone is on the same page and communicating, but they trust their reports to do their assigned tasks.
“For example, at my current job I’m on the social committee and I took the reins on planning our company’s holiday party. We had an initial meeting where I laid out the different tasks that needed to be done, asked for feedback and suggestions, and let people choose what they’d like to take on. After that meeting, I checked in with each person regularly to offer support. I tracked the status of each task in a Google Sheet that everyone could see. But otherwise, I let people get their tasks done on their own. The party was a huge success. I’d apply a similar approach in a management position, but I feel like it would be even more effective since I’d be able to learn what my direct report does best and be able to offer more or less guidance when they need it.”
Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.