You could hear this question in any interview… whether it’s an entry-level position or a Director job: “What are some of your leadership experiences?”
I’m going to give you the 3 steps to make sure you give a GREAT interview answer that stands out and makes them think “yes, this is the person we should hire!”
Then, we’ll look at 10 examples of leadership experience you can include on your resume or mention in interviews (including some you may not realize you have!)
Let’s get started…
There are a couple guidelines to keep in mind. You want to pick leadership examples that follow these 3 guidelines:
What does this mean? If you’re applying for a Customer Service Supervisor job, and you’ve had some leadership experience in other customer service roles, you should absolutely share that! That’s much more relevant than leadership on a sports team, in school, etc.
So always go with what’s most relevant first!
Recent experience beats older experience if everything else is equal. So when you share some of your leadership experiences, pick things that are recent whenever you have a choice.
Along with thinking about which of your experiences are most relevant and recent, you need to think about how impressive something is overall.
Leading a large number of people is impressive.
Managing people directly is more impressive than just leading people on a quick project (especially if you’re interviewing for a job where you’ll be managing more people directly – this goes back to what’s relevant!)
Leading a complex project is impressive.
Handling multiple projects is impressive.
You get the point. So also think about the scale of your past leadership, and the challenges involved, and try to share examples that are most challenging and have a “wow” factor.
So to give the best answer possible, you want to combine the three points above, and then be specific. If you have previous work experience, use the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, Result.
What was the situation you were in? Was it school, a recent job, or something else? How many people did you lead, and who were they?
Next, what was the task? What did you need to accomplish or what problem did you face?
After that, talk about the action you took and how you led. What were your options, which did you choose as a leader, and why?
And finally, conclude your leadership experiences by talking about the RESULT. That’s most important. How did things turn out? And what did you learn from it? How did you use this experience to improve and how will you use this knowledge to perform well in this job you’re interviewing for!
Maybe you just graduated from school, or you’re applying for your first job. You might not have work-related leadership experience. That’s okay.
Just pick the most relevant leadership experiences that you can think of.
Do the best you can with the example you prepare. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody has every single thing an employer wants in the interview, so you just need to prepare the best you can and give the best example you can when responding to the question.
And if the STAR method isn’t working (I’ve seen people struggle to use it if your example of leadership experience is from sports, etc.), make it simpler and just focus on the situation, and what you learned from it.
What was the goal, and how did you help accomplish it through leadership? And how did you improve and develop as a leader? Always show what you learned at the end!
That’s one of the keys to answering this type of interview question.
If you don’t have any formal leadership experience (like managing a team at work, or managing client projects), here are 9 examples of leadership experience to help you get ideas…
This can be any level of school. Choose whatever you completed most recently. If you’re a college graduate, pick a project from the last one or two years of college.
If you just graduated high school, choose something from your senior year.
Taking a lead role in a school project is a great example of leadership experience. If you delegated tasks, chose the overall strategy for the project, or anything like that, that’s leadership!
Organizing a team presentation can also be considered leadership.
Maybe you didn’t lead projects in school, but you organized a study group after class. That’s still a great example of leadership and taking initiative.
Any example of you taking initiative and doing something that wasn’t required, but helped you succeed, is a good leadership example.
Maybe you spotted a potential problem in your most recent job and brought it to your boss’ attention, or better yet – fixed it yourself.
This is a great leadership example.
Any time you go above and beyond what your basic job requires and solve a problem or take the lead on something without being asked is great leadership.
If you’ve played a lead role on any sports teams, this can certainly be used as a leadership example in job interviews.
So think back to your past, and whether you led any sports teams.
If you’ve volunteered at a local foundation or non-profit and took a leadership role – even in one task or for one day – you can mention this as leadership experience.
Some of the best leadership experience examples can be for one single day or one single moment; it doesn’t need to be something you did for years.
You don’t need to have a Manager or Supervisor job title to play a lead role in a past job. If you were ever asked to help get a new team member up to speed, train them on the basics, or watch over them on their first few weeks, that’s a great example of leadership experience.
This shows your past boss trusted you and knew they could rely on you. That’s one of the key things you want to try to do when sharing past leadership experiences – pick something that shows other people thought you were someone they could trust and rely on.
In an interview, this will help convince the interviewer that they can also rely on you! That’ll help you get hired.
Maybe you’ve never had people reporting directly to you, but you’ve managed projects or managed client accounts for your last company.
You can certainly mention that as one of your leadership examples in the interview.
If you’ve ever had direct reports, this is the most powerful example you can give. If you hired people, did annual reviews, and had them reporting to you on a regular basis, this shows your employer trusted you at a very high level.
While most people aren’t going to be able to give this as an example, if you can, you should!
This can be at school, at an after-school organization, any type of volunteer organization, a job, a club, etc.
If you led a meeting or committee for even a short time period or one-time event, that’s still great leadership experience to put on a resume and then talk about in interviews if asked.
For example, if you were part of a club that needed to host an event, and they put you in charge of the committee responsible for finding a venue and calling different event halls to ask if they’re available – that’s something you led.
Even if you took the lead on a project that wasn’t work-related and wasn’t for a non-profit, you can still share it as a leadership example.
Maybe you got three friends together to build an electric go-cart. This still shows the ability to manage and organize a highly-technical, time-consuming project. That’s a valuable trait for many jobs!
So don’t be shy about sharing examples of leadership experience even if you weren’t paid for it, weren’t officially a “manager”, and weren’t doing it for an official organization or employer!
Now that you know what to include in your answer, let’s look at a few examples.
I’ll give an example for a recent graduate without work experience, and then for somebody who has work experience already.
Example answer if you have no work experience:
I just finished my degree in Finance, and most of my classes during my final year involved teamwork. I try to step up as a leader whenever possible, because it allows me to develop skills in communication, delegation, and managing multiple tasks and deadlines. In a senior-level Accounting class, we were broken off into teams of four and had to complete a large project throughout the entire semester. My team ended up getting the highest grade in the class because I set a schedule early in the project and delegated tasks to people based on their strengths. I enjoy leading and delegating, and I hope to continue leading in my professional career now.
Example answer if you do *not* have work experience:
In my last job, I was responsible for supervising a team of five, including managing their schedules, training them and mentoring them. I enjoy leadership and am proud to say that two of these five people were promoted while I was mentoring them. In my job before that, I supervised a team of three designers on certain projects. I wasn’t their direct manager but they reported to me for the projects I led. So I have a mix of project management experience from that role and direct management experience from my most recent job. I enjoy both.
Now you need to come up with your own examples of leadership experience to share in the interview.
Think about where you’ve led, what you’ve learned, and which story will be most relevant to the employer.
Remember the first thing we discussed: Your example of leadership experience should be as relevant as possible, somewhat recent, and impressive overall.
If that doesn’t sound familiar, go back to the first half of the article where this is mentioned.
And whatever example of past leadership experience you choose to share, be ready to get specific and share real results. What was the outcome and what did you learn?
Any time an interviewer is asking this, there’s a good chance they want to hire a strong leader.
So you need to sound like you enjoy leading and are comfortable doing more of this in the future!
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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