How to Respond to Interview Questions About Teamwork
Teamwork is a priority for many employers, so when you're preparing for your next interview, be ready to talk about your ability to work with others so you can respond properly to questions about teamwork.
There’s a variety of questions about teamwork that an employer might ask. For example, you might be asked questions such as, "Describe being a part of a team," "Tell me about a challenging workplace situation that you had to deal with," or "What role have you played in team situations?" All of these questions help the interviewer gauge your experience and comfort with teamwork.
These questions provide you with the opportunity to discuss some of the characteristics that enable you to work well with your co-workers, supervisors, and clients.
Read below for information on how to answer interview questions about teamwork, as well as sample answers to common questions.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Interviewers pose these sort of questions when good teamwork is an essential element of their work environment and company culture. In many industries, the ability of team members to collaborate effectively is critical to productivity and operations success. If you are someone who prefers to work independently and lacks interpersonal “people” skills, you may not be the best candidate for the job.
Here are some teamwork skills that you'll want to keep in mind as you prepare to answer questions about teamwork:
- Active listening
- Conflict management
- Developing consensus
- Drawing out the input of introverts
- Encouraging people to pull their weight
- Framing key issues
- Jumping in to do additional work during times of crisis
- Mediating conflicts
- Monitoring progress
- Recognizing the achievements of others
- Setting and following deadlines
- Team building
How to Answer Questions About Teamwork
Before an interview, think of at least two team situations when you displayed some of the teamwork skills listed above. At least one of these examples should include a moment when you helped solve a problem or challenge that struck the group.
For example, perhaps two other team members had a conflict, and you helped resolve it. Or perhaps your boss pushed up a deadline at the last minute, and you helped your team speed up the rate of work to complete the project successfully and on time.
Don't limit yourself to paid employment situations if you have a limited work history. Consider group projects for classes, clubs, and volunteer organizations.
Telling a story from your past is the most effective way to communicate your strengths as a team member. When using an example in your answer, use the STAR interview response technique:
- Situation: Describe the context or situation. Explain where and when this group project took place.
- Task: Explain the mission of the group – describe the particular project you were working on. If there was a problem in the group, explain that problem or challenge.
- Action: Describe the actions you took to complete the project or solve the particular problem.
- Result: Finally, explain the result of the actions taken. Emphasize what your team accomplished, or what you learned.
In your answer, while you want to focus on how you helped the group achieve a result, try not to focus too much on your individual successes. Again, you want to show that you’re a team player. Avoid answers where you imply that the group only succeeded because of your efforts. Instead, focus on how you helped the group achieve something together.
Examples of the Best Answers
Below are sample answers to various interview questions about teamwork. Use these samples as a template for your own answers. Be sure to replace the examples in these sample answers with examples from your own experiences.
Question: “Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?”
I am equally comfortable in either situation, actually. In my last job, I had the opportunity to do both independent and team projects, and I really enjoyed the variety. My favorite work scenario is when we begin a project as a team, brainstorming our approaches and establishing our deadlines and individual responsibilities before going off to work independently on our assigned tasks. Even when working independently, however, I think it’s invaluable to be able to reach out to a team for advice and support. I also make sure that I’m available to help other project team members when they need assistance.
Why It Works: This answer is effective because it shows that, although the candidate likes to work independently, she also understands the value of teamwork. Her comfort in working in both situations, as shown by the example she presents, adds value to her candidacy.
Question: “Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team”
When I was a junior, I worked on a case project for a marketing class where six of us were asked to analyze the marketing practices of Amazon.com and make recommendations for alternative approaches. Early on we floundered in an effort to find a focus. I suggested that we look at Amazon's advertising strategy within social media.
I led a discussion about the pros and cons of that topic and encouraged a couple of the more reticent members to chime in. Two of the group members didn't initially embrace my original proposal.
However, I was able to draw consensus after incorporating their suggestion that we focus on targeted advertising within Facebook based on users' expressed interests. We ended up working hard as a group, receiving very positive feedback from our professor, and getting an A grade on the project.
Why It Works: This is a great example of how to use the S.T.A.R. interview response technique. The past situation the candidate describes shows how he has demonstrated key teamwork skills including framing key issues, communications, conflict resolution, and consensus building.
Question: “What role have you played in team situations?”
I have years of experience in team projects at my previous marketing job and that has helped me develop into a strong listener who can resolve conflict and ensure timely completion of projects.
About a year ago, I was working on a team project with a tight deadline. One team member felt that his voice was not being heard, and as a result, he wasn’t working quickly enough on his element of the project. I sat down with him and listened to his concerns, and together we came up with a way for him to feel he had more input in the project.
By making him feel listened to, I helped our team complete the project successfully and on time.
Why It Works: This response focuses on the importance of active listening within a collaborative team environment. It also shows how the candidate welcomes the opinions of others, and is willing to work constructively to resolve differences of opinion.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
- Keep your tone positive. When answering, it is important to stay positive. Even when you’re describing a challenge you faced in a group situation, emphasize the group's ultimate success. Don't complain about your teammates and say that you hate group projects. The employer is asking you about teamwork because it’s important to the job, so you want your answer to be honest but positive.
- Maintain your poise. Part of having good “people” skills is the ability to communicate with others using body language. Sit up straight and maintain eye contact with your interviewer as you answer their questions; let your enthusiasm for the job and the company show in your expression and in your tone of voice.
- Practice active listening. Job interviews are two-way conversations. Demonstrate that you have the active listening skills necessary for teamwork by listening attentively as your interviewer speaks, without interrupting.
- Review common interview questions, along with sample answers. Not all of your interview questions will be about teamwork. The hiring manager may ask interview questions about you, such as, “What are your career goals?” or, “Tell me about something that’s not on your resume.” You will probably be invited to ask your own questions at the end of the interview, so be prepared with some queries about the job, the company, or the organizational culture.
What Not to Say
Nothing. When a hiring manager asks about your teamwork experience, it’s because this skill will be required of you should you be offered the job. Don’t try to duck the question. Even if you prefer to work independently, couch your response so that it’s clear that you would be comfortable working on teams (if you wouldn’t be, then you might want to ask yourself if the job is really the right fit for you).
Don't castigate former team members. Although it’s acceptable to describe a team situation where you needed to mediate between team members, do so carefully. Describe how you were able to resolve differences of opinion without negatively labelling the people involved.
Don’t insist on being a leader. While an employer is going to be interested in your leadership potential, part of good teamwork is the ability to also be a follower. Focus primarily on how you have been a solidly contributing team member in the past, taking personal initiative when this was called for. Be careful not to give the impression that you might be someone who would be difficult to manage.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
KNOW YOUR TEAMWORK SKILLSET: Demonstrate your command of important teamwork skills like active listening, conflict resolution, consensus building, and delegation.
STRUCTURE A S.T.A.R. RESPONSE: Describe, in detail, the situation, task, action, and result of an occasion where you needed to work well on a team.
USE VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE IF NECESSARY: If you lack real work experience, talk about how you have served on teams for school projects or as a volunteer with community organizations.