Stepping into your first managerial role can be a bit daunting, I get it. And the interview process? It will surely add to those jitters.
The real challenge lies in preparing for first-time manager interviews. It’s not just about running through the typical interview questions or flexing your technical know-how. It’s all about revealing your inner leader.
This guide will help you do just that. Inside, you’ll find:
- The most common first-time manager interview questions with sample answers you can steal.
- Tips on how to showcase leadership potential in your answers.
- A bulletproof formula for answering first-time manager questions (even if you’re caught off-guard).
Want to get an offer after every interview? Our interview prep tool will guide you through all the questions you can expect, let you record and analyze your answers, and provide instant AI feedback. You’ll know exactly what to improve to turn your next interview into a job.
Our users land jobs 8 to 9 weeks faster than the national average. Get ready for your interview now.
What Makes First-Time Manager Interviews Different from Experienced Manager Interviews
First-time managerial interviews are a special beast. The difference lies in what interviewers are seeking to discover about you.
When you’re vying for that first-time managerial gig, your interviewer is much more interested in your potential than your past.
They want to see:
- If you possess the fundamental qualities that make a good manager.
- If you have innate leadership abilities.
- What your decision-making process looks like.
- What you think it means to be a good manager.
An experienced manager would be grilled on accomplished projects or specific managerial challenges. You, as a first-time candidate, will face more questions about hypothetical situations — because your interviewers want to learn how you would react and manage resources.
In other words — questions to first-time managers focus more on what would you do?, rather than what did you do?
With the basics established, let’s take a look at some of the most common questions first-time managers get asked. And if you’re here just to see a list of questions, it’s right below.
In the following sections, I’ll break each question down and give you some top-notch sample answers.
The most common first-time manager questions:
- What do you think is the most critical role of a manager?
- What management style do you prefer?
- Describe how you handle conflict resolution.
- How did you handle a situation where a team member wasn’t performing?
- Give an example of a time you had to motivate a team.
- How would you handle a difficult employee?
- Can you give an example when you had to present complex information to a team?
- Describe a time when you had to use persuasion to convince someone to see things your way.
- Describe a challenging issue you faced in your previous role and how you solved it.
- How do you handle making difficult decisions?
- Tell me about a time you failed. How did you handle it?
- Can you describe a time when you had to deal with a major company change?
- How do you handle stress and pressure?
If you want to read about all kinds of leadership-related questions (not just for first-time managers), check this guide out: Behavioral Interview Questions About Leadership Skills
Questions About Understanding Your First Managerial Role and Responsibilities
Why they ask these questions
- Interviewers want to see if you understand the responsibilities of a managerial position in general.
- They also need to ensure that you have a solid grasp of what the particular opening entails — that includes team dynamics, organizational culture, and overall company strategy.
- Finally, they want to gauge your ability to balance individual tasks with team needs, manage conflicts, and cultivate a harmonious work environment.
Question: What do you think is the most critical role of a manager?
How to answer:
- Focus on the big picture. Suggest that a manager’s job involves creating a vision, setting goals, and promoting an environment that brings out the best in the team.
- Keep your answer relevant to the job. Talk about your vision of a managerial role in the specific team you’d be leading. Refer to the requirements and responsibilities listed in the job description.
- Highlight interpersonal skills. Mention the need for strong relationships, successful conflict resolution, and effective feedback delivery.
- Mention leadership. Stress the role of a manager as a chief motivator and example-setter for the team, driving towards shared goals.
I believe the most critical role of a manager is to be a bridge between top management and the team. This involves communicating directions, setting clear expectations, and facilitating an environment that furthers both individual and company goals. It also means guiding the team, resolving conflicts, and nurturing a high-performance culture rooted in feedback and continuous learning.
Question: What management style do you prefer?
How to answer:
- Remember that you’re not required to choose only one style or method. You can showcase your versatility as a manager by explaining how you would adapt your management style based on the task, team, and circumstances.
- Detail different situations where you’d use different managing styles. For example, a coaching style for team development, and a democratic style for decision-making requiring team input.
- Tie your answer to the company values. It’s important to adapt your management style to the needs of the organization you’d be joining. Highlight your focus on creating the right environment for your team members to thrive and deliver.
- Use past experiences. It might be the first time you’re stepping into a managerial role, but you can still draw upon experiences where you’ve managed projects or teams to illustrate your points.
I prefer a transformational management style, as it encourages employees to exceed established expectations through innovation and creativity. My focus is to inspire and motivate people, promoting a culture that values self-improvement and autonomy, while providing support and guidance when required. In other words, I think the key is to equip the team with business context and any tools they need to succeed — and then simply remove roadblocks.
Question: Describe how you handle conflict resolution.
How to answer:
- Describe your general approach towards conflict resolution. Show that you understand the importance of addressing issues promptly before they escalate.
- Tell a story that illustrates your conflict-resolution skills. Base your answer on concrete evidence, not just general strategies.
- Highlight the results of your conflict management efforts. Explain how your actions benefited the team and the organization.
I believe in addressing conflicts transparently but tactfully. My approach is to first understand the perspectives of all parties involved, creating a safe space for open communication.
An example that comes to mind is when, as a senior software developer at Intel, I encountered a conflict between two colleagues about a project feature, which was causing team delays. Despite not being a team leader, I decided to mediate to avoid further delays and maintain team harmony.
I discussed with both colleagues individually and facilitated a team meeting for everyone to express their ideas. We analyzed every idea, keeping our project objectives in mind. We merged the best parts of both approaches, resolving the disagreement and improving our product. This enhanced our team dynamics and proved a great problem-solving exercise!
For an in-depth analysis of how to answer conflict-related questions, see this guide: Conflict-Resolution Interview Questions and Answers
Questions About Team Management and Leadership for First-Time Managers
Why they ask these questions
- Another critical (and quite obvious) component of managerial interviews is testing your ability to handle team dynamics effectively.
- Interviewers are looking to assess your experience working in teams, your leadership style, and how you handle different personality types and potential conflicts.
Question: How would you handle a situation where a team member isn’t performing?
How to answer:
- Explain how you would communicate with the team member. For instance, your first step could be to have a private and frank conversation with them to understand any underlying issues that could be affecting their performance.
- Discuss what you would do to help the team member improve their performance. Mention steps such as training to help them meet their job requirements more effectively.
- Remember to talk about monitoring the progress. Outline how you’d monitor their progress, as well as what you would do if the team member would continue to underperform.
Sample answer (Software industry)
If I noticed a team member underperforming, my first step would be to understand their perspective through an open and empathetic conversation. The aim would be to identify any issues impacting their performance, be it personal or professional.
Based on this understanding, I would work with the team member to form a customized performance improvement plan, potentially including additional training or workload management strategies.
I would diligently monitor their performance and overall morale to track improvement. Should their performance level remain low despite our efforts, I would consider involving senior management or possibly shifting responsibilities within the team.
Question: Give an example of a time you had to motivate a team.
How to answer:
- Set the scene. Start by providing context for the example — the team you were working with, the task at hand, and any particular challenges the team was facing.
- Share your approach. Detail your strategy for motivation, whether it was goal setting, rallying the team around a shared vision, reminding about an incentive, or any other methods.
- Highlight the results. Talk about the positive outcomes from your initiative — an increase in morale, productivity, or overall team success.
Sample answer (Hospitality industry)
During my time at the hotel where I was part of the event readiness team, we had an exhaustive week of back-to-back events. Fatigue was starting to affect the team morale.
I took the initiative to brighten our spirits. I coordinated with our leadership to surprise the team with a lunch, allowing everyone to relax and recharge. Furthermore, I used it as an opportunity for all of us to share some time-management strategies to improve our workflow. The surprise lunch was a hit, and everyone seemed re-energized afterward. Additionally, applying the time management strategies made our tasks significantly easier to handle for the remainder of the week. As a result, we managed to execute all events flawlessly, and the team was noticeably more engaged.
Question: How would you handle a difficult employee?
How to answer:
- Initiate a conversation. Emphasize your willingness to engage in a private, open discussion with the employee to understand their perspective and struggles.
- Highlight fairness. Talk about treating every team member fairly and consistently.
- Develop a plan. Discuss devising a mutual plan with specific, measurable actions that the employee can take to improve their behavior.
Sample answer (Healthcare industry)
While working in a clinic, we had a coworker who was frequently arriving late. This was creating disruption in patient flow and our team’s schedule. Although I wasn’t the supervisor, the issue was impacting our group dynamics and operations, and I felt responsible to help in any way I could.
I decided to ask my colleague what was going on, then learned about her commuting challenges. Understanding her situation better, I brainstormed some solutions that could accommodate her needs while keeping the operations smooth. I brought this matter and a proposed solution of an adaptive work schedule to our manager’s attention, advocating for my coworker’s situation, so we could jointly address the issue. With the manager’s support, we successfully implemented the new work schedule. It accommodated my colleague’s commuting issues, ensured the clinic maintained optimal patient care, and reinstated the harmony of our team.
Surprise, surprise! Apart from typical interview questions for newbie managers, you’ll certainly be asked some other, standard interview questions. Make sure you come prepared. Here are some of our guides:
- Tell Me About Yourself: Sample Answers
- Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
- Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
- What Are Your Strengths?
- What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
- Why Should We Hire You?
- What Are Your Salary Expectations?
- Why Do You Want to Work Here?
First-Time Manager Questions About Communication Skills
Why they ask these questions
- Clear and effective communication is a cornerstone of successful management.
- In first-time managerial interviews, employers often delve into your ability to articulate your thoughts, share information, listen attentively, and ensure mutual understanding within a team.
- Whether it involves simplifying complex concepts, responding to queries, or persuading someone to see things your way, showcasing your communication competency can set you apart as a potential manager.
Question: Can you give an example when you had to present complex information to a team?
How to answer:
- Contextualize. Start by outlining the situation — the team, the specific information you had to convey, and what made it complex.
- Talk about strategies. Mention the methods you used to simplify and present the information, such as visual aids, hands-on demonstrations, or breaking information down into manageable parts.
- Talk about how you engaged your coworkers. This could be by encouraging questions or conducting discussion sessions.
Sample answer (R&D industry)
Sure, in my previous role as an R&D engineer, I had to present our new product’s complex technical specifications to the marketing team. I knew I had to break the jargon down into simpler, understandable language. So, I used simple analogies, visual aids, and frequent check-in questions during the presentation to ensure they could grasp the knowledge and apply it in their marketing strategies. The subsequent successful marketing campaign was a testament to their understanding and, hopefully, my efforts of clear communication.
Question: Describe a time when you had to use persuasion to convince someone to see things your way.
How to answer:
- Explain the circumstances. This could involve a project, an idea, or a plan that needed someone’s cooperation or approval.
- Discuss your strategy. Outline the tactics you used to persuade the individual or the group. Remember to highlight the importance of understanding their perspective, laying out your reasoning clearly, and connecting your proposal to shared goals or values.
- Show the outcome. Describe the result of your efforts. Even if it wasn’t entirely successful, you can talk about what you learned from the situation.
Sample answer (Environmental sector)
In my role as an environmental coordinator, there were times I had to convince stakeholders about the long-term benefits of investing in sustainable practices, which don’t typically assure immediate profits. I would prepare strong cases backed by research and use storytelling to highlight the environmental and, eventually, financial benefits. One successful example was getting management approval for low-energy lighting throughout our facility, highlighting long-term energy and cost savings. They initially resisted due to the high upfront costs but were persuaded by my strong rationale and cost-benefit analysis.
Questions About Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
Why they ask these questions
- Any good manager needs to address problems head-on and make sound decisions.
- Interviewers are interested in your logical reasoning, analytical capabilities, and risk-taking ability, along with the confidence you exhibit in your decision-making process.
Question: Describe a challenging issue you faced in your previous role and how you solved it.
How to answer:
- Begin by detailing the situation and what made the issue challenging. It could be an unexpected delay, a logistical problem, a team conflict, or any other significant hurdle.
- Discuss the strategy you adopted to solve the issue. This might include drawing on existing resources, seeking external advice, or innovating a novel solution.
- Describe the outcome of your efforts and how it impacted your work or the team.
Sample answer (Logistics industry)
As a supply chain coordinator, I faced a challenging situation when our primary vendor could not deliver vital components due to a strike. This threatened our production timelines. I initiated a multistep solution. First, I negotiated with secondary suppliers to provide us with the required components, albeit at a higher cost. Secondly, I recalculated our production costs and adjusted our financial forecasts. Lastly, I communicated these changes transparently to our important clients and sought their understanding. This experience taught me the value of having a robust contingency plan.
Question: How do you handle making difficult decisions?
How to answer:
- Talk about how you gather information. Start by discussing how essential it is for you to collect as much information as possible from reliable sources before making a decision.
- Mention your approach to exploring different scenarios. This includes weighing pros and cons, and examining potential outcomes of each alternative.
- Remember about other points of view. Talk about the importance of seeking different perspectives, especially when making decisions that significantly impact the team or company.
Sample answer (Non-profit sector)
In my previous role as a project coordinator for a non-profit, budget constraints often forced difficult resource allocation decisions. I used a structured approach by first gathering all necessary information and understanding the potential impact of the decision. Then, I evaluated possible alternatives, looking for the most cost-effective solution. When I had to make the toughest choices, I would also seek input from the team. This approach not only produced better decisions but also ensured that team members felt invested and heard.
Want more on the topic? We have a separate guide about behavioral problem-solving questions, specifically. Give it a read: Problem-Solving Interview Questions and Answers
Competency-Based Managerial Questions for First-Time Managerial Candidates
Why they ask these questions
- Competency-based managerial questions are designed to gauge your ability to handle situations that test your managerial and leadership skills.
- The aim is to assess your skills in strategic thinking, resilience, people management, communication, and your overall readiness for taking up roles which require a higher degree of responsibility.
Question: Tell me about a time you failed. How did you handle it?
How to answer:
- Describe the situation. Start with a specific instance of a time you failed. Be honest about what happened and why it was considered a failure.
- Pick a real failure. Mistakes are an opportunity for you to grow — and this question is precisely about that growth. Don’t try to disguise an actual win as a loss. “I failed to pace myself and delivered a project way ahead of schedule but ended up exhausted” won’t do.
- Discuss your reaction. Detail how you handled the situation — what steps you took immediately after the failure and the emotional impact it had on you.
- Focus on learning. Explain what you learned from this experience and how it helped you grow personally or professionally.
Sample answer (Manufacturing industry)
In my previous role as a production supervisor, we launched a new assembly line where I misjudged the training needs of a project team. Despite preparation, the team struggled with operations, leading to an increase in lead time. Obviously, it was a very disappointing moment for me. However, I viewed it as a learning opportunity. I acknowledged the mistake with my team, arranged intensive hands-on training sessions and, within weeks, the team picked up efficiency, reducing the lead times significantly.
Question: Can you describe a time when you had to deal with a major company change?
How to answer:
- Establish the background of the change. Start by explaining the context of the major change in the company and why it was significant.
- Explain how you adapted. For instance, by embracing new practices, permanently adjusting your plans, or relearning parts of your job.
- Discuss your mindset. Highlight the attitude you maintained during the transition, like staying positive, remaining flexible, or taking the initiative to learn new processes.
- Demonstrate leadership skills. If applicable, describe how you supported others during the change and fostered a resilient and adaptable team culture.
Sample answer (Education sector)
In my role at a higher education institution, our operations underwent significant alteration due to a major merger. I felt it was important to contribute towards maintaining open communication and high morale among my peers during this transition.
I did my best to understand the nature of the upcoming changes and how they would impact our day-to-day. I shared my notes and observations with my colleagues, trying to clarify anything that might not have been obvious. And I tried to remind everyone of smaller achievements throughout this period.
Being agile and communicating effectively were crucial in navigating through this big change. My efforts helped keep morale high among my peers and ensured that we stayed productive during the transition.
Question: How do you handle stress and pressure?
How to answer:
- Discuss your personal methods for handling stress. These might include resourceful time management, mindfulness exercises, physical activity, or relaxation techniques.
- Talk about how you prioritize tasks and manage time effectively under pressure, helping to mitigate stress.
- Don’t forget about support systems. Mention the value of a strong support system (like colleagues, mentors, or peers) and how it helps you manage stress.
Sample answer (Finance sector)
In my previous role as a financial analyst, handling large datasets and tight deadlines were part of the job. Over time, I’ve learned to manage stress effectively through planning and prioritization. For instance, I break down complex tasks into manageable parts, anticipate potential setbacks, and maintain a flexible calendar to adjust to unforeseen issues. My primary strategy involves taking proactive steps to mitigate stress rather than merely reacting to it. Also, while it might sound cliché, regular physical exercise and mindfulness practices are also part of my stress-management toolkit.
Pro tip: If you’re thinking about going up a step in the corporate ladder and assuming your first managerial job, don’t hesitate to take advantage of managerial coaching (in other words: coaching that helps you become a better coach yourself). Research suggests that managerial coaching can greatly facilitate successful transitions into leadership positions. Actually, another recent study implies that lack of formal management training can greatly hamper your success as a first-time manager.
How to Answer Interview Questions for First-Time Managers?
That nice downtown view from your first-ever private office. You’re a manager now. (You might even remove your office door entirely to highlight how it’s “always open for you folks.”)
How did you get there? Easy. You learned the fool-proof strategy to answering interview questions for new managers. The one below.
1. Understand the question
Before you start your answer, make sure you’ve got the question figured out. What are they really asking? Understanding the core of the question will stop you from veering off track and make your response more targeted.
2. Prepare in advance
“Winging it” may work in some scenarios, but not in job interviews. Do your homework about the company, role, and the team you’d be in charge of. Being prepared will make you less nervous and more confident.
3. Use concrete examples
Everyone loves stories, right? Sharing instances from your past work where you’ve shown leadership or solved problems can make your point more vivid and convincing. Plus, it’s evidence you walk the walk. And no, you don’t have to make up stories about how you lead a team long-term. But any instance of you stepping up and taking ownership is worth mentioning.
4. Leverage the STAR technique
Trying to structure your thoughts? The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique is pure gold. Describe the situation, detail your role, explain what you did and round off with the positive result. This method can give you that organized, clear, and relatable performance story.
Here’s an example of the STAR method put to practice when answering a typical question for a first-time manager:
5. Showcase leadership potential
Don’t forget, you’re here to snag a managerial role! Show them you’re leadership-ready. Highlight examples where you’ve used your initiative, shown resilience, or strategically influenced others.
6. Manifest your integrity
In a 2018 study, integrity and trustworthiness have been found to be crucial qualities for a manager. Being honest, reliable, and respectful with subordinates fosters a positive work environment and builds trust within the team — and this is essential for effective collaboration and teamwork.
7. Display emotional intelligence
Being a manager isn’t just about project charts and financial statements. At its core, it’s about people skills. Show your sensitivity to your team’s feelings, reactions, and morale. Adding a dash of emotional intelligence to your answers can really set you apart.
8. Be confident
Keep your cool, maintain eye contact, and don’t forget to breathe. You’re here because you’ve earned this opportunity. They invited you in for a reason.
Looking for a managerial role in a specific sector? Check out:
- First-time manager interview questions often revolve around hypothetical scenarios, not just real-life situations.
- This is precisely what makes those questions difficult — you need to prove you have what it takes to assume a leadership role, even if you don’t have concrete evidence from the past.
- When interviewing for your first-ever managerial role, highlight your skills and subject-matter expertise and, at the same time, make sure you convey your leadership potential.
- Remember — you’re not expected to showcase loads of managerial wins. The key is to present yourself as someone who can motivate and inspire others.
Need a hand? There are 3 ways we can help you:
- Tired of interviewing and not landing the job? Discover actionable lessons and interview practice here (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users).
- Need help with your resume? Use our brand new automated resume feedback tool: Resume AI.
- If you’re expecting your next interview to be held online, see: 20+ Tips to Ace Any Virtual Interview.
What are the toughest interview questions for first-time managers?
The toughest questions are usually those about instances where you had to demonstrate management skills without being in a managerial role as such. For example, “Tell me about a time you led a team,” or “Describe how you’ve handled a conflict within the team.” These make you dive deeper into your experiences and assess abilities beyond your usual responsibilities.
What to expect from an interview for a first-time upper management position?
In an interview for a first-time upper management position, expect questions focused on strategic thinking, leadership, financial acumen, and driving organizational change. You’ll be expected to provide evidence of clear thinking, managing teams, and making tough decisions. Be prepared for scenario-based questions where your problem-solving skills and ability to manage tough situations will be tested.
What questions to ask at the end of my first-time manager interview?
Ask questions that show your interest in the company and the role. Some examples include: “What does success look like for this role?”, “What do new employees often find surprising after they start?”, or “What are some challenges that this position would face?”
How to prepare for an interview for my first-ever managerial role?
Start by understanding the job description thoroughly. Brush up your knowledge about the industry and the company. Prepare for questions that will explore your leadership potential, and use the STAR technique to prepare your responses. Practice is key — ensure that you rehearse your answers, but avoid sounding scripted.
What if it’s an interview for an internal promotion to a managerial role? Is it any different?
Yes, it can be different. When you interview for an internal promotion, you’re likely up against colleagues who have similar knowledge and experiences. Clearly articulate what sets you apart and why they should trust you. It’s crucial to demonstrate a deep understanding of the company’s mission, challenges, and future plans, and how you can contribute to these as a manager.
How can I showcase my leadership potential in a first-time manager interview?
Highlight experiences where you’ve demonstrated leadership — even if it wasn’t in a formal leadership role. Speak about times when you motivated peers, managed a project, resolved conflicts, or took initiative. Remember, effective leadership also involves emotional intelligence, so don’t forget to share instances where you’ve shown empathy, adapted your communication, or helped build a positive team culture.