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Assessing Leadership Skills in an Interview

Leaders are the backbone of any successful business. They have a number of talents that range from influencing to managing people, and they know how best to motivate workers while maintaining the morale of everyone involved in the organization’s success.

Soft skills versus hard skills

Most job descriptions require a combination of hard and soft skills. The key differentiator between the two is the manner through which the candidate acquired the skills and uses them in the workplace. Hard skills are easier to assess because they relate to technical knowledge gained through education or training. Soft skills are more difficult to access because they relate to a candidate’s personality traits that develop over time. Leadership ability is a soft skill and the interview presents the perfect opportunity to access a candidate’s potential.

How to identify leadership skills in an interview

  • Ask behavioral and situational interview questions: Ask behavioral and situational interview questions to identify how the candidate uses skills in work-related scenarios. People often say that they possess great soft skills but the interview questions you ask will help to determine if that’s true.

Behavioral interview questions help interviewers determine how a candidate behaved in past work situations. Behavior questions address teamwork, problem-solving attitude, leadership skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and time management ability. Behavioral interview questions often start with:

  • “Give me an example of …”
  • “Tell me about a time when you …”
  • “Describe a situation where …”

The goal of situational interview questions is to determine how the candidate would handle a problem that is likely to arise within your company. Situational questions address interpersonal and collaboration skills, decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, organizational skills, and managerial skills. Situational interview questions are hypothetical situations that don’t rely on the candidate’s past experiences. An example of a situational interview question is:

  • “If X happened while you were working at our company, what would you do or how would you react?”
  • Look for signs of a growth mindset: During the interview, pay attention to ways in which the candidate demonstrates growth aspirations and career development goals. Does the candidate ask questions about opportunities for professional development and career growth within your organization? It’s important to identify growth mindset candidates as opposed to those with a fixed mindset. Why? Leaders with a fixed mindset are extremely results-oriented. They tend to see challenges as failures and often believe that all effort was wasted instead of recognizing the opportunity as a way to learn and grow. Executives who lead their organization with a fixed mindset create a culture of fear where their team is scared to take risks, express ideas, or make mistakes. This fosters an unmotivated team that doesn’t perform to its full potential. Fixed mindset leaders often micro-manage their team and work in a reactive environment that creates overworked and stressed employees.

Leaders with a growth mindset tend to focus more on the process rather than just the outcome. They see challenges, and times of crisis, as learning opportunities and a manner in which to grow and inspire their team. Growth mindset leaders realize that being vulnerable and putting themselves out there is part of growth and self-improvement. They also embrace challenges and feedback.

  • Look for signs of creativity: When you ask behavioral interview questions, listen for signs of creativity. Interviewers are accustomed to looking for creativity skills in graphic designers, writers, and video game designers. Creativity is also one of the most important qualities of an effective leader. An IBM survey found that 60 percent of corporate and public sector leaders identified creativity as the most important leadership quality. Creative leaders drive productivity and foster success in an organization. It takes creativity to make quick decisions when things don’t go as planned. Signs of creativity include analytical thinking skills, open-mindedness, problem-solving skills, and the ability to communicate how to solve a problem.

Read our E-Book – Interview Tips for Team Leaders.

This blog was written by Acara India’s Senior Manager of Business Development Chris Joanna.