Management or supervisory experience

One of the stranger situations job applicants find is the problem where you have either management or supervisory experience, and it seems to count against you.

People apparently think they have to tell you the job you're going for isn't a management role. Exactly why that's an issue at all is debatable. You know what the job is, and what the work involves, after all.

There are, of course, theories about why prior experience in these roles would be an issue:

  • The current bosses don't want someone second guessing.
  • They don't want competition.
  • They prefer not to feel they're at risk of criticism.
  • They feel inferior with less experience than you have.
  • They don't want older people with more experience.
  • They don't want younger people with more experience.

These are sometimes correct assessments of the situation, but not always. Junior, inexperienced, and bad managers can feel outclassed, with good reason. They're insecure, and you've just reminded them of the fact.


Those reasons can also be excuses for a failed interview, or rationalizing a negative response from interviewers. You can miss real problems in your interview technique, and just feel lousy anyway, not getting any results.

Don't fall for that. You'd be misleading yourself.

There are other considerations.

You have management or supervisory experience, so use it.

You may have been in the situation of interviewing people in this situation yourself, and had an actual reason for not hiring them:

  • What did they do wrong?
  • What was their problem?
  • Was there anything identifiable which made you decide against hiring them?
  • Were they just uncompetitive, compared to other applicants?

As you can see, these are real issues. These are the things you really have to check out about your own interviews. If you've got all the credentials, but aren't getting the jobs, there has to be some reason for striking out.

Self defence for interview situations

You can head off a few of the problems by getting in ahead of the interviewers with some basic statements:

  • I know this isn't a supervisory or managerial role, but I think my prior experience really puts me onside with management. I understand the priorities and concerns very well.
  • I learned as a supervisor not to try second guessing management, and to go with the flow, to get things done properly.
  • My experience is based on practical workplace knowledge. I really learned a lot as a supervisor about how teams operate, and why team leaders don't need people contributing problems. I function as a team member, not a one man band.
  • I got a lot of good feedback from management about my work as part of a team, they seemed to think that I was a positive contributor, and I tried to encourage my team members the same way. It helped me, and it helped them.

You can do some defusing of the supervisor/manager issue by pointing out you weren't always a supervisor/manager.

You can also try a different approach entirely.

The interviewers need to slot you in to their organizational structure, and the manager/supervisor image can be confusing. If you're a former manager, you'll probably look like a manager.

  • Dress down for the interview a bit, don't come in looking better dressed than they are, if you can help it. Neat business clothes will be enough, not top line designer clothes.
  • Don't put any emphasis at all on your prior experience in those roles. Let them bring it up.
  • You can also try avoiding the issue completely:

    Yes, I had some experience in that role, but it was a while back, I'm probably well out of date by now.

    I'm not really sure if my management experience is much of a help in this role. I know the basics, obviously, but I also know how difficult the role is, and how much things have changed, so I think I'd be learning from day one, in this job.

    The idea is to avoid appearing like a manager, and above all like a know it all.

    That is a major turnoff for some people. It's threatening. Occasionally, you'll find someone who's grateful for some real expertise, but very rarely will you find anyone who's grateful for an expert in their own job.

    Some considerations, here:

    • You have nothing to gain by emphasizing a role which doesn't relate to the actual job.
    • It can put people's noses out of joint if they get an applicant who appears to think they know more about their work than they do. (You may have met the type yourself.)
    • If you're really experienced, cut them some slack. Remember, you were in this position once. They couldn't possibly have that level of experience, and if you look a bit harder you'll probably see they're doing the job at that level.

    Most important:

    • Go through your unsuccessful interviews thoroughly.
    • Find the problems.
    • Ask the interviewers if necessary, but make sure you know about anything that's getting in the way of your interviews.
    • You don't have to like the answers, but if you're getting consistent reasons for not getting jobs, you do have to understand those reasons.

    Really, if you've done this work, you won't have a lot of difficulty finding the problems.

    Just don't make it hard for yourself when fixing them.