How to Answer "What Was the Last Project You Headed Up, and What Was Its Outcome?"

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When you’re at a job interview, be prepared to be hit with a "behavioral" interview question or two. These are questions that pose hypothetical situations or ask you how you’ve behaved in certain real-life work situations to get a sense of how you’ll behave in similar situations in the new job.

One such question might involve discussing projects you led and how the projects turned out. The question is aimed at gauging your leadership skills, your organizational ability and your initiative, among other skills that may pertain to the particular job for which you’re applying. If you think it’s a fairly loaded question, you’re probably right. Here are some ways to answer it.

Review the job posting.

During a job interview, everything that comes out of your mouth should be geared toward proving that you have the skills and qualifications necessary for the job in question. As such, the project you decide to mention should pertain in some way to the new job. If you have experience leading teams in sales as well as marketing, but the job involves marketing, you’d better choose an example that covers marketing. The job posting is a good place to pore over core competencies or to get ideas about what types of projects you’ll handle in the new job, and to jog your memory about examples that might pertain to the new position.

Employ the 5 Ws.

With an example pertaining to the job posting in mind, lay out the details in your mind using the "5 Ws" format. Think about who was involved, what you did or what the desired outcome was, when the project occurred, where the project happened, why it did or didn’t work, and how you organized the team to achieve the desired outcome. If the project did not have a positive outcome, explain what you learned from that experience and how you grew from it. If there was a positive outcome, give specific examples of your success, such as how much you increased sales, how many new clients you garnered or other measurable outcomes.

Haven’t led a project at work? Look to other aspects of your life.

So what do you do if you don’t have experience leading a team at work? Look to other experiences you’ve had outside the office. Maybe you were the captain of your football team or you were the youth group leader at your church. Maybe you organized a community watch program in your community. If you’re interviewing for a leadership position where new or emerging leaders are being considered, it might not matter so much that you don’t have leadership experience on the job – only that you have some leadership experience and that you’ve learned and grown from the experience.

Expect your job interview to involve any number of oddball questions that can throw you for a loop; but if you’re applying for a leadership position, be prepared to discuss your past leadership and how your experience makes you the best candidate possible for the job.