Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

How to Exploit 21 Generic Interview Questions to Demonstrate Your Leadership Skills.

By Charles Trivett | Jul 21, 2015 | Candidate Tips

Have you got what it takes to be a leader?

Well – you’re going to have to prove it!

After years of recruiting senior level staff for our clients, we believe we’ve whittled down the 7 key characteristics shared by all great leaders.

Below, we’ve revealed those characteristics, along with 21 of the toughest interview questions you’ll be asked in relation to them.

Have a read and find out exactly how you should (and definitely shouldn’t) be answering such questions to give you a better chance of getting that job.

1. Passion.

Most people can lead.  But do you want to lead?

As you can well imagine, employers are going to want someone who’s more than willing to pitch in and take control – and not necessarily just stick to their day job.

How will they know?

They’ll ask questions to assess whether you’re happy to leap out of your comfort zone and lead others to victory.

Q1. Tell me about a time when something went wrong at work and you took control…

Q2. What do you like about managing people?

Q3. Have any of your personal experiences helped you to become a good leader?

They’ll be looking out for signs of genuine passion.


  • Show them how you’ve taken on and lead projects that aren’t necessarily in your remit. If you helped another team who were struggling, boast about it.
  • Showcase any out-of-work talents you might have – especially if you run any clubs or are the captain of any teams.
  • Highlight times when you’ve shown bravery, commitment and confidence, leading a team of people.


  • Fail to answer the question – it’ll look like you have no leadership skills at all.
  • Give away any hints that you like to take a back seat within the team – you want to show how you became the natural leader and people turned to you for help.
  • Be negative about your colleagues or show a negative emotional response to any team tasks you’ve taken part in.

2. Conflict Resolution.

All great leaders will be able to resolve conflicts quickly, fairly and efficiently; bear that in mind when you answer questions pertaining to this attribute…

Q4. Tell me about the most difficult team you’ve ever lead…why were they difficult and how did you cope?

Q5. Tell me about a time when you didn’t agree with something, but had to do it anyway…

Q6. When was the last time you had a disagreement with a colleague or customer? What happened?

If there’s tension in the office, it will quickly get out of control and affect the culture of a team (and possibly the entire company). No one wants that.


  • Give examples in a positive way (no complaining or bitching).
  • Present yourself as the peacemaker of the office. ‘Staff used to come to me if there was a problem that needed resolving, for example…’


  • Badmouth your colleagues or managers (obviously).
  • Reveal that you were the cause of the conflict – even if you were in the right.
  • Ever admit to going against your manager’s wishes.
  • Say that you don’t get involved in conflict – a good manager won’t ignore tensions in the office.

If you’d like some helpful tips on how to genuinely deal with conflicts in the office – check out this online fact sheet. 

3. Adaptability.

Managers will have to cope with a variety of tasks and different kinds of people, so employers will be on the lookout for leaders who can adapt in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

Q7. Tell me about a time when you had to complete a task you’d never done before…how did you go about it? Were you successful?

Q8. Other than the ones described in your job description…what tasks do you fulfill at work?

Q9. When was the last time you faced an unexpected setback? What happened?

Good leaders have the ability to adapt to different challenges; great leaders relish those challenges.


  • Show how you always face setbacks head on and work with whatever resources you have to come up with a solution.
  • Show an enthusiasm for learning (especially from your mistakes).
  • Be honest. It’s OK to admit mistakes – nobody’s perfect – and your interviewer simply won’t believe ‘I’ve never had any setbacks in my life’.


  • chameleon rolling it's eyesShow any unwillingness to take on extra responsibilities.
  • Ever admit to being stuck in your ways.
  • Admit to abandoning tasks, passing the buck onto someone else or start blaming others for an unsuccessful task.

(Panicking and running away from the problem will never go down well).

Turn yourself into an office chameleon!

4. Creativity.

Leaders should be brimming with creativity, inspiration and innovation.

You’ll need to be able to bring things to the table that others may have overlooked and will be able to inspire your team to do the same! (That’s why so many super-successful businesses are, super-successful)

Q10. Tell me about a time when you had to think outside the box to complete a task…were you successful?

Q11. How do you come up with ideas?

Q12. When was the last time a staff member approached you with a unique idea? What did you do?

Of course, it’s also very important that a leader recognise the great ideas of others and get behind them 100%!


  • Show that you are eager to try new things out and that you can think outside the box, to find solutions.
  • Show that although you’re creative, you still have a clear decision-making process (see below) and don’t simply rush into things.
  • Give examples of how you saved the day, with weird, wonderful and new ideas.


  • Go overboard. Creative is one thing, unmanageable is another.
  •  Admit that you have a tendency to rush into trying out new ideas on a whim, without thinking them through (there needs to be some sort of decision making process).
  • Let your mind go blank (easier said than done I know, but) creativity is all about the ability to think on your feet! Silence is not the answer they’re looking for.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Interviewers might also choose to assess your creativity by asking brainteasers or trickier left-field questions.

These questions are much harder to answer and almost impossible to prepare for – but it’s still worth checking sample questions out to see what interviewers will be looking for (click on the respective links).

If you do get asked a really difficult question that stumps you at first, remain calm, take a deep breath and take a moment before answering.

5. Negotiation.

A good leader simply MUST be a good negotiator because  chances are, a big proportion of your job will be persuasion of some kind (whether aimed at staff, clients or suppliers)!

Q13. As a leader, how would you persuade people to do what you want?

Q14. How do you deal with people who disagree with you?

Q15. What is the most important attribute of a negotiator?

Good leaders can negotiate without causing conflict or upsetting anyone and they certainly won’t resort to threats or intimidation.


  • Show empathy – you can see other people’s point of view and work towards convincing them that your idea will benefit them.
  • Show confidence – the key to good negotiation is confidence (no one will believe you if you clearly don’t believe in yourself!)
  • Show that you kept everyone happy – a good negotiator will make sure every party leaves the conversation as happy as possible.


  • Show that you use intimidation and threats, rather than attempting to negotiate.
  • Show that you clearly give in too easily.
  • Boast that you never need to negotiate because you’re always right.

If you’d like more tips on how to become a good negotiator click here – or of course, if it’s money you’re after, check out our blog detailing the 7 Steps to Negotiating a Higher Salary From Your Current or Future Employers.

6. Decision Making.

Great leaders have the innate ability to make a rational decision and stick by it.

Q16. Describe your decision-making process to me…

Q17. What’s the most difficult decision you’ve had to make recently and how did you come to that decision?

Q18. Are you a risk taker?

Everyone makes mistakes; your interviewer isn’t looking for perfection. However, what you need to show is that you have a genuine, structured decision-making process.


  • Show that you’re level headed and commercially minded; you understand the consequences of certain actions.
  • Explain how you’d normally go about making a decision, weighing up the pros and cons etc.
  • Only mention positive examples.


  • man not able to make a decision (shakes head and then nods headSay that you like to make spontaneous decisions – portraying yourself as a risk taker!
  • Go overboard and imply that you never ever take risks.
  • Fail to answer. This is as good as admitting you don’t have a process!

Some risk is inevitable, but no one wants to hire someone who does what they want, when they want to, without considering the consequences!

7. People Management.

Of course this is a biggie!  A great leader will be able to supervise and manage other employees both confidently and effectively.

Q19. How would you track the performance of your employees?

Q20. Tell me about the last person you sacked…

Q21. How have you encouraged the development of your staff members in the past?

A great leader will inspire and motivate their good staff members to develop and grow but they’ll also know how to deal with the trouble-makers and under-performers.


  • Exhibit experience and passion for developing other employees and an understanding that training others is a really important part of building a close-knit and super-successful team.


  • Come across too judgmental when it comes to struggling and troublesome staff members. Sometimes all it takes is a guiding hand, some extra training and to know that the boss cares.
  • Be completely clueless about the training or development of staff!
  • Appear to be naïve to the negative responsibilities of managing people, like disciplining, sacking and redundancies etc..

Leading is no bed of roses (it’s worth remembering that before applying for a management position).

The Intangibles!

These 21 questions are pretty tough.

They’re each aimed at drawing out the leadership qualities in interviewees, without asking predictable questions like ‘When was the last time you lead a team project?’

Of course, a HUGE factor in any hiring decision is the interviewer’s gut feeling about you (rightly or wrongly) so you really don’t want to over-prepare or come across too rehearsed.

People are a lot more likely to follow and be inspired by leaders that they actually like and trust!

Recruiter Pro Tip.

It’s unlikely that the 7 leadership qualities outlined above are the only things interviewers will be looking for, so make sure you’re also prepared to answer other questions, like…

And you should also be prepared with your own questions!

Finally, always make sure that your body language is professional whilst sticking to the rules of interview etiquette and you’re bound to make a great impression!

But fail to prepare and you’re simply preparing to fail!

Good luck!

- Charles Trivett
Charles - blog author

Charles Trivett

Charles heads up Coburg Banks’ IT Division, and has worked in recruitment for nearly 20 years.  His knowledge of how to optimise and get the most from a recruitment campaign is second to none, and he now works with a select handful of clients in maximising their recruitment ROI.

> More blog posts by Charles Trivett

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