When you apply for an entry-level position, a typical job interview question will be, "Do you prefer working independently or on a team?"
There's no wrong answer to this question, but you'll want to go beyond a one-word answer stating your preference. Here's what you need to know to answer this question well.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
Potential employers ask this question because some positions require staff members to work in teams on a daily basis, while others require employees to work on their own.
Interviewers genuinely want to know what kind of work environment suits you best.
They're looking, of course, to match candidates who prefer the work environment found at the company and in the role at hand.
This is also an opportunity for interviewers to get a sense of a candidate's character, as well as the candidate's self-knowledge.
How to Answer 'Do You Prefer Working Independently or on a Team?'
There is no right or wrong answer to this question as long as you explain why you feel the way you do. The only wrong answer is a dishonest one. Not only is it bad to mislead the interviewer, but also, if you do get hired, you may not be happy in a position you're not suited for.
If you thrive in group settings, for example, you probably won't do well in a job that requires you to work alone behind closed doors—or worse, in a job that requires you to work remotely. On the other hand, introverts who find working in groups exhausting may find it a struggle to work in an environment that emphasizes in-person teamwork.
Whether you prefer working in groups, do best alone, or are adaptable and can work, either way, it’s a good idea to spend some time deciding how you want to answer the question.
Think about your past experiences. If you have not had much work experience, you can think about your projects and assignments in school. Which type of work suited you best?
Examples of the Best Answers
Review these examples of the best answers, along with information on why it's a good response.
For most projects or assignments, I found that having multiple brains working toward the same final product was very beneficial. Also, I've always been a team player, ever since I was in grade school and got involved in team sports. I know that being cooperative, open-minded, and focused are important aspects of being a successful team member, and I pride myself in having those qualities.
Why It Works: This answer points out the perks of working in a group, as well as some of the candidate's qualities (being a team player, open-minded, and cooperative) that are typically valued by employers.
I feel more motivated when I work with a group. I enjoy having other people around to bounce ideas off of. I find that one person can say something that jogs your mind and prompts you to come up with a completely new creative thought or idea. I enjoy that kind of experience. Plus, I feel that everyone has something different to contribute to an effort because we all come from such diverse backgrounds.
Why It Works: This answer shows why the candidate thinks working in a group can lead to better results.
I prefer to work independently or with a single partner. In my opinion, there are too many factors that can be missed when people congregate together in groups of three or more. Also, if I am going to be held accountable for the final result of a project or assignment, I want to be sure that the work is done well and that it meets my standards. While this may sound egocentric, I see it as taking pride in my work and having a desire to excel.
Why It Works: This is an opinionated answer, but it's also very honest. It highlights the candidate's strong qualities (having pride in their work, wanting to excel, having high standards).
I've worked both in groups and independently, and I've found that I can focus much better on the task at hand when I work independently. I've always been someone who needs peace and quiet in order to concentrate and perform well. If it's too noisy or there's too much going on around me, I can't formulate my thoughts well. My teachers have told me that I work best aerobically. That means that I work hard and fast (and solo), like a runner working out on a treadmill.
Why It Works: This answer shows that the candidate has really thought about the best working conditions for themself, and also brings in external feedback to make the case. Try an answer like this if it's true for you (and, if you're applying for a job where independent work is valued).
Tips for Giving the Best Answers
- Be honest. If you despise working in groups, and get a role where all projects involve big teams, you'll likely be miserable at work. That's not good for your mental health or the quality of your work.
- Play to your audience. But while you should be honest, if you are equally adept at working in groups and independently, say so. And, if you can frame your answer in a way that'll appeal to the interviewer, do so. Think about what qualities the job advertisement requested. If the words "team player" were mentioned, you'll want to play up your ability to work in a group.
- Give a reason or example. If you do have a strong preference, be clear about why: You can share examples of times you've been successful working independently or in a group, or explain why you think one approach works better than the other.
What Not to Say
- State that you can't work in one mode. While it's fine to have a preference, most organizations will need an employee capable of working both independently and on a team. Don't disqualify yourself by making a statement that implies you're not capable of doing both.
- Imply you need constant feedback. If you do prefer working in a group, make it clear that you are also capable of working independently and do not require back-up on every decision or action. After all, not every decision at work can be made by committee.
- Imply you don't value the opinion or work of others. Conversely, if you prefer working independently, make sure that it's clear that you can still take others' opinions and feedback into account.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- Tell me about a time that you worked on a group project that went well.
- Tell me about a time you worked on a team project that didn't go well.
- How do you make sure to incorporate feedback from stakeholders in your work?
- When you're working on a big project independently, how do you manage deadlines?
Tips for Entry-Level Interviews
Being new to the job world can be a little scary, but you can feel more confident if you spend some time preparing for the most common entry-level interview questions. Think about how you’d answer questions about your education, your past work experience (even if it isn’t directly related to the current job opening), your strengths and weaknesses, and why you would be a good fit for the job.
If you’re a college student or a recent graduate, it's important to relate your college education, extracurricular activities, and experiences to the job for which you are applying. Be ready to describe the skills you learned in college, and be able to provide examples.
It’s also important to make a strong first impression on your interviewer, so be sure to be on time for your interview and dress appropriately for the job you want. Also, don’t forget to follow up with a thank-you email after your interview. It’s a great way to keep yourself in the interviewer’s mind and add any information you feel you didn’t get across during the interview.
Be honest. If you do have a preference, say so.
Give a "why." Make it clear why you prefer the option you prefer.
Keep it positive. Even if you have a strong preference for one work style over the other, focus on the positives of your preferred work style (rather than going negative about the style you don't enjoy).