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 13 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…
Why Do Employers Ask About Your Prior Leadership Experience?
Employers will inquire about your prior leadership experience when you interview for a position as a supervisor or manager or when they anticipate that you’ll lead a team on specific projects.
Even if you don’t have specific management experience in a prior role, you likely have experience leading a task to completion or organizing a project. Highlight your experience and the steps you took to manage your team successfully. Your example will give the interviewer a sense of what to expect if they hire you for the role.
What are Leadership Experience and Skills?
Leadership skills encompass several traits, including interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, strategic thinking, and negotiation. The right combination of leadership experience and skills allows managers to successfully motivate their teams and inspire them to work toward specific goals. Good leaders will also demonstrate accountability for their responsibilities and actions.
Watch: How to Answer “What Are Some of Your Leadership Experiences?”
How to Answer “What Are Some of Your Leadership Experiences?”
There are a couple of guidelines to keep in mind. You want to pick leadership examples that follow these 3 guidelines:
1. Choose an example that’s as relevant as possible
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!
2. Pick something that’s somewhat recent if you can
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.
3. And finally, choose an example that’s impressive overall
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.
Best Interview Answers for “What Are Some of Your Leadership Experiences?”
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!
It’s Okay if You Don’t Have ‘Perfect’ Leadership Examples…
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 13 examples of leadership experience to help you get ideas…
13 Leadership Experience Examples
1. Leading a project or task in school
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.
I was assigned to lead a team of three colleagues in my college marketing course. We had to develop a comprehensive digital marketing strategy for a hypothetical e-commerce company. I organized our group to work on different components of the plan, including our content, social media, and email strategy. We developed a 15-page report and earned an A+.
2. Organizing a study group
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.
A calculus course during college was extremely difficult, and I noticed several students were struggling with the assignments and tests. I organized a study group that met twice each week to discuss calculus concepts and work on our homework together. The group was highly beneficial; we all finished with As and Bs in the course.
3. Spotting a problem at work and finding a solution
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.
In my previous job as a quality control engineer, I noticed that a part we manufactured often had a specific defect. I looked further into the issue and found that one of our machines didn’t have the proper calibrations, and this caused the defect. I alerted a manager and we fixed the machine. After that, we saw a 90% decrease in defects for that part.
4. Sports leadership experience
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.
I was a cheerleader in high school, and we regularly competed against other teams in our city. I wanted our team to win before I graduated, so I designed a creative cheer that involved lots of stunts and dancing. We practiced hard, and our performance was rock solid at the competition. We won the event and took home several trophies.
5. Volunteer/non-profit leadership
If you’ve volunteered at a local foundation or non-profit and taken 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.
I volunteer at my local Animal Rescue and usually spend at least one or two days each month caring for the animals in the shelter. I wanted to see more animals go to good homes, so I contacted a pet store to organize adoptions for dogs and cats. We moved several animals to the store, and they were immediately adopted.
6. Training/mentoring newer team members
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 in 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.
In my last role as an accountant, we expanded our department by ten new employees in six months. Most new workers were recent college graduates, so I became a mentor to help them adjust to the work environment. I introduced them to our accounting system and ensured they had the guidance to perform their tasks.
7. Managing clients/projects
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.
In my last role as a sales director, I was in charge of several prolific clients who were a significant source of revenue for our company. I ensured that our services always met their needs and regularly checked in on them so we could immediately fix any issues they encountered. Every one of the clients I worked with renewed their contract with our company.
8. Direct reports
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 report 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!
In my last role as the human resources manager, I oversaw a team of six employees. I ensured they had all the resources needed to handle their responsibilities and was always there to guide them if questions arose. During my time, the company promoted two of my team members to supervisory positions, and they credited my mentorship as a significant reason for their success.
9. Leading a meeting or committee
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.
As the project manager for the compliance department, I led a weekly meeting with our legal, accounting, finance, and tax team members. Before the meeting, I organized all the topics to discuss and any current updates I had. I ensured that each session was smooth and productive and that every participant understood the responsibilities they needed to take care of in the next week.
10. Passion projects
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!
While in college, I decided to organize a group of people who enjoyed weekend hikes. I’m a regular hiker familiar with the nearby trails, so I led every trek, ensuring that everyone remained safe and enjoyed the time spent in nature. By the end of the first semester, over 100 students had joined the club. Even though it’s been a few years since my last college hike, we still keep in contact and share the hikes and nature adventures we embark on.
11. Conflict Resolution
Everyone experiences conflict at some point in their lives, both personally and professionally. However, not everyone can successfully resolve disputes. If you have a noteworthy example of conflict resolution, share it with the interviewer. For example, perhaps you stopped a disagreement between two colleagues and found a reasonable compromise that suited both parties.
In my last job as a pediatric nurse, I had a patient who broke their arm after falling during a baseball game. The family members were distraught, and the parents blamed one another for the accident. Their arguments upset the child, so I stepped in and asked them to calm down. I explained that it was an accident and there was no point in arguing. Instead, they should focus their energy on supporting their child. They stopped arguing and quickly understood that the cause of the tension came from worry.
12. Family Responsibilities
If you have children, a spouse, or elderly parents you care for, you’ve likely encountered numerous scenarios when you needed to step in and take charge. For instance, maybe you noticed your child didn’t understand a schoolwork concept, so you helped them study for their test. If you have an aging parent, you might take a leadership role in their healthcare needs.
As the oldest child, I cared for my younger brother and sister since my parents both worked full-time. After I started driving, I took them to school and ensured they always got to their after-school activities. I was also responsible for making their school lunches and cooking dinner since my parents often didn’t get off work until 6 or 7 p.m..
13. Event Planning
Event planning is another area where leadership is crucial. Overseeing a significant event requires lots of planning, organization, and time management. If you’ve recently planned an event, such as a wedding or a networking activity, you could describe your work and how you ensured the event occurred without a hitch.
My best friend asked me to be her wedding planner. She knows how much I enjoy planning major events and expected I would do a great job catering to her tastes. I planned the entire wedding, including the after-party, for nearly 500 guests. The results were spectacular, and our friends and family still discuss it. Another friend is getting married next year, and she’s asked me to assist in the planning, too.
Full Example Answers for “What Are Your Leadership Experiences?”
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 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.
What To Do Next:
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!