Team Leader Interview Questions To Ask Applicants

Team Leader Interview Questions To Ask Applicants

When it comes to hiring an excellent team leader, asking the right questions in the interview can make all the difference. Thought-provoking and insightful questions can help interviewers gain a deeper understanding of a candidate's skills, personality, and cultural fit, enabling hiring managers to make an informed hiring decision.

When evaluating job applicants, it's helpful to ask in-depth questions that encourage candidates to use the STAR method—situation, task, action, result—when answering. By analyzing each of these components of a candidate's answers, recruiters gain deeper insights into the applicant's problem-solving skills, adaptability, and decision-making abilities.

In this article, we provide a list of questions to assess applicant strengths and weaknesses as well as specific answers to look for to help you find the best candidate for your leadership positions.

Table of contents:

Understanding leadership style

To assess an applicant’s leadership style, the following questions cover topics such as decision making, conflict resolution, delegation, and adaptability.

  • How would you describe your current leadership style?
  • Could you share an experience where you had to make a difficult decision as a leader?
  • How do you prioritize responsibilities and delegate tasks within your team?
  • What is your approach to receiving criticism from team members or superiors?
  • I’d like to hear about a time when a team member gave you feedback that challenged your leadership style.

As the interviewer, look for answers that demonstrate a clear understanding of what it means to lead, including making decisions and providing clear direction to workers. Effective leaders should be able to give specific examples of successful projects they have led and how they achieved success.

For example, a great leader is someone who not only manages their team but also mentors them and helps them grow. The candidate should also demonstrate the importance of fair leadership practices, including taking accountability for their actions and treating all team members with respect.

Assessing team management skills

To evaluate the applicant's team management skills, consider asking the following questions about their supervisory abilities and how they adapt to unexpected challenges in a project. These questions can provide valuable insights into their leadership style and problem-resolution skills.

  • What steps do you take to make sure that all members of the team are aligned with the same set of goals and objectives?
  • Can you give an example of a successful project you managed from start to finish?
  • How do you handle underperforming team members?
  • Please share an example of how you have mentored a team member to help them achieve their goals.

Focus on how well the applicant was able to confidently guide team members through various projects and communicate project objectives. For example, a candidate might describe a situation where they had to lead a team to complete a software project under a tight deadline. Pay attention to how they communicated with team members, delegated tasks, managed any conflicts or obstacles that arose, and credited other team member contributions.

Problem-solving and decision-making

The following questions give insight into an applicant's critical thinking abilities, problem-solving skills, and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

  • Can you share an incident when you committed an error and the steps you took to correct it?
  • How do you handle a situation where you have limited information to make a decision?
  • What steps do you take to evaluate different options when making a decision?
  • How do you deal with conflicting opinions when making a decision?

Candidates should be able to acknowledge their mistakes and outline the steps to rectify them. In addition, look for applicants who can gather relevant data, make logical assumptions, and seek help from others when necessary. Interviewers should also look for applicants who can weigh the pros and cons of each decision, identify potential risks, and choose the best course of action within a designated time frame.

For example, the candidate could describe a time when they were working on a project and needed to make a critical decision with limited data to support their decision. In response, they could explain how they researched and analyzed the data they had, consulted with colleagues and experts in the field, and made a decision based on the best available information.

Evaluating communication and conflict resolution skills

Effective communication plays an integral role in all aspects of leadership positions, including building strong relationships, setting clear expectations, and achieving organizational goals. The following questions evaluate the effectiveness of the applicant's communication skills with team members.

  • How do you adjust your communication style based on the needs of individual team members?
  • How do you approach delivering constructive criticism to team members?
  • Have you ever had to work with an uncooperative coworker? If so, how did you handle the situation?
  • How do you ensure that all team members feel heard and valued during team meetings or discussions?
  • "What strategies do you use to ensure open communication in remote or hybrid teams?"

Some things you should look for in the applicant's answers include active listening, clear and open communication, problem-solving skills, and the ability to remain calm under pressure. In addition, you should look for evidence of effective compromise, negotiation, and collaboration skills.

For example, an applicant might describe a time when they had to explain a new policy to a group of employees who were resistant to change. The applicant could demonstrate clear communication by breaking down the policy into smaller sections, using examples to illustrate how the policy would benefit the employees and the company as a whole, and seeking questions and commitment from the team.

Time management and meeting deadlines

The questions below can help you evaluate an applicant's ability to prioritize tasks and complete projects on time through effective time management skills.

  • Have you ever missed a deadline? What did you learn from that experience?
  • How do you prioritize your tasks when you have multiple projects to work on simultaneously?
  • Can you provide an example of a project you completed with a tight deadline?
  • How do you handle unexpected tasks that arise while you’re already working on a project?
  • "What tools or methods do you use for time management and ensuring deadlines are met?"

Applicants should provide concrete examples that showcase their ability to meet deadlines and adapt to unexpected changes. Look for answers that demonstrate the applicant's use of tools or techniques such as to-do lists, calendars, or time-tracking and project management apps to manage their time effectively. For instance, the candidate may mention breaking down large projects into smaller pieces and prioritizing those tasks based on their urgency.

Delegation and team member development

When looking for a leader to join your team, you want them to be able to delegate tasks to other workers so they can focus on high-level decision-making and building trust among team members. Here are some questions to consider.

  • How do you determine which tasks to assign and to whom?
  • How do you provide feedback to team members on their performance?
  • Can you describe a time when you had to delegate a task that was outside of someone's comfort zone? How did you handle it?
  • How do you balance delegating tasks with ensuring that you’re still providing value to the team?
  • In what ways do you actively support the professional development and mentorship of your team members?

An applicant should be able to provide specific examples of how they have delegated tasks to team members in the past. They should be able to describe the task that was delegated and how they ensured that the team member was equipped to handle the task, focusing on both task completion and the professional growth of the team member.

For instance, the candidate may have delegated a complex data analysis task to a team member and provided feedback to evaluate progress. Perhaps they implemented training opportunities such as providing resources, coaching, or mentoring to help the team member develop the necessary skills to complete the project. By delegating tasks in conjunction with offering professional development support, the team member may have felt more confident, as they were given the opportunity to learn new skills and grow in their role.

Constructive feedback and performance metrics

Performance management involves evaluating key metrics and providing constructive feedback to team members. Below are questions to assess an applicant's ability to track and improve team performance.

  • I’d like you to describe a time when you set performance goals for your team.
  • How do you track progress toward performance objectives?
  • Can you give an example of a time when you inspired your team to improve their performance?
  • Please explain how you’ve worked with a team member to develop an improvement plan.
  • How do you ensure that the feedback you give is constructive and helps the recipient grow and improve?

You should look for specific answers that demonstrate the candidate's ability to set achievable goals for their team, track performance metrics, and provide constructive feedback.

For example, a candidate might describe how they identified a bottleneck in their team's project management process and worked with team members to develop a solution. They might explain how they set a goal to reduce the project completion time by 20% in the next quarter and tracked progress toward the goal by implementing a new project management tool.

The candidate might also describe how they regularly provided feedback to team members on their performance through real-time tracking metrics and one-on-one meetings and adjusted the goal as needed based on results.

Project management and following through

Project management skills, including leadership, organization, and risk management, can be evaluated by the following questions.

  • What is your approach to managing long-term projects?
  • How do you ensure each team member remains focused on project goals?
  • Please walk me through your approach to risk management on a project.
  • Can you give an example of a project that faced challenges and how you and your team managed to overcome them?
  • What tools do you use for project management and risk assessment?

Applicants should provide details of specific projects they worked on, such as developing a mobile application from scratch or creating a marketing campaign for a new product launch. Look for situations in which the candidate highlights their ability to organize complex tasks, delegate responsibilities to team members, and solve issues during project completion.

For example, an applicant may describe a project they managed from start to finish, detailing how they developed a project plan, created timelines and milestones, and monitored progress to ensure that the project was completed on time. They may also share any tools or techniques they used to stay organized, such as project management software or spreadsheets.

Onboarding and integrating into a new team

The following questions gauge a candidate's approach to transitioning into a leadership position and how efficiently they can integrate into a new team environment.

  • What does your first 90 days look like in a leadership role?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to quickly learn a new project or role?
  • How do you ensure that you’re aligning with the company's culture and values when entering a new leadership role?
  • What strategies have you used in a new role to build relationships with your team and stakeholders?

Look for proactive learners who prioritize relationship-building and adaptability. The ideal candidate should be a quick learner who fosters rapport with others.

For example, the candidate may describe a time in which they engaged with team members and stakeholders to understand their expectations and concerns. They may also describe their ability to set clear goals and milestones to ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in the new environment.

Understanding the candidate’s self-perception

The ways in which a leader interprets their thoughts and feelings can directly affect the way they express themselves, in turn impacting their motivation and productivity. Below are some questions to evaluate the self-perception of an applicant.

  • What is your biggest weakness as a leader?
  • What approach do you take when faced with a situation that you don't have the necessary skills or tools to handle?
  • How have you demonstrated empathy about the needs and concerns of your team members?
  • As a leader, how do you embody the values and mission of an organization?

Look for candidates who display confidence in their ability to handle challenges and possess the self-awareness to recognize when they need assistance. Honesty and transparency are also key characteristics to look for, as they indicate candidates who can learn from their mistakes.

A sample answer using the STAR method to evaluate self-perception could be: "In my previous role, I struggled with leading meetings. However, I recognized this weakness and took action by attending a public speaking course. As a result, I was able to comfortably facilitate company-wide meetings, increasing my confidence."

Alignment with company culture

A candidate who aligns with your company's culture is more likely to integrate with the team and stay with the company long term. The following questions assess the candidate's fit with the company's values, work style, and overall mission.

  • How do you modify your leadership style to align with a company's culture?
  • Can you provide an example of how you have contributed to shaping the culture of a team in a positive way?
  • How do you involve and engage your team members to align with the company culture and values?
  • What aspects of our company culture do you find most appealing?

Observe how the applicant has showcased a company's culture and values through their everyday leadership style and ability to resolve conflicts. In addition, ensure that the candidate has familiarized themselves with your company's culture.

For instance, if your organization places a strong emphasis on synergy and teamwork, the applicant may explain how they can lead projects using a collaborative approach to encourage participation from their team members.

Using resources for professional development

A resourceful candidate who demonstrates a genuine passion for personal professional development could bring an innovative perspective to your team. To assess an applicant's ability to use resources to develop both soft and hard skills, here are some questions you can ask.

  • How important do you consider mentorship and coaching in your career development?
  • How do you integrate feedback from colleagues or supervisors into your ongoing professional development efforts?
  • How do you utilize platforms like LinkedIn for professional growth?
  • Have you ever participated in formal leadership training programs or workshops focused on skills development?

You should look for answers that demonstrate the applicant's willingness to learn and grow. This could include a specific plan for professional development, a growth mindset, and proactive ownership of their own development.

For instance, if a candidate is applying for a job in marketing, they might mention attending a recent marketing conference to learn about the latest trends and strategies. Alternatively, they might mention taking courses to improve their skills in areas like data analysis or graphic design.

Find team leaders on Upwork

Asking the right questions during a job interview can help you select the best candidate for leadership positions. To get a solid start on the selection process, the Upwork talent marketplace offers a wide range of qualified  independent talent available for leadership roles.

Upwork has a selection of global leaders, such as project managers, marketing managers, hiring managers, and HR managers, to choose from. Visit Upwork today to find talented freelancers with specialized leadership skills in marketing, communication, sales, and many other categories to help you drive growth and increase your profitability.


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Team Leader Interview Questions To Ask Applicants
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