4 questions that will reveal who you are as a leader
When you want to prove to an interviewer that you’ve got what it takes to lead others, you’ve got to know how to tell your leadership story.
The more advanced you get in your career, the more complex and in-depth the interview process becomes. Companies are no longer simply looking to learn what skills you can bring to the role. They want to know who you are as a person, and most importantly, who you are as a leader, since you’ll be at the helm of a team, department, or potentially an entire company.
In a competitive field, you won’t be the only candidate bringing rich experience and background to the interview, so crafting a “story” that captures who you are as an executive is key.
“A story creates that sense of fit that transcends your resume,” says Esther Choy, founder of Chicago-based Leadership Story Lab and author of Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success. It helps the interviewer get to know you beyond your hard skills.
“Employers want to get a feel for who you are,” says Meg Guiseppi, a personal branding and executive job search strategist with ExecutiveCareerBrand.com. “You need to make an emotional connection with them and generate chemistry for yourself as a candidate.”
But how do you sum up what you’re all about? Start by asking yourself these four questions.
1. What two or three moments have defined my career as it’s progressed?
When you have 20-plus years of experience, it can be tempting to focus exclusively on what you’ve been doing for the last handful of years. But to figure out what makes you tick, you need to look back on your career as a whole.
“Take inventory of what you’ve done,” Choy says. Think back to past successes, to “things that shaped your career path, had the most impact on making you who you are today, and led you to add value to your companies,” Guiseppi says.
This practice of recalling your work and accomplishments can help you form a consolidated picture of what you’re capable of, Choy says.
2. Where will my professional journey take me and the companies I join going forward?
After you take stock of your past, turn your attention toward where you will go next. “At the executive level, that’s especially critical because we need top leaders at a company to lead us to the future,” Choy says.
Focus on the contributions you’ll make in the coming years and the positive influence you’ll have over the company and the industry. Keep the outlook optimistic and you may inspire your interviewer, which could in turn give you an edge over other candidates.
3. What challenges have I overcome that have made me a stronger, more effective leader?
Guiseppi advises her clients to follow the C-A-Rs (Challenge–Actions–Results) strategy to set themselves apart from the competition. Think about a challenge you faced, the actions you took to overcome the challenge, and the results that benefitted the employer, she says. Oftentimes, simply identifying the challenge will help you get to the heart of your story.
This method works because it helps demonstrate your value to future employers, Guiseppi says. And stories of rebirth and rags to riches tend to resonate with people, Choy says.
4. Why do people follow my leadership?
“The answer to this question can give you great nuggets to share about your leadership style, the way you keep employees engaged, and your unique approach to rewarding and recognizing others and how you develop others,” says Cornelia Shipley, an executive coach and founder of Georgia-based 3C Consulting.
It’s also a good opportunity to add your two cents on what it takes to be an effective leader within your industry, Shipley says.
As you tell your story, do your best to come across as relatable. “If you are seeking a top job, it is important that you make a meaningful connection and that people leave wanting to work with and for you,” Shipley says.
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