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Interview questions for graduate management jobs

How to answer interview questions for graduate management jobs

You’ve applied for a trainee management scheme and they’ve called you to interview. What questions might they ask and how should you prepare?
Interviewers want to be confident that you truly understand what you’re letting yourself in for.

Interview questions for trainee management jobs or leadership graduate programmes vary considerably from sector to sector. Some employers follow a specific approach, such as competency-based or strengths-based. If so, they will usually say so on their websites. However, it’s likely that you will face a mix of different types of questions. Here we give examples of these questions and some tips on how to answer them.

Questions about: Your CV | Your motivation | Your understanding of the role | Your strengths| Your skills | Hypothetical situations

CV-based interview questions

Interviewers will always ask you to expand on what you’ve written on your CV. If they find a project that you’ve led particularly interesting, they will ask you to give more details. If you’ve written anything that sounds a bit vague or ambiguous, they may ask some searching questions. The best way to prepare for these questions is to practise explaining every item on your CV, stressing what you contributed and what the results were in each case. 

How to answer additional questions about you and your CV

Questions on your motivation for applying

You should have covered this during your application (either in answer to an application form question or in your covering letter) and so the interview is a chance for you to expand on your reasons

Answering ‘Why this industry?’

Explain what particularly appeals to you about the sector or the profession or how it ties into your values. For example, if you are applying for a retail management graduate programme, you could talk about how you would gain satisfaction from ensuring great customer service or staying on top of the latest consumer trends.

Show that you are aware of any challenges, developments or trends affecting the sector, as this will indicate that you have made a considered choice to enter the industry: for example, if you are going for a job in logistics you could talk about how drone technology could affect the logistics industry and how you are excited by the potential opportunities that brings.

Answering ‘Why this company and why this job?’

Topics to talk about could include the training scheme structure, opportunities to take on early responsibility, support for taking professional qualifications or the company’s policy on sustainability and social responsibility.

A different take on the ‘why us?’ question

Questions assessing your understanding of the managerial role

Interviewers need to know that you have an accurate understanding of what being a trainee manager in their company involves: the day-to-day work, your responsibilities, the hours and the opportunities for career progression. They want to be confident that you truly understand what you’re letting yourself in for. You might be asked questions along the lines of:

  • Explain what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis. What do you think your objectives will be?
  • What do you think you’ll be doing in six months/a year/five years?
  • What do you think the biggest challenge of the job will be?
  • What will you find most satisfying?

Prepare for these types of questions by first researching the specific role thoroughly. Look at the Inside Buzz reports on TARGETjobs if the company has one and other online resources such as employee videos on the company's website. If possible, use LinkedIn or your network to talk to people in the role. Then relate what you know to your own strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and preferred ways of working.

Other interview questions that’ll test your understanding of management jobs

Strengths-based management questions

A number of employers that hire trainee managers have adopted a strengths-based approach to their recruitment processes. Strengths-based interview questions focus on what you are motivated by, what you enjoy and how you would act in the role. Some strengths-based questions can be hypothetical, but most of them focus on your personal preferences and behaviours, such as:

  • What motivates you?
  • What stresses you out?
  • How do you judge success?
  • Which business figure most inspires you?
  • Do you prefer taking a big picture view or concentrating on the detail?
  • Do you find targets motivating or intimidating?

When answering these questions, give yourself the best chance by expanding on your answers to explain your preferences or behaviours.

Management-focused competency questions: Tell us about a time when you…

You could be asked to talk about your experiences of solving problems, working to a budget, working to tight deadlines, influencing and persuading people or dealing with conflict, for example.

A good technique to use when answeing is the CAR method (Circumstances, Action, Results). What were the CIRCUMSTANCES for your project or task? What was your end goal? What ACTION did you take to achieve your goal? What was the RESULT? Did you achieve or exceed your targets? 

Other competency-based questions that assess your management skills

Job-focused hypothetical questions: What if…? How would you…?

These questions are designed to work out how well you think on your feet and whether you can improvise solutions to problems, based upon the situations that you will come across if you get the management job.

You could be asked something along the lines of the following:

What would you do if one of your team members were underperforming?

It may help to break it into smaller questions. You could start by asking yourself why your team member might be missing their targets. Is it because their training was inadequate, is it because they’re struggling with the workload, or is it simply because they’re demotivated? How would you find out? What would you do once you’d got to the root of the problem and why?

A key contractor has told you that they are going to be late filling your order, but your client wants to speed up the project. How do you resolve the situation?

This question is about your ability to negotiate, a key managerial skill. Can you balance competing demands and engineer a compromise? How would you manage your client’s expectations and what would you say to the contractor? Perhaps you could ask them to deliver the goods in smaller instalments. In what circumstances would you look for a new supplier, and what complications could arise if you took this route?

How would you manage conflict?

It would be entirely appropriate with this question to ask for further details. For example, are you the person in conflict with a member of the team or seeking to resolve a conflict between others? Is it a professional disagreement or something more personal? Once you have sufficient details, you can adjust your response. Remember that it can help to limit conflict if everyone feels that their opinion has been listened to. After you have allowed their voices to be heard, you can think through your next steps: for example, do you need to acknowledge valid points and adjust your position accordingly or do you need to use your authority as line manager to underline that certain behaviour is unacceptable?

Get more tips on how to answer interview questions on handling conflict.

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