I am interviewing for a city leadership role for a nearby municipality. The interview panel is familiar with the staff I worked with in the past. How do I address questions about managing problems with city leadership?
First, congratulations on being selected to interview for the position! This question impacts candidates applying to other types of jobs as well. Whether you are interviewing with another company within your industry, city, or one that is known to you or your interviewer, balancing candor and discretion is critical.
One option is to be fairly general with the situation you are outlining. Instead of using the introduction to your answer as "In my last role," phrase the answer as, "In a previous position." Other options include citing an example from a professional organization with which you are involved. Interview panelists may be less likely to know those involved, and you would be able to highlight your problem-solving skills in a professional setting. (Of course, depending on the industry, your organizational contacts may also be very well known to your interviewers!) Take this opportunity to showcase your leadership philosophy and explain how your approach to this problem aligns with your leadership style.
Make clear to the interviewer that you are focused on providing solutions rather than being wrapped up in interpersonal issues. For example, "Problems arose in (insert specific situation), and they needed to be solved. In this case, (insert steps taken)…." Even better, citing an example of a problem you addressed between employees or related to an individual employee's situation could be useful. For example, "An employee was going to through (insert challenge), in response, I provided the following supports."
Finally, provide an example of an approach that most city council members or other elected officials could relate to—an example where the problem arose with a citizen (in other industries, a client or customer). Every elected official has experiences dealing with a citizen that wasn't easy, and it's a problem you will undoubtedly encounter in any city leadership role. In this way, you can demonstrate how you address issues for a key stakeholder group.
With any type of interview, we recommend preparing as much as possible. In almost any interview, candidates will be asked to describe a problem or situation they've managed. Practicing your approach and answers to common interview questions will allow you to identify appropriate examples to relay in your interview. If you need help, our career coaches are available to assist you in interview preparation. To start the process, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best wishes with your interview!