"Are you a team player?" You'll hear that question in pretty much every interview you'll ever participate in. That's probably because working on a team is crucial to nearly every position, from entry-level to a director.
Teamwork doesn’t always mean working with others every second of every workday. There are many jobs in which workers spend much of their time focusing on projects in relative isolation. But, even the most independent contributor needs to communicate about work and to collaborate in order to achieve the company’s goals.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
When asking this question, the interviewer is trying to determine whether you can work with others. How that will look day-to-day will vary depending on the job and its duties, as well as the corporate culture. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a software developer, you’ll need to show that you can clearly and consistently communicate highly technical information to other team members – some of whom won’t be as technically proficient.
No matter what job you’re applying for, you’ll need to show the hiring manager that you’re someone who can get along with other people. Very few employees work in a vacuum.
How to Answer Questions About Being a Team Player
The most important step in answering this question comes before the interview. Research the role and the company to make sure you understand what teamwork looks like at this particular organization.
Then, before you answer, consider how you best contribute to a team.
- Do you get along easily with people?
- Are you an effective collaborator?
- Can you communicate with people from various backgrounds and with different personalities?
- Can you motivate people?
- Do you know how to push back tactfully?
- Can you mediate conflicts?
- Can you deal with difficult personalities?
Examples of the Best Answers
I enjoy working in a team environment, and I get along well with people. In my past work experience, I implemented a system to help organize the communication between my coworkers to enhance our productivity as a team.
Why It Works: Not only do you demonstrate that you understand the value of communication and collaboration, but you also offer an example of a time you solved a problem at work. That’s a lot to accomplish in a two-sentence answer.
I believe that I have a lot to contribute to a team environment, and am comfortable in both leadership and contributor roles. I'm outgoing, friendly, and have strong communication skills.
Why It Works: The forthright and confident delivery bolsters the claims you’re making, demonstrating that you’re someone who understands their strengths and can communicate them to others.
I’ve found that the best engineers are the ones who can work as a team. My mentor at my last job taught me valuable communication skills that enabled me to offer a solution to a particularly tricky problem – and explain it to the non-technical folks in sales and marketing.
Why It Works: This answer shows that you understand the challenges of working inter-departmentally and that you’re someone who reaches out to form relationships with mentors. It also demonstrates an ability to learn and grow from those relationships.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
When talking about teamwork and relating anecdotes to share your accomplishments, keep these suggestions in mind:
Stick With Recent Examples
Try to choose an example from the past unless something older is especially impressive. Relaying an outdated story about how you worked with a team to get the whole company access to high-speed internet doesn't grab attention.
Toot Your Own Horn
Pick an experience that shines the spotlight on you and shows how you contributed to a team that achieved spectacular results.
Relay an example that's most relevant to the company you're interviewing with. Draw the parallel so they can see how you'd succeed on a team with them.
Choose an example that serves to demonstrate added strengths in addition to teamwork.
Focus Your Response
Highlight your story in bullet point form rather than memorizing a script.
What Not to Say
Don’t Say That You Prefer to Work Alone
It’s perfectly fine to prefer to work by yourself, but you don’t want to emphasize that when asked how you’ll work as a team. Instead, look for ways that you excel at working with others. For an introverted person, that might mean using excellent communication skills to relay the results of work performed alone.
Make Sure Your Body Language Is Consistent With Your Story
If your mouth is saying that you love working with others, but your body is saying that you’re closed off from communication, you might be sending the wrong message. Make sure you’re sitting up straight and making the right amount of eye contact with the interviewer. Avoid folding your arms, fiddling with your hair or clothes, or doing anything else that suggests you don’t want to be there.
You’ll be happiest and most successful in a job that’s geared toward your strengths, so don’t set yourself up for an unnecessary challenge by lying. Don’t claim to love collaborating with others if you prefer to work by yourself, for example. Instead, focus on how your skills enable you to help the team succeed.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- What do you like/dislike about your current (or previous) job? – Best Answers
- Tell me about a time when you handled a challenge at work. – Best Answers
- What are the most difficult decisions to make? – Best Answers
- What is your greatest strength? – Best Answers
- What is your greatest weakness? – Best Answers
- How do you handle stress? – Best Answers
RESEARCH THE COMPANY: Learn what constitutes being a team player at that job and in that company culture.
TELL A STORY: Prepare an anecdote that shows how you collaborated and achieved results in the past.
EMPHASIZE THE POSITIVE: Be truthful, but look for a chance to demonstrate your strengths.