How to apply for a management role when you don’t have management experience

How to apply for a management role when you don’t have management experience


“Should I bother going for this job at all? I’ve never managed anyone.”

Clients regularly ask this and my answer tends to be, “Yes, of course you should.” A quick glance at a job spec will tell you why.

You may not have headed up a team of software engineers but you have most likely done something along the way that proves you could.

Good managers are, first and foremost, good communicators.

They manage the performance of each team member—whether that’s one person or 100—by communicating goals clearly and meeting with people regularly to evaluate how they’re doing based on these goals.

Good managers listen. They know their job is to help people develop their potential, rather than taking a command and control approach, and they’re on standby to facilitate that.

Good managers are observant. They constantly monitor progress to make sure the team meets its objectives. This is why the mantra of any effective manager or aspiring one should be, “What gets measured gets done.”

According to a 2019 paper, The Leader as Coach, by Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scouler, “an effective manager asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.”

Can you prove you can do any of this? I bet the answer is yes.

You could talk about your experience as a player on a sports team or a member of a voluntary organisation. You might have taken a new colleague under your wing and showed them the ropes, or filled in for a manager when they were on leave.

Most employers will appreciate a candidate who can prove their ability to learn and adapt to the needs of their business. This was particularly evident during the pandemic. Whether someone was forced out of a 20-year career in hospitality due to Covid and looking at IT roles, or just decided to take their career in a different direction, successful interviewees were often the ones who could think outside the box and demonstrate their readiness to adapt existing skills.

In 2023, there’s greater recognition that while technical expertise is critical for anyone hoping to succeed in tech, you cannot be an impactful leader or manager in any sector if you’re not able or willing to manage relationships, practise self-awareness, and regulate your own reactions, and to understand that everyone is motivated differently.

These are the key elements of emotional intelligence. And more interview panels are interested in the candidates who prove they have it.

They might do this by asking about your ability to “communicate empathetically,” “deal effectively with conflict,” or “manage the team’s resilience.”

They may question you about a time something went wrong and the lessons you learned from that experience. Whatever they ask, the key to nailing any job interview is to approach it from the perspective of the employer.

What precisely are they looking for? What problems do they have? What issues do they need to address?

You might see from the spec that they need someone who can guide and mentor a team of administrative staff and data engineers. If that’s the case, you need to prove your ability to do this in your CV, the cover letter and during the interview.

Don’t wait for them to ask if you can do it. You have a lot more control in an interview process than you think you do. And there are certain stages at which you can seize the opportunity to do this.

Firstly, the opening question: “Tell us about yourself,” “Walk us through your CV,” “What are you most proud of in your career?” is a great way to pitch yourself directly into the role.

Avoid a meandering description of your life’s journey to this point. Identify instead what’s most relevant to them and present that in three evidence-based points. It could be that they need someone with the ability to manage others, collaborate with teams located remotely, and take the lead on managing projects.

Anticipate this need and present them with evidence to prove you can address it.

The second opportunity that shouldn’t be missed is when answering skills-based questions.

If, for example, you’re describing a time you had to communicate effectively with colleagues when the team was under pressure to hit a deadline, link that example back to the role you’re interviewing for.

Tell them why your ability to communicate clearly and calmly is going to benefit you as a manager. For instance, when you need to have conversations around underperformance with direct reports.

Thirdly, prepare to close the interview with impact. At the end, they’ll likely ask you if you have any questions or if there’s anything you’d like to add.

Don’t reply by interrogating them as to when you should expect to hear back from HR. Or responding with an abrupt “no.”

Remind them concisely why you’re ideal for this role, linking it for the final time back to their needs.

Now that you know how to confidently prepare, you’re ready to go ahead and apply for a terrific management role.

Manage your career upwards by browsing hundreds of newly added job opportunities on the House of Talent Job Board today


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