This question establishes your leadership abilities and illustrates your role in a team. Everyone automatically assumes that your example has to be one where you were the team leader, but this is not the case. Your example should demonstrate who you are as a person, how you make those around you better, and how you accomplish concrete tasks for an important goal.
Some people excel at being the leader of a group, but are horrible at following directions and taking a supporting role. Others excel at playing the supporting role; they actively contribute, make suggestions, and create value for the team without needing to take the leader position. Show how you are able to do both, but ultimately establish yourself as a true leader.
You must bill yourself as a strong, principled, unapologetic leader who is empathetic, humble and eager to grow.
You should also tailor your answer to the industry and company you are interviewing for, but remember that all companies thrive from those who take initiative and lead others.
- Consulting: Management consultants look for people with strategic and problem‐solving abilities. They want an example of when you LEAD a team to solve a problem. They want you to be very specific about the questions you asked, how you put things together, how you delegated tasks among your team, and what break‐through allowed you to come to your solution. Discussing problems and failures along the way are also desirable, as long as they led to personal growth and success.
- Investment Banking: Bankers pride themselves on their analytic thinking and long hours, so your response should convince them that you are capable of both. Tell an example of when you lead or were part of a team that required heavy analytic thinking and the use of spreadsheets. Also, explain how your team spent all‐nighters together working and how you motivated them to keep on going. Leadership in finance is ultimately about excelling at your own work in the context of the deal team.
- Accounting: Accountants want to see that you function well as a team member and can contribute without complaining about the work you have to do. Any team situation generally works with accounting firms. Once the interviewer is convinced of your technical skills, the interview really comes down to your personality and style in a group of accountants.
- Set up your example.
- Start with the organization or company you worked for, the context, your role, your team members, and the goal you worked toward.
- Explain the approach you took in leading the team and how you contributed
- Explain your vision of the outcome.
- Talk about how you both delegated tasks for each team member and completed tasks of your own.
- Demonstrate your skill at managing people.
- How did you use each team member’s strengths to the team’s advantage?
- How did you deal with a difficult team member?
- Go into specific detail about the process.
- Discuss what you specifically achieved.
- Talk about the less glamorous parts of the experience—discomforts, setbacks, failures, challenges—and how you handled them.
- Go into as much detail as possible about your contribution to the team.
- Summarize and conclude.
- Explain the concrete solution or result.
- Take a holistic view—discuss the implications of the experience.
- Give credit to your team members.
- End passionately about why this was a critical moment in your story.
Pitfalls You Must Avoid
- Do not speak in generalities—specificity is key.
- Do not use the word “we” more than a few times—combine “I did this” with “we did this” throughout.
- Assert yourself as a leader, but do not take the credit for EVERYTHING. Companies want to see that you are a humble leader who makes your team members better and that you are able to give them the credit that they deserve.