This article is part of The Ascender, the Highrise platform for articles and resources.

What to Say When You Have No Leadership Experience

Andrew Langat
February 20, 2023
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“You don’t have to hold a position in order to be a leader.” ~ Henry Ford

Being asked about your demonstrated leadership skills without formal leadership experience can be an unsettling moment.

Yet, this is undoubtedly one of the questions you are likely to be asked by hiring managers eager to understand your management and past leadership experiences.

When asked this question, you don't have to lie or offer irrelevant examples.

How do you nagivate this tricky question without losing credibility?

This article will answer these questions, including tips on how to show demonstrated leadership skills, not just in a formal setting like a workplace.

First, it is essential to point out that every leader starts somewhere.

Take the example of Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. In 1981, he became the youngest CEO of General Electric without a formal leadership experience in the CEO position.

Before successfully interviewing for this position, he was considered an under dog.

However, his track record on performance goals such as sales ultimately gave him an advantage over other six candidates, who had impressive leadership skills in their own right. He excelled at this position and was ultimately named the "manager of the century" by Fortune magazine in 1999.

Welch's career path offers valuable lessons to people who've lacked experience in leadership positions but want to interview for a job whose core tenet is a demonstration of leadership experience.

Here is what you need to say when you have no leadership experience.

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Say the Skills You Have

These are the skills that you already have. Always remember that leadership is a transferable skill.

These are skills important for relationship building, conflict resolution, and managing expectations—usually desirable leadership behaviors.

Possessing these skills makes you suitable for leadership roles. Some of these skills include:

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1. Strong communication skills

This entails being able to pass your message and create a strong bond with your team. Some of the communication skills you need to stress include active listening, speaking with clarity, public speaking, non-verbal communication, and great writing skills.

For example, in my previous engagement as a sales associate, I designed marketing campaigns and presented them to the CEO for approval. I persuaded the CEO why this approach will deliver growth. He was able to see my point and gave the go-ahead.

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2. Decision-making skills

Say that you are in a position to make sound and informed decisions. This is a great leadership attribute. It helps if you can demonstrate that you have made great decisions in your personal life or career.

Great decision making can be, for example a decision to pursue higher education, participating in leadership development initiatives, or evidence of past decision making that improves an outcome such as more sales.

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3. Emotional intelligence skills

This is a critical skill for leadership and is one of the skills that a hiring manager will find appealing. This is vital because emotional intelligence in leadership will not only improve and strengthen the relationship in a workplace but also makes it more accessible for a team leader to connect emotionally with the team.

For example, I have always exercised great self awareness since going for a leadership development course. This improved my relationships with my co-workers by being more sensitive, flexible, and inclusive.

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4. Adaptability skills

Showing adaptability in your resume is an excellent way of saying that can withstand challenges thrown your way.

For example, "I worked as a direct report for various leaders during my five years at company X. In the course of my engagement, I regularly met set targets."

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5. Strategic thinking

This is the ability to think ahead and plan for the future by considering various outcomes. You can demonstrate how you have shown this skill in your previous or current role. Some research skills worth showing include research skills, analytical skills, and innovation skills.

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6. Collaboration skills

This proves that you can work with others to build strong relationships and deliver outcomes. Collaboration is a crucial pillar for demonstrating leadership as it confirms the ability to listen, pass your ideas, and even handle positive criticism.


"I worked closely with a marketing team in writing copy that had a 60% conversion in two years."

" In my last role as a direct report, I recommended two developers who successfully solved a technical issue that had persisted, and we were able to launch new products two months before schedule."

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7. Conflict resolution skills

Teams are bound to have conflicts, and knowledge of how to solve conflicts is a great skill to have and demonstrates leadership experience. When you say that I have resolved conflicts in the past, you pass the message that you have leadership experience.

This shows initiative and strong leadership traits. For example:

"While assigned as a team lead by our CEO on project management for product development, I successfully resolved the conflict between junior and senior developers on assigned tasks. This way, we worked as a team, and it helped us meet the objectives of the financial year."

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8. Integrity skills

For many organizations, this is a deal breaker. Provide examples in your cover letter that you have acted with integrity in the past, which massively increases your chances of getting the job.

Why is this important?

Integrity is one of the transferable skills that many hiring managers will give prominence to. For example, if you have previously acted with integrity with company A, there are higher chances that you will act with integrity in company B.

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Getting Leadership Experiences to Land you a Job

Outside of a formal work environment, you can get leadership experience that you can leverage later in a job interview in the following places:

1. Thorough Volunteering

Gaining experience in leadership is a big benefit of volunteering. You can volunteer in a non-profit organization, charity, religious institution, or community project. Volunteering enables you to:

  • Take up leadership positions that will give you direct experience of being a leader.
  • Develop and put into practice skills, including teamwork, communication skills, how to be team player, and problem-solving.
  • Develop your network that can later be used as a reference in your cover letter.
  • Learn about various viewpoints and experiences in your leadership role.

How to use it to use volunteering to your advantage: In a job interview, clearly point out the scope of the interview and tie it to leadership.

For example, say that after clearing college, you volunteered in a social enterprise as a leader for outreach. Add the leadership outcome.

2. Participate in student organizations, clubs, or sports teams.

In college, participating in extracurricular activities offers a room through which you can establish you can demonstrate leadership at a young age. This prepares you for a management role.

For example, when you become a captain of your sports team, you are immediately trust into a leadership position. You will learn interpersonal skills, how to lead for results, manage expectations, etc.

Having this in your resume projects a strong sense of leadership.

How to use Participation to your advantage: Give particular examples showing leadership. For example, after I became the captain of my volleyball team, we won the regional championship for the first time in ten years. We did this by building team work.

3. Organizing Events

Gaining leadership experience is one of the reasons to be interested in organizing events.. You can organize events around book clubs, charity, yard-sales, etc. By organizing events, you can:

  • learn how to budget for projects
  • learn how to communicate and offer feedback
  • Try our leadership style.
  • Learn the importance of initiative and how to be a good leader

How to use organizing events to your advantage: clearly show the processes it took for you to organize a successful event.

For example, say: while organizing for a 5-km race to raise funds for the local school in dire need of repairs, I was able to reach out to different stakeholders for approvals and also make participants signup for the race that eventually raised $10,000 for the school.

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4. Mentoring or coaching

There is a difference between mentoring and coaching. When you mentor or coach someone, it immediately evaluates you as a leader. Moreover, it ushers you into a path of knowledge on what it means to mentor or coach someone.

Mentoring and coaching show a willingness to shape individuals, and this skill by itself is a great skill you can exercise in a leadership role.

How to use Mentoring or coaching to your advantage: during the interview, give examples of mentees you were able to assist and the outcomes.

For example: While I took a brief interlude from my previous work, I was able to mentor my direct reports on how to speak confidently through weekly zoom calls. At the end of the six months, there was a marked improvement that earned them a promotion within the company.

5. Starting a Business

Starting a business(no matter how small) is a valuable way to gain business experience and develop skills that show leadership experience, such as:

  • Leadership skills: As a business person, you will learn to make crucial decisions, delegate tasks, and be a manager.
  • Networking: You will require skills such as how to recruit potential customers, partners, and investors. These networking skills are a cornerstone of great leaders.
  • Financial management: This impacts financial management skills such as budgeting, expenses, and investments.

How to Use starting a business to your advantage: Clearly explain the past business you have done and how you navigated these challenges.

For example, I demonstrated to an angel investor why my product was a fresh approach to the market and how it was serving a growing need in the market. I successfully secured a seed investment of $50,000 through this initiative.

This shows initiative, risk taking, and interpersonal skills.

6. Through Internship

An internship is the likely part of obtaining leadership experience. When you intern, you are exposed to different leadership styles, responsibilities, and jobs, as one can intern in different roles before securing employment.

Interning offers you an edge in the job market, especially when the hiring managers are looking for candidates for an entry position but will experience working in a given field.

How to Use internship to your advantage: highlight your roles in your resume, including what you attained.

For example: while working as an intern in company X, I managed up my boss. This resulted in more responsibilities and an award as the intern of the year.

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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How Highrise Can Help

We all have management experience that we pick in our life. How to quantity this experience and leverage it in a job interview may not always be easy especially in the absence of a career coach.

At Highrise, we can make this process easy for you. Reach out to us for a solution that will make you approach your next job search with confidence.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.