How to interview for management positions

October 2021

Hiring the right leaders can be the difference between success and failure. That’s why it’s important to prepare before you interview people for management positions.

If you’ve hired staff before, you’re probably familiar with the interview process. But interviewing for management positions requires a more thorough approach.

Harvard Business Review tells the story of a successful company that was restructuring its sales team. To lead a new strategic accounts team, the company hired a seemingly ideal candidate. She came from a similar industry and had already built a strategic accounts organisation from the ground up.

Eight months later, she left the company. She claimed there was a “lack of support for making tough decisions”, while team members complained about her “autocratic style” and “poor teamwork”.

So, what happened? The company had been so focused on the candidate’s experience that it hadn’t considered how her leadership style would fit into their team-oriented culture.

When you’re hiring a manager, it’s about more than experience or drive – you need to be confident they will be able to lead projects, motivate employees and hit targets.

The manager you hire shouldn’t just be a good fit for what the business is doing right now. A manager needs to buy into your company vision and see a long-term future with your business.

Changing managers disrupts a team and almost inevitably leads to high employee turnover; it’s important to get it right. Here’s everything you need to know about interviewing for management positions.

Preparing to interview for a management position

Before you start interviewing for management positions, think about what capabilities you need. It might sound obvious, but leadership roles require a broad range of characteristics.

For example, you might hire someone who’s great with people. However, if they lack ambition and drive, the team won’t be pushed to achieve their targets. This can reduce productivity and ultimately damage business performance.

On the other hand, your manager could be ambitious but lack experience in people management. If they can’t delegate properly or provide the right support or feedback, employees will quickly become disengaged.

Important management skills

When you interview for management positions, candidates should demonstrate leadership skills, professionalism and the ability to problem-solve under pressure. Focus on candidates who clearly show signs they hold themselves accountable – the last thing you want is a manager that tries to shift the blame when something doesn’t go to plan.

It can be useful to break your questions down to fit these four key areas:

1. Organisation

Your manager should be able to multi-task and know how to use their time effectively. They need to be confident in creating and setting deadlines, managing projects and coordinating with people from different departments.

2. Planning and strategy

Managers should have strategic skills to be able to plan for the future. To achieve your company vision, your manager needs to be able to set goals and tasks for employees.

3. Communication

The ability to communicate clearly and succinctly is essential, so staff understand what tasks need completing and why. Remember a good talker doesn’t make a good communicator – it’s vital your manager can stop and listen to their team.

4. People management

While good communication is part of people management, managers also need to be empathetic and able to respond to difficult situations. Your manager should motivate employees, inspire trust and know how best to deliver performance feedback.

Example interview questions for managers

Use a mix of behavioural and situational questions to gauge how your interviewee is likely to react to leadership challenges.

Behavioural interview questions for managers

Behavioural questions ask candidates to talk about a past experience and describe how they responded to it. Some examples would be:

  • Describe a project you managed from start to finish. What unexpected challenges did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?

  • Tell me about a time you had to manage a difficult employee

  • Describe a time you set an ambitious goal for your team. What steps did you take to motivate and support them?

Situational interview questions for managers

Situational questions use a hypothetical situation to test how candidates would respond to a problem. For example:

  • Imagine you’re trying to meet a deadline but your employee keeps asking you questions. What do you do?

  • What steps would you take to handle an employee who was performing below average?

  • What would you do if an early mistake on a project made your team fall behind on a deadline?

  • Your team is resisting a new idea or process you want to introduce. How do you respond?

How to interview for a first-time manager

Many business owners choose to promote from within their company. It makes sense, because you already know a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Promoting internally also demonstrates to other staff that there’s an opportunity to grow and progress their careers.

Interviewing a first-time manager can be challenging because they can’t draw on any concrete leadership experience. However, there are still plenty of ways to find out how well-suited your candidate is to a managerial position.

Let’s revisit some of the core areas of management: organisation, planning and strategy, communication and people management. Here are some example interview questions you could ask a first-time manager.


  • How do you prioritise your time effectively when you have a number of urgent tasks?

  • What systems or processes do you have in place to stay organised?

  • Can you give me an example of a time you’ve had to collaborate with a different team or department?

  • One of your team members is struggling to meet a deadline you’ve set. How do you respond?

Planning and strategy

  • Can you give me an example of a time you’ve set yourself targets?

  • How often do you check and review these targets?

  • Describe a time where you failed to achieve a goal. What happened? What would you do differently?


  • Have you worked with someone who you struggled to communicate with? How did you resolve the situation?

  • How would you overcome communication challenges with a remote team?

  • Imagine you’re presenting ideas to your team but they keep talking over you. What would you do?

  • Can you tell me about a time you’ve had to communicate with an angry customer?

People management

  • Can you tell me about a time you’ve had to deliver difficult feedback to a colleague?

  • What would you do if a serious complaint such as sexual harassment was reported to you?

  • What have you done to help diffuse a long-term disagreement between two of your team members?

  • Do you have any mental health training?

  • How would you go about motivating your team to achieve a goal?

When you’re interviewing for a first-time manager, don’t just hire based on who is the most qualified, consider their drive, reputation and potential too. The most successful leaders are sometimes the ones who are simply confident and eager to learn.

Red flags in a management interview

It’s important to identify the right character traits in interviews for management positions. But it’s just as important that you can identify the wrong ones.

Here are four signs that your candidate might not be a good fit for leadership.

  1. Your candidate can’t take responsibility for their actions. For example, they might blame other staff members or a lack of resources when describing the challenges they faced.

  2. They come across as bossy or arrogant. It’s crucial your managers are adaptable and ready to listen to employees’ ideas and suggestions

  3. Their answers aren’t realistic. While everyone wants to make a good impression in interviews, dodging questions about challenges or conflict could mean they aren’t prepared for a leadership role.

  4. The candidate doesn’t seem interested in your business. Ultimately, it’s up to them to inspire your employees, so they need to be passionate about driving your business forward.

It’s easy to feel under pressure when you’re interviewing for management positions but take your time and don’t rush the process.

Not only will you be more confident you’ve made the right choice, but you’ll show candidates you’re really invested in making sure they’re the right person to take your business forward.

How to interview for management positions

Hiring the right leaders can be the difference between success and failure. Managers need to be able to lead, organise and motivate employees.

  • Culture fit matters – don’t ignore it

  • Choose candidates that believe in your long-term vision for the business

  • Promoting internally can boost morale

  • For first-time managers, consider drive, reputation and potential as well as qualifications

Your management interview checklist

How to structure your management interviews and the skills you should be looking for.

Four areas to structure your interview around

  • Organisational skills. This includes the ability to multitask, manage projects and use time effectively

  • Planning and strategic skills. Your manager needs to be able to set goals and help to plan the future direction for the business

  • Communication. Being able to communicate clearly and succinctly is essential so staff understand what tasks need completing and why

  • People management. Managers need to be empathetic and capable of responding to difficult situations

Types of questions to include

  • Behavioural questions. These questions ask candidates to talk about a past experience and describe how they responded to it. Start with “Can you tell me about a time…”

  • Situational questions. These questions use a hypothetical situation to test how candidates would respond to a problem. Start with “Imagine…”

Red flags in a management interview

  • The candidate is unwilling to take responsibility for their actions

  • They come across as bossy or arrogant

  • They give unrealistic answers regarding conflict or challenges

  • The candidate isn’t interested or passionate about your business

When you’re interviewing for managers, take your time and don’t rush the process. Finding the right leaders is essential if you want your business to thrive.



This article was written and originally published by The Productivity Group (trading as Be the Business). Be the Business is an independent, not for profit organisation set up to help business owners and leaders improve the performance of their business. © Copyright 2021 The Productivity Group.  All rights reserved.

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