A popular and frequently asked interview question is; “Do you consider yourself a leader or a follower?” It’s something of an old chestnut, but a valid question nonetheless and one that you should be prepared to answer.
On the face of it, this may seem like an odd question, but recruiters have a very good reason for asking it. Consider this; you must first be a good follower in order to then become a good leader. By being a good follower, you learn from others’ experience and benefit from their guidance and superior industry knowledge which can only help you to become a better leader yourself when the time comes.
If you think about it, unless you are applying to become the CEO of a major corporation, you will have to report to someone even if you are in a senior managerial position yourself. Interviewers therefore look for the candidate who can be both a leader and a follower, regardless of what level of job you are applying for. They are interested in how well you handle each of these roles, and they also want evidence that you can be just as effective in both.
How do you answer the question?
Have a foot in both camps
Explain to the interviewer that you are good at being both; you can play the role of the follower and obey rules and instructions given to you by a senior colleague. However, you can also be an effective leader, guiding your team towards a certain goal.
Keeping it real
Be realistic and don’t exaggerate your leadership claims to try to impress the interviewer. By all means accentuate your abilities with examples of successes you’ve enjoyed, but keep your answers straightforward and brief for maximum impact.
Remember what’s expected of you
Always gear your answer toward the position you are applying for. Is it an entry-level role or a more senior managerial one? If the role is in management, focus your answer on being an effective leader and emphasis how the experiential learning you’ve undertaken in your previous, more junior positions will make you better equipped to manage and lead your team.
Be prepared to adapt
Emphasise your willingness to adapt and be flexible. If you are assigned a position with an element of leadership, state that you are more than ready to take on the responsibilities of being a leader.
If, on the other hand, the position involves more of a following angle where you will be expected to obey instructions, make it clear that you will be willing to complete any task you are assigned and that you are keen to learn new things.
The best way to illustrate how you have taken on the roles of both follower and leader is to cite examples of where you became one or the other.
If you’re newly graduated and this is to be your first job, think of examples from your university experience remembering to include any voluntary work you’ve undertaken or clubs you’ve been involved in.
If you are already in employment and seeking a change, cite examples from previous roles. For instance, you could describe the time that you assisted your department head in drawing up a project plan for the rollout of a new software application across your department (as a follower). You then used this experience and the new skills you learned to create your own project plan which equipped you to successfully manage and deliver a piece of work your team had been assigned.
A really great employee is someone who can be both a leader and a follower and this is what interviewers are looking for when they ask that question. Be honest in your answers; keep it simple and provide plenty of supporting evidence to show the interviewer that your flexibility and adaptability means that you can be whatever they want you to be.