Team management: prove you're a bit more than an entry-level hire

Graduates are often hired as trainee managers and need to be capable of leading and taking responsibility in order to get the best from their teams.
Your first graduate job is more likely to involve learning than leadership. However, graduate employers may be on the lookout for leadership potential.

Not to be confused with ambition, leadership and team management is all about being able to direct a team to do the best that it can do. In many ways leadership is similar to teamwork. However, it also involves taking responsibility for the team and sustaining your influence.

Depending on who you talk to, there are also subtle differences between leadership and team management. Team management is more about being able to get the best out your workforce, while leadership is more about being a good example, deciding where to focus efforts and setting direction. When you are writing a response to an advertisement, think about which one you are answering.

Your first graduate job is more likely to involve learning than leadership. However, graduate employers may be on the lookout for leadership potential. Careers which may lead to early responsibility include retail or the armed forces (particularly on fast-track schemes).

The skills involved here include:

  • delegation
  • talent management
  • emotional intelligence

Team leadership skills examples

You need to prove that you have leadership skills, which can be complex. You will need an example of a time when your personal involvement has directly affected the way a group of people have worked, and positively influenced the outcome. Simply being the person in charge of a group of people is not enough, you need evidence that your presence had an impact.

However, you should make sure you answer the competency in question. This is important because leadership is so similar to teamwork. For a teamwork competency you would use terms like ‘encouraged’ and ‘supported’. However, for a leadership competency you should use more authoritative terms like ‘delegated’ and ‘directed’.

How do I phrase it on a job application?

Do say: ‘I was responsible for a team that was set a specific target. By giving certain team members particular roles and enabling them to reach their full potential we were able to achieve that target successfully.’ – Emphasising your role within the team is important.

Don’t say: ‘There was one occasion where my team had a difficult target to reach. By forcing them to work overtime we were able to make it. There were some discipline issues but I was able to root them out and fire the individual in question.’ – If your employer intends to move you into a position of responsibility, they need to know you can work within their system. You don’t want to come across as bullying, incompetent, or as incapable of motivating others.

How to develop leadership skills

If you’re a section principal in an orchestra, or a team captain in a sports squad, then you should know a bit about leadership. While these positions don’t carry as much responsibility as the conductor or the coach respectively, they still have the opportunity to exercise some authority.

Taking an officer role in a student society can be a good way to gain leadership skills, particularly if you are the president. This is also true for student union council positions. Becoming a sabbatical officer is not only a good way to stay in uni for another year, but it really works wonders for your CV.

Positions such as team leader are possible to get through part-time and holiday work. Volunteering with children’s groups or as an instructor are also good ways to gain responsibility for a group of people. Of course, you will then have to deliver, and give the group what they need.

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