In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
The title of this post is not a cheesy essay question from your 7th grade Sociology final. It’s an extremely important question that you need to answer before any interview. Think about it. You know that there is a core set of questions that you would be foolish not to expect in an interview. Questions that ask you to discuss your experiences in these areas:
- Overcoming a challenge
- Solving a problem
- Failing or making a mistake
- Strengths and weaknesses
These are the bare minimum questions you should prepare for, but there are many many more. Even some you won’t possibly be able to prepare for.
But in order to decide how to answer these questions, you need to have an intelligent understanding of what these concepts mean to you. For example, what do you mean when you talk about leadership? Is it…
- Making decisions and running the show from a position of authority?
- Setting a vision for an outcome for a given project and inspiring others even if you are not involved in its execution?
- Guiding others through a process and being fairly heavily involved in their work?
- Strategizing, work-planning, delegating to others, and troubleshooting what they do?
- Mentoring and contributing to others that you may not have any positional power over?
- Influencing a group of people towards a specific outcome despite being the lowest member on the totem pole?
- Championing your own ideas despite having little influence on the decision makers?
You can probably see that any of these and countless other definitions constitute leadership. Leadership, teamwork, challenge and failure are huge nebulous words entirely open to your interpretation. There is no one true definition of leadership. What matters here is your definition. So think it through. Where in your life do believe you have been a leader? What did you do? What are you proud of about those experiences? These questions will give you a window into what leadership means to you. It probably means more than one thing.
Then, envision your answers to questions like, “Tell me about a leadership experience,” in a way that reflects your definition. This might entail opening with something like the following:
“Well, when I think about leadership, I believe it happens when someone is taking ownership and responsibility for a final outcome and then seeing it through whether or not he or she has any authority or positional power. I did that most recently in my current role, when I was the junior member of a project team tackling…..”
Speaking this way conveys a degree of self awareness that will differentiate you from other applicants. It will also make your answer sticky in the listener’s mind. She will come away with a very clear sense of who you are and what you value. And that is the best possible outcome of all!