Winning the Interview for a Tech Management Job Without Experience

You don’t necessarily need formal management experience to land your first management role in technology. However, to have a legitimate shot against more experienced candidates, you will need to convince a technology executive that you’ve made the mental transition from individual contributor to manager, and are familiar enough with the “management playbook” to make an impact.

Here’s what you need to know so you can ace your interview for your first tech management position.

What to Expect

You’ll feel more confident going into the interview if you know what to expect (and what is expected of you in the role).

For instance, having the technical skills and knowledge to manage specialized tasks and staff might be one of the requirements, but it’s not sufficient to get an offer, noted Andrew Franklin, founder and CEO of NailYourJobInterview.com.

Up to 80 percent of the questions will be behavior- or case-based, exploring your previous experience with hiring, managing and developing people, handling conflict and uncertainty—all while accomplishing high-quality results on time and on budget. 

Because managers need to prepare for and deal with unexpected change, the interviewer will evaluate how you respond when problems arise, including your decision-making process. They’ll ask questions designed to reveal how you’re likely to react under similar circumstances to those previous crises, explained Steven Davis, technology career coach, founder and CEO of Renaissance Solutions. The theory is that your past can predict your future behavior.

The job description holds the key to what the company is looking for, Davis added. For instance, if the description specifically states that they are looking for someone to improve outcomes, encourage growth and influence others, then they are looking for a leader, not just a manager to schedule meetings. You’ll need to adjust your answers accordingly.

The interviewer will also be looking for cultural fit and commitment to the leadership principles and behaviors the company values. So, it’s critical to learn as much as possible about a prospective employer’s company culture and incorporate examples of those values into your answers.

At Amazon, for example, some 50 percent to 70 percent of the interview questions for prospective managers are based on its famous set of leadership principles.

Make Your Case with Mini Case Studies

Providing memorable, concise mini case studies or “stories” using the PAR method is the best way to showcase your management skills when responding to behavior-based interview questions.

PAR, which stands for Problem-Action-Result, is better suited to managerial issues than the lengthier STAR technique. “Less is more,” Davis said. Start each story with a compelling sentence describing the project or problem you faced. After that, briefly describe the actions you took and the decisions you made before pivoting to the results you delivered. 

The interviewer wants to know what you can do for them, so don’t make the story about you; focus on what the interviewer wants to hear. Emphasize your ability to embrace diversity and bring people together to deliver objective results, not the process, advised Mahesh Thakur, technology executive and executive career coach.

Also, don’t get lost in the details or you’ll come across as a pure technologist, not a manager. 

Avoid phrases that signal a lack of confidence such as “management is your passion” or that you “aspire to become a great leader.” Instead, use decisive words that convey confidence and commitment such as decisive, compelling, persuasive, determined and purposeful.

If you’ve never held a formal management position or been involved in hiring and firing or financial decisions, describe situations where you were able to work with an employee to help resolve those issues. Show that you are adept at influencing and inspiring others to achieve better outcomes, such as members of a cross-functional team, even when you don’t have management authority.

Don’t make up a story, Franklin warned. Incorporate scenario planning into your interview prep to anticipate the problems you will be asked about; figure out what you’ll say in advance. And always keep in mind that you don’t need to have all the answers: Managers are hired to deal with uncertainty and embrace the unknown. Explain how you would engage others in finding a solution and what you’ve learned by observing the success of other managers and executives. No matter your title or level of experience, great managers never stop learning.