There are many types of Team Leader (TL). Different styles for different personalities.
- The Autocratic “Take it or Leave it” Leader.
- The Democratic “What does everyone think about this” Leader.
- The Laissez-faire “Do whatever you think is best” Leader.
- The Coach “Let me teach you the way” Leader.
- The Charismatic “Come to Jesus” Leader.
- The Bureaucratic “Them’s the rules” Leader.
- The Visionary “To the moon!” Leader.
- The Pacesetting “Catch me if you can” Leader.
- The Servant “What can I do for you” Leader.
The type of leader you are will be very important in an interview setting. That is why in this article we are going to look at the Team Leader interview and see what steps we can take to nail it.
Firstly we will go over some TL specific interview tips, then we will discuss how to (and how not to) answer TL interview questions. Finally we will look at some example interview questions you might see in your next Team Leader interview.
Ready? Let’s get cracking…
Team Leader Interview Tips
Lean heavily on your experience. This applies even if you have never held a Team Leader position before. A Team Leader is responsible for numerous things but primarily the management of the day-to-day activities and overseeing the team’s development and progress. You don’t need to have held a Team Leader title previously to have participated in similar activities. When answering questions lean heavily into these.
Know your audience. You should always research the organisation you are interviewing for. But what people don’t think to do is also research the interviewer and the hiring manager (if these are different persons). You want to impress the person making the hiring decision so you should research them specifically trying to understand what makes them tick and what they are looking for in a new employee.
Give at least one answer where you had to make a tough decision. As a Team Leader this usually means firing someone or similar. Sure it would be great if this never had to happen but that is just not realistic in the world we live in. You need to ensure you can show the interviewer that not only are you a good role model for your team that will be there to support them in completing their work BUT also that you are capable of making the tough choices for the good of the organisation.
How Best To Answer Team Leader Interview Questions
Unless the question you are asked is a straight ‘up or down / yes or no’ style question then you are going to need to learn to describe, expand and elaborate on your answers. The best way of doing this is to follow the B-STAR technique for answering interview questions.
Answers using this method follow the below structure:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the subject matter? – As a Team Leader you should have your own set of philosophies and leadership style that you tailor to each situation.
S – Situation – What was going on? Briefly explain the scenario that was taking place. – Try not to spend too much time describing the situation. The bulk of your answer needs to be about you and what you did so keep the situation simple to understand and even simpler to describe.
T – Task – What was your role in the action? Most of the time it is best that you are taking an active rather than passive role in the encounter – You are going for a Team Leader role (presumably if you are reading this) so the situation you describe should have you in a leadership role.
A – Activity (or action) – What did you do? Detail the steps you took and why you took them. – This should take up the bulk of your time answering the question.
R – Result – How did everything end up? Try to use figures if possible (e.g. the team made the deadline, management scores went up, colleague satisfaction was great, nobody cried in the breakroom! etc.).
Remember though that the B-STAR technique is descriptive not prescriptive. You do not need to follow this flow strictly, go with what is best for your answers and that will allow you to put your point across and show your experience the best.
What You Should Not Do When Answering Team Leader Questions
Do not avoid the question.
Do not describe a failure (unless specifically asked).
Do not downplay the situation.
Do not overhype the situation.
Do not say you have no experience with the subject matter.
Do not reject the premise of the question.
Do not have a passive role in the situation.
Do not give a one-sentence answer.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action.
Team Leader Interview Question & Answers
“I believe that it’s incredibly difficult to overcome a bad first impression. Because of this I always strive to never make one. That’s why for important meetings, or interviews like this, I make a clear plan of what I want to get from the meeting and outline the steps I need to take to achieve that goal.
So when I received the call about scheduling this interview the first thing I did was research your offices. As you are based in an area of town I am not familiar with I drove by here after work one evening just to make sure I knew the way. I also checked Google Maps to see what the traffic would be like at this time. Nothing worse than being late sitting in traffic after all.
I actually have a contact who works in your finance department, Claire, we were colleagues in the place I am currently working. I reached out to her to see if there was anything she could tell me about the interview process. We had spoken before about the company as a whole and how she talks about the company is one of the reasons I applied.
Following our chat I went through all of my work achievements and made sure they fully encompassed everything I have accomplished in my career.
I’m glad I took the time to prepare as I did because there was a lot of traffic so it was good I knew to expect that. Also talking with Claire helped jog my memory on a project we both worked on a few years back delivering a piece of financial software that I believe your company is in the process of deploying.”
“I believe that bad news is best delivered in person and discretely, where it is responsible to do so. I don’t particularly relish giving bad news (I suppose not many do) so I often try to resolve the situation in advance so the bad news never needs to be given.
Obviously though that isn’t possible all of the time. For example in a previous role I managed a team of complaint handlers when word came down from senior management that we were offshoring a large part of our process and this meant layoffs of nearly 40% of the department.
I tried to go to bat for my team and show how our quality and production scores were the highest around and unlikely to be replicated using our offshore colleagues, but the decision had been made and was purely cost driven.
It was my job to determine which members of my team would be let go and which would stay.
We had all joined the department together on the same contract so there was no element of seniority that needed to be accounted for. Instead I devised a balanced scorecard type of approach, ranking each team member against the department’s relevant KPIs (quality, production, skills).
Once I had my list I booked one-on-ones with all of my team members as close together as possible, starting with the colleagues who would be staying. With the colleagues who were being let go I got straight to the point and told them the company would be terminating their contract. I allowed them to ask any questions they wanted and informed them that I would be around for any help they needed in looking for a new role.
During the meetings 2 of the colleagues I wanted to keep informed me that they were planning to leave soon anyway and suggested that they would leave now instead freeing up room for other colleagues to stay.
In the end I had to tell 6 members of my team that they were being let go. They were all understanding of the situation and were grateful that I offered to help them look for new roles.
Going forward if I were to be in the same position I would have gone to the meetings with some open positions that I would recommend the colleagues apply for”
Have You Ever Had To Manage A Difficult Employee? – Example answer
“Yes on a number of occasions. My style of management is such that I believe that if you ensure your employees have all of the required training and all the necessary resources at their disposal that you can take a step back and they will flourish on their own. I do not believe in overly micromanaging my team. I have an open door policy and I have regular catchups with my team members and I trust that they will get the job done.
By and large this works pretty well in my current role. However you do sometimes get the occasional team member who requires more supervision than others.
One such person was new to my team and soon after their training and introductory period finished their productivity dropped week by week. At the start the colleague seemed to be at the same level as some of the more experienced members of the team but over time his output dropped until he was comfortably the worst performer all around.
I spent the next week or so monitoring this colleague more closely to understand where any issues were arising. I noticed that he was spending large amounts of time being unproductive and not completing tasks.
I raised this with him during our weekly one-on-one and he admitted how he didn’t feel much motivation to complete more work and found it difficult stay focused when there seemed to just be more work to come.
I took a few actions on the back of this meeting, all of which I cleared with my management team ahead of time.
I put the colleague on an action plan that monitored his output on a daily and weekly basis. This would be reviewed by myself along with the colleague and with our director. It was stressed to the colleague that if there were no changes after a month that we would be terminating his position with the company.
Also as a show of transparency and in an attempt at motivation by target setting we started releasing productivity reports for the whole team so they know how each team member is performing.
The action plan proved to be the motivator that was required for the ‘difficult employee’ as soon after we started the action plans his output was nearing the top of the team charts. The team productivity reports also became a big success and saw improvements across the whole team. Senior management were pleased and have taken the action to talk about a bonus structure to go along with the performance reports which is still in the pipeline.”
“As Product Manager at X company it was my responsibility to prioritise the backlog of tasks. The way things worked in our organisation was that any stakeholder could raise an item to add to the backlog, then as a team we would discuss in which order it would be best that they were worked and deployed.
Ultimately however the final decision on priority lay with myself.
As you can imagine with so many different areas of the business raises items, each with their own agendas and goals the backlog meetings would often end with a lot of disagreement
One such occasion we had two business areas both asking us to deploy a change to our product and both were asking for the change to be deployed in the next sprint. Unfortunately we only had the dev resource to implement the one change in this cycle.
The backlog call became heated between the two representing colleagues and I was forced to cut the meeting short to let cooler heads prevail.
After the meeting I sat with both colleagues to further understand the urgency behind both changes. Asking them to describe the benefits of the change and also the drawbacks of waiting until the next cycle.
Once I had this information in hand it was clear to me which change would be most beneficial to the business. I invited both colleagues into a meeting where I had compiled the information into a presentation deck with a few charts showing the resources available within the product team and the relative benefits of each change.
Explaining it this way allowed both colleagues to fully appreciate the restrictions that were on my team and also the comparative benefits of each change.
Both colleagues left the meeting happy with the outcome and both changes were pushed into production in the next 2 sprints”
Tell me about a time when you had to convince others to put in ‘the hard work’
“I always feel that when you have a good team working for you that often you don’t need to convince anyone to get the job done, that’s why I believe in a strong recruitment policy of only employing the best and maintaining high standards within the organisation.
Of course there will always be times when a little more motivation is needed. One such occasion happened recently. One of our most valued customers asked if we could provide delivery on one of our products a month earlier than originally scoped.
The organisation agreed to ‘try our best’ when it came to this request but made the customer aware of the challenges of this new date.
The challenge was given to me and my team to try and achieve this new date. Ensuring open communication with the team is important to me so the first thing I did was meet with my team to ensure that they all knew of the new challenge.
We looked at the obstacles that lay in the team’s way and I removed them where practical.
To show the team that we really appreciated the effort they were putting in we made each Friday pizza day paid for by the organisation and told each team member that they would each receive a paid day off once the product was delivered (regardless of whether the new deadline was met or not).
The team were extremely motivated by this and with nothing stopping them we managed to deliver the customer their product within the new timeframes. The customer was thrilled with the service we provided and actually sent across a week’s supply of office fruit as thanks for helping them turn things around under short notice.”
What is your biggest weakness?
“My memory is my biggest weakness. Quite frankly it sucks. I will be told something in the morning and will have completely forgotten having had the conversation by the afternoon. It held me back a lot in school were it seemed like a lot of exam preparation was just cramming as much info into your head as possible prior to an exam. I have found a good system though that works for me. I write lots of notes and set myself lots of reminders. I am not sure if you can see since we’re on video but I have been taking notes throughout this meeting as well!”
Describe your leadership experiences.
What are the most important values you demonstrate as a team leader?
How do you think your team members and colleagues would describe you?
What qualities should a team leader have?
How do you gain commitment from your team?
How would you resolve a dispute between two team members?
How can a team leader fail?
What is your greatest strength?
How do you motivate your team?
What do you consider success for you as a leader?
What motivates you to be a team leader?
What is the most difficult part of being a leader?
What are your preferred methods of communication with your team?
Do you use any tools to support you in leading the team?
How do you determine if a team deadline is at risk?
What are the 4 basic leadership styles?
Are there similarities between being a team leader and a coach?
What metrics do you use to evaluate team performance?
How do you interview prospective team members?
Describe your leadership style.
What techniques have you used to motivate a team?
How would you deliver bad news to your team members?
How do you manage your time and prioritize tasks?
How would you go about delegating/assigning tasks of a project among your team?
As a Team Leader, how do you lead through change?
What are the roles of a team leader?
Do you have any questions for us?10 Questions To Ask At The End Of An Interview (And 6 That You Shouldn’t!)