Acing the Interview: What Hiring Managers and Applicants Need to Know About Management Style Questions

June 3, 2021
Katie Russell

Job interviews are a two-way street. Not only is it important for the hiring manager to feel confident in the candidate they select, but it is also important for the selected candidate to feel confident in the manager who will be influencing so much of their work experience.  

Today’s job seekers seem to be increasingly aware of the impact that relational cultures have on their work experience and ultimate job satisfaction. Unfortunately, many candidates pass up a valuable opportunity to ask questions that truly reveal the relational culture of the firm, choosing instead to play it safe with simple questions. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised during a recent round of interviews when a number of job applicants, particularly younger candidates, asked me to describe my management style.

As a hiring manager, if you haven’t encountered these types of questions yet, you probably will soon. And if you are a job candidate who has been avoiding these types of probing questions, you would be wise to consider integrating them into your interview process.

For Hiring Managers: How Connected Leaders Describe Their Management Style

While we want job applicants to ask the tough, thoughtful questions, answering them well can be an entirely different challenge! If you strive to be a connected leader and live out the principles of a connection culture, here’s a simple way you can respond to questions about your leadership philosophy during interviews:

As a manager, I believe that my job is to foster excellence in two areas: tasks and relationships. We want to get the job done and do it well, but we also want to treat people well along the way. Teams that have just task excellence or just relationship excellence ultimately fail, but the teams that have both achieve sustained superior performance.

I also believe that the best teams have a strong sense of connection. There are three elements that contribute to this connection. The first is vision. Everyone on the team knows where we’re going and why. The second is value. Everyone on the team treats each other like human beings, not machines. We express appreciation for the contributions that our teammates make. The final element is voice. That means that communication runs both up and down the chain of command. Everyone has a voice – not necessarily a vote, but a voice – in decision making. When you have these three elements of vision, value, and voice, you have a highly connected, high-performing team that has strong relationships and does great work. That’s the kind of team that I want to be part of, and I believe others want to work for that kind of team too.  

When I responded with an answer similar to the one above, the candidates I was interviewing welcomed it with genuine enthusiasm. Today’s job candidates are hungry to work with leaders who understand the simple truths of what it takes to lead a team well. Using the connection culture framework of vision, value, and voice to articulate your leadership philosophy is a simple and memorable way to signal that you understand the factors that are important for high-performing teams.

For Job Applicants: What to Listen for When Asking This Question in an Interview

If you are the job applicant, listen carefully to how the hiring manager answers questions about their management style. Do their responses focus almost solely on tasks, working hard, or results? “We’re a team of go-getters” or “We work hard and play hard” aren’t bad answers, but they are cause for concern if not balanced with comments that demonstrate the manager also understands the importance of managing the relational aspects of the team. If the hiring manager doesn’t mention relationships, it could be a signal that they don’t truly understand the importance of them.  

While the opposite extreme – managers who focus solely on relationships – is arguably rarer, it is equally concerning. Managers who just want people to be happy may have a tendency to avoid conflict, which may mean they don’t hold others accountable for their actions. A lack of accountability and avoiding the tough conversations ultimately causes conflict, leads to poor performance, and drains team morale.

The Bottom Line

Whether you are the job applicant or the hiring manager, you can and should be prepared to discuss management style and the relational culture of the team during the interview process. Hiring managers can use the connection culture framework as a simple way to articulate their point of view, and applicants should listen closely to determine whether managers understand the importance of balancing both tasks and relationships.  

More From Katie Russell

Millennials and Gen Z: Connecting with and Managing Younger Generations in the Workplace

Angry with a Coworker? Try Releasing the Debt

Q&A with Michael Lee Stallard: What is a Connection Culture?

Katie Russell is a professional marketer who is passionate about fostering great team cultures. She serves as editor of

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

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