Unless you apply for a job of a lighthouse keeper, truck driver, or other position for lonely wolfs, you will work on a team. And it doesn’t matter whether you apply for a position with a big corporation, or try to get a job in a small NGO, or even in a grocery store. You will always have some colleagues, people you will interact with on daily basis, and as a team you will try to achieve monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals. Therefor you can expect at least one or two questions about teamwork in almost any job interview.
Some of these questions are relatively easy, such as “Are you a team player?“, or “What role do you typically play in a team?” The really difficult questions are behavioral questions, when the hiring managers ask you to narrate a situation from your past, in this case a situation when you worked on a team. Sometimes they may complicate it even more, coming up with a really long question, such as “Describe a situation in which you got a group of people to work together as a team. Did you encounter any issues? What was the end result? ” In such a case, it is pivotal to answer each part of their question, that means describing the situation, issues you faced, and the eventual result.
Back to the question from the title though. I will try to show you what to focus on in your answer, what situation to pick, and most importantly how to make the right impression on the hiring managers. Let’s move to 7 sample answers to the question. I included both typical and unconventional answers on my list, so you can choose one that resonates with your values and your attitude to teamwork, and, at the same time, conveys the right message to the interviewers. Do not forget to check also my notes below the answers where I explain some important nuances of a perfect answer to this question.
7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you worked on a team” interview question
- I worked on a small team of analyst in my last corporate job. Each of us was assigned a certain set of data to analyze daily, and then, at the end of each day, we compared our results and tried to draw some conclusions for the sales team. I enjoyed the team meetings, and it definitely helped with my motivation to know that my colleagues depended on the results of my work, that if I did not do my share, we wouldn’t be able to produce the outcome for the sales department as a team. What’s more, we were supportive to each other, and helped each other with heavy workload. All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope to work on a similar team in the job I try to get with you.
- I belonged to a team of five sales associates in a big retail store with electronics, all of us working on the same floor. The employer paid us bonuses according to the results we achieved as a team, and not as individuals. I consider it an excellent model, because instead of competing for customers who wanted to buy expensive goods, we could simply focus on delivering the best possible customer service to each and every person in the store, regardless of whether they wanted to buy something for a dollar, or something for one thousand dollars. We made a good team, and I enjoyed my experience, but after some time I simply felt I needed a change, a different job. That’s why I am here with you today.
- Working as a barista, I shared close quarters with three other colleagues on each shift. As you can imagine, it wasn’t always easy, and we had some conflicts, which is something you cannot completely avoid in any team. But we had a good system of work. Each of us knew what they were supposed to do, in every moment of the shift, and it really helped with effectiveness of work. Would you like me to elaborate on anything else regarding my experience on this team?
- I actually had a terrible teamwork experience in my last corporate job. We had too many big egos in the team, and instead of cooperating and working on a mutual goal, people were competing against each other, each of them trying to impress the manager and eventually get the promotion. It came to a point when people barely talked to each other, and when I didn’t enjoy going to work anymore. I realized it was a time to leave the place, and that’s one of the reasons why I am here today with you.
- This is my first job application, so I cannot really speak about an example from work, one when I got a group of people to work together, or was one of the members of the team. But I recall a seminary project I worked on with a team of four other classmates. I tried to take on a leadership role in the team, because other classmates were rather shy and we weren’t moving forward with the work. So I assigned tasks to each of us, as well as milestones for the project and a realistic schedule. I must say that I enjoyed my leadership role. We did well, scored A for the project, and the entire experience motivated me to pursue a managerial career.
- I worked on a small team of software engineers. We were developing a new mobile app, a new big thing if you want. I really enjoyed this experience, because in many places it is a lonely ride for a software engineer. But here we had daily meetings, discussed the coding and other problems each of us faced, and simply tried to maximize the effectiveness of our work, benefiting from the knowledge of all team members. It was a great experience, the app was a success, and I hope to work in a similar agile team in my new job.
- I’ve worked on a team in my last job, and enjoyed the diversity. Since I was a new force in the company, before anything else I wanted to learn from more experienced colleagues. And boy did I learn a lot. The team was diverse in terms of experience, cultural background, attitude to effective marketing, and many other things. I was like a sponge, absorbing all information, and trying to come up with my own input when I felt I had something important to say. I believe that I grew a lot as a marketer in that team, and will surely benefit from my experience down the road–maybe in the job with you.
When they ask about teamwork, you will work on a team
Maybe you prefer to work on your own, or do not really need a support of your colleagues to make something big happen. However, if they ask questions about teamwork in an interview, you will certainly work on a team. Keep it on your mind while deciding what you will tell them.
As a rule of a thumb, you should focus on positive experience, and praise teamwork. But you can also briefly mention some problems that belong to each and every team–internal conflicts, big egos clashing, people seeking promotion, competing instead of cooperating, one guy working harder than the rest of the team, and so on. Show the interviewers that you see things realistically, and won’t panic or leave the job after the first conflict in the team…
* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
Everyone loves to hire leaders
Did you have a leadership role in one of the teams you belonged to? If you led by an example, managed to motivate your colleagues (classmates), or simply organized the work and made sure that you delivered the expected results on time, you should definitely talk about it in your answer.
Each and every company strives to hire leaders, people who help their colleagues grow and achieve better results, people who can one day replace the existing managers and lead the business. Having said that, each team needs just one leader, and other roles in a team are also important. You do not have to force it, talking about your leadership even when you didn’t really demonstrate any.
Situation from school or from your personal life will work just as well
Everyone has to start somewhere. If this is your first job application, or you haven’t worked on a team in your last job, you can talk about teamwork situation from school, sports club, or any other place where you shared a common goal or mission with a group of people.
The attitude you show matters for the hiring managers, not the situation you narrate. As long as you demonstrate positive and proactive attitude to teamwork, being attentive to the needs and feelings of your teammates, trying your best for the team, feeling responsibility, they will be satisfied with your answer. Regardless of the setting, or particular situation you talk about…
Job application or essay: Describe your experience of working in a team (100 words max)
I wanted to touch on this one as well, since before you even get a chance to answer interview questions, you have to get invited to the interviews. That often depends on your job application, or essay (speaking about school interviews). Often they will ask you to describe your teamwork experience, typically with a limited word count, such as 100 or 200 words. It isn’t much to be honest, and you do not have a chance to dig into details.
In such a case, you should simply outline very briefly the objective of the team, your role of the team, challenges you faced, and the eventual outcome. Try to be positive about your experience with teamwork. Once they are inquiring about it, they are no doubt looking for someone who can work in a team, and actually enjoys it.
Read to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky question about teamwork:
- What role do you play in a team?
- What do you enjoy most or least about teamwork?
- Give me an example of a situation when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with?