September 8, 2023

How to Position Yourself as a Leader in a Job Interview

Are you meant to be in a director position? Here’s how to position yourself as a leader in a job interview.

Whether you’ve got your eye on a director level job, are just starting out in your career, or find yourself somewhere in between, knowing how to position yourself as a leader in a job interview is a critical strategy that could propel you ahead of other candidates. 

Here are some of our recommendations on how to position yourself as a leader in a job interview.

Tell a story or two about being a leader

The greatest tool you have in an interview is a story. A specific story not only gives the interviewer a clear idea of the work you’re capable of, but it also allows them the chance to really visualize you in the role you’re applying for

An effective story is short and has a beginning, middle, and ending that succinctly answers these questions:

  1. What was the problem?
  2. What decision did I made or action I take?
  3. How did the situation resolve?

Reflect on your experience and outline these stories ahead of time. They should be brief and demonstrate your ability to make strategic decisions and own the results. Throwing in solid data and metrics from past experiences doesn’t hurt either. 

Be ready to talk about how you work with others: the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

If you’ve managed employees or overseen the work of others in any capacity, highlight that! Just because you haven’t held the title of director or manager in the past doesn’t mean you haven’t led. Take a critical look at your experience and highlight specifically what projects, processes, or personnel you may have owned at any time. 

If you do have experience managing a team, project, or department, be sure to highlight the work style you brought to the team and how you left your mark. Are you a hands-on player-coach, or do you like to give your team space to do their work?

Hiring teams also want to know how you handle various personalities and disagreements in the workplace, so be prepared to explain a time or two you’ve had to overcome divergent opinions with your team or supervisor and how you were able to find a path forward. 

Come to the job interview with your own ideas

The single clearest way to demonstrate your leadership capabilities or potential is to walk the walk. While no one is expecting a full action plan at your interview, coming prepared with a few priority items, improvements, and ideas shows agency, passion, and a degree of thought leadership.     

This is a particularly powerful way for candidates with little management experience to cast themselves as a leader who is ready to drive the work, not just follow it. It can really set you apart from the pack. 

Be comfortable talking about failure.

No one likes to talk about the campaign that flopped or that time the team bit off more than they could chew. But the truth is that work isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, and every organization faces failure from time to time. 

The value of a leader is their ability to recognize the failure, learn from it, and adapt so that it isn’t repeated in the future. Being able to talk about your own failures in this way reflects maturity and an understanding of the reality that the path from A to B isn’t always a straight line.  

Ready to become a titan in your field? Check out our open searches for leadership positions in the nonprofit industry.