It can be hard to introduce change to a work environment – and that’s where change management comes into play. Change managers work to make change in the workplace easier to understand and deal with for everyone. Whether they’re ensuring that employees have the skills they need to cope with new ways of working, or measuring the impact of workplace changes for reporting and forward planning, they’re a vital part of a flexible and adaptable workplace.
But because these jobs involve such a complex combination of training, analysis, planning and project management, they can be highly demanding. That means you’re more likely to face a rigorous interview process if you want to work as a change manager. If you aren’t prepared, you could face some serious challenges when trying to get hired into one of these roles – regardless of how qualified you are on paper.
To help you out, we’ve put together a helpful guide to get you through the interview process, exploring some of the most common questions that change managers face during hiring. And it’s worth noting that you may face questions like these when applying for any management role at an organization that experiences a lot of internal change. So even if a career in change management isn’t for you, you could still benefit from reading on!
In this article, we’ll cover the following points:
Change managers work to ensure that projects and initiatives within an organization are completed within their timescales and their budgets. It’s a very people-focused role, which prioritizes ensuring that employees are prepared for any changes due to affect their workplaces. Whether they’re facing new computer systems, new organizational structures, or new jobs, the change manager’s job is to make sure that they have the support they need to thrive in their changing work environment.
Change managers have to develop strategies to encourage maximal employee adoption of changes in the workplace – this might entail designing training sessions and promotional materials, according to an initiative’s needs. But their work goes beyond that: while they may not have direct managerial responsibilities, they do have to coach managers and supervisors in how to drive change within their teams. They also support project managers and strategic planners, assisting them in incorporating workplace changes into their long-term plans.
Change managers also take responsibility for assessing the impact of changes implemented in the workplace. This evaluative work allows workplaces to develop more effective strategies for implementing subsequent changes.
Needless to say, this role requires a broad range of skills. Communication, active listening, and creative problem-solving are all vitally important in change management roles. Change managers also need to be highly organized planners, collaborative and flexible, with a clear understanding of the challenges faced by businesses in their industry.
In roles like this, qualifications aren’t always as important as prior supervisory or managerial experience. However, most change managers have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many also have a master’s degree – commonly in the field of business. It’s also possible to earn a range of certifications in change management, which can bolster your resume and prove your credentials as a change manager.
When interviewing for change manager roles, you should be prepared for a mix of behavioral and situational questions. While situational questions will ask you to describe how you might react in a hypothetical situation, behavioral questions usually pertain to your past experience. In both cases, it’s useful to have examples of your previous workplace behaviors and approaches ready to go – so before your interview, make sure you spend some time thinking about how you’ve managed changes in the past.
The above is also true for most management roles within organizations that experience a lot of internal change. The questions and answers below might also be useful to you if you’re in that position, so don’t check out just because the job title doesn’t say ‘change manager’ outright!
Whatever your situation, we’ve put together this list of common interview questions to help you get started. We’ve even written up some example answers to jump-start your thinking. Read on, and you’ll be ready to land your dream role in no time!
A change manager’s job isn’t always easy. Over time, employees in any industry will become accustomed to their established ways of working, and will tend to be suspicious of any changes to their proven routines. Overcoming employee suspicion can be a real challenge, and one that change managers will need to account for when building their strategies.
But this isn’t the only potential barrier to workplace change. Strategies for organizational change can be undermined by factors including poor planning, insufficient resource allocation, or a lack of management buy-in. Even factors as simple as bad timing can impact the success of a change initiative.
An outcome in which a change initiative fails to meet its expected outcomes is known as change failure, and it’s a concept with which any aspiring change manager needs to be acquainted. Interviewers will want to know that you understand not only what change failure is, but how to avoid it where possible. Dig into the details of your understanding of change failure – and if you can, mention ways in which you have combatted change failure in the past.
Example answer: “Change failure is the term we use to describe what happens when an organizational change doesn’t achieve its planned goals. It can be caused by a range of factors, including resistance to change from employees, a lack of managerial support, a lack of resources, or just bad timing. I always try to take these factors into account when planning for organizational change, and in my previous role, I always took care to ensure high levels of investment from senior leadership before proceeding with any strategy.”
As the previous question indicates, organizational change is not without its risk – and those risks aren’t limited to missed targets or failed objectives. It’s possible for attempts at organizational change to go badly wrong, hurting productivity and causing serious disillusionment with future change strategies. If a change manager doesn’t account for and pre-empt risks like this, it could hurt an organization’s potential for change well into the future.
Risk assessment and risk management are some of the most important skills a change manager needs, as a result. Any good hiring manager, whether hiring for a change manager or for a manager in an organization subject to frequent change, will want to be confident that you have those skills. It’s a good idea to come prepared with an example of your previous experience with risk mitigation, which will act as proof that you are equipped to take on the role.
Remember that identifying risks is only half the battle. Talk about how you were able to limit the impact of those risks, or even eliminate them altogether. If you can show that your ability to plan ahead had a positive impact on a previous workplace, you will have a great shot at impressing your interviewer!
Example answer: “When assessing risks, I always start by analyzing the projected effects of a change strategy – any impact on cash flow or staff retention, in particular – so I can account for them in my subsequent planning. I also make a point of consulting with employees who are likely to be affected by a change strategy, since they know best how any changes to their work environment will affect them. In my previous role, while managing the transition to a new organizational structure, consulting with non-managerial admin staff called attention to a serious issue with the proposed new management hierarchy, and yielded a number of potential approaches to managing that issue. I know first-hand how important it is to obtain input from all stakeholders about the risks of change – sometimes the consultation process can offer solutions, as well as potential problems.”
This is a fairly open-ended question, and it’s less about your past experience with change management than it is about your understanding of the process. Even if you don’t have any direct experience with managing change, you will likely have acquired an understanding of why change matters in a workplace.
As you might expect, it’s important for change managers to understand what drives organizational change. It’s knowledge that can help them with everything from planning implementation strategies to developing metrics for a strategy’s success. After all, how can you know what a successful change looks like if you don’t know why the change was implemented in the first place?
If you’re still not sure how to answer this question, it may be time to do some more research on the organization where you’re applying to work. If they have a mission statement available online, read it carefully, and pay attention to what it has to say about growth and development over time. It could shed some light on their approach to change, and help you answer in a way that reflects your potential workplace’s ideals.
Example answer: “Ultimately, I think businesses implement change so they can grow, and so they don’t fall behind in a competitive marketplace. If you don’t respond to changing global conditions while your competitors remain adaptable, you’ll stagnate, and so will your profits. It’s important to be willing to adapt in order to increase efficiency – which usually also means increasing growth, and subsequently increasing a business’s profile and profit.”
We’ve already discussed employee resistance to change in general terms, but this question asks you to address it directly. It’s one of the biggest obstacles that organizations have to overcome when implementing changes. As a result, any interviewer will want to know that you have what it takes to mitigate this particular risk.
If you have previous experience in change management, this is the moment to bring it to bear. If you can show that you have actually addressed a similar problem successfully in the past, hiring managers will be much more inclined to believe that you can do it again. Think about a time when you dealt with employee resistance – ideally on an individual level, per the question – and don’t be afraid to get into the details of how you responded.
If you don’t have previous experience with change management, you may still have experience of encouraging employees to change their behaviors! Most change manager candidates will have previous management experience to draw on, so think laterally and apply your experience to the question. Asking an employee to adjust their behavior towards a colleague requires a similar set of skills and approaches – don’t feel too constrained by the question as you think about your relevant experience.
Example answer: “When dealing with larger groups of employees, I like to build comprehensive training sessions that outline the benefits of an organizational change. This has always worked well for me, particularly when I’ve made sure to consult employees on change strategies in the early stages. But individual employees who are reluctant to adopt new ways of working might need more hands-on coaching, to ensure that they have the skills and support necessary to try out a new way. Often, employees who are reluctant to engage with change have personal misgivings about their ability to keep up; it’s my job, as change manager, to ensure that those misgivings are addressed.”
Change impact analysis is perhaps the least visible element of a change manager’s job. But that’s not to say it isn’t important! Without the ability to see if a change has been effective, leadership teams can’t guide their company into new stages of growth.
Interviewers ask this question to get a feel for your approach to change impact analysis. Do you understand how to set the right metrics to measure the success – or failure – of a change? If you don’t, regardless of your other change management credentials, you may not be a good fit for the role.
This is another opportunity for you to talk about any prior experience of impact analysis. Whether or not it pertains to change management, it will show that you have the analytical understanding required to succeed in a change manager role. Remember, experience doesn’t need to be a perfect fit to be applicable!
Example answer: “When developing ways to measure the impact of change, I take into account the type of change that was implemented. For a change in organizational structure, I might look for ways to measure institutional efficiency; for a change in marketing strategy, I would consider things like the company website metrics or the number of calls received over a period of time. I’ve found that it’s particularly important to perform this analysis both before and after the implementation of change! Performing analysis after the fact with nothing to compare it to can give a false picture of the impact that a change has had.”