It probably won’t surprise you to hear that you will almost always face some questions about teamwork in your job interview. A small team is a basic structural unit of every organization in the world, big or small. You will share both the workplace and goals with these people, and your level of success in the job (and often also your remuneration and career growth possibilities) will be determined by the success of your team, at least to some extent. So what do they want to hear in your interview? And how should you answer this question when applying for your very first job? We will try to find the answers on the following lines.
First of all, regardless of your previous working experience (or lack of it) you should embrace working on a team. Emphasize that you like the feeling of belonging somewhere, and having a sense of responsibility for fellow team members. Knowing that you do not try hard only for yourself helps you with your motivation. And it is also easier to cope with challenges when you have someone to share your worries with, someone who can support you, and you can pay back the favor another time.
Secondly, you should focus primarily on the success of a team as a whole in your answer. Many job seekers misunderstand the question, talking about a situation when they actually stood out from the team, and did better than other team members. But that’s not really what they want to hear from you in the interview… Let’s proceed to 7 sample answers to this intriguing question. Below the answers you will find some additional hints on how to impress the hiring managers with your words. Do not forget to check them out as well.
7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time you were successful on a team” interview question
- I recall a great example from my last job in retail. Holiday season was approaching, and we were behind with sales. We knew that our year-end bonuses, as well as our personal satisfaction from the job, depended a lot on whether we would reach the sales goals. And so we really motivated each other as a team, and tried hard with every customer. No opportunity was left on the table, we tried to up-sell everyone. We worked hard, overtime, sometimes barely had time for lunch. But we worked as a team, motivated one another, and eventually we reached the target sales volume for Q4. I have to admit that it was a taxing experience, but I still enjoyed it profoundly.
- This is my first job application, so I cannot really talk about an example from work. But I remember the times at high school, and the local soccer team I played for. We didn’t have any stars, or professional players on the team. But we were true friends, and we enjoyed spending time together, and trying to better our results. One season we surprised everyone in the city finishing second in the table, just three points behind the winning team. People did not expect that we’d do so well, because they underestimated the power of team spirit. Everyone in the team was ready to suffer for their teammates, and we always gave 100% on the pitch. Eventually we managed to end the season at second place, surprising everyone. This experience taught me a lot, and I hope to apply the lessons in the workplace.
- My second to last job in a game studio is a good example. I belonged to a small agile team of seven people. Some coders, designers, testers, and a manager of course. We were under a lot of pressure, because we knew we had to release the game before our competitor would release a similar product, though they had more money and a bigger team onboard. Interesting thing happened: Everyone in the team took it personally. We made it our mission to beat the competitor, because we wanted to prove that we were better programmers and designers. And so we logged in some long days and weeks, and focused 100% on the task, eliminating all distractions. You could see how hard everybody worked, which was incredibly motivating. Eventually we released the game one week before our competitor, and succeeded as a team. Big celebration followed as you can imagine…
- I had just basic jobs before. Kitchen assistant in a restaurant, crew member in a fast food place. But I still think I’ve learned a lot about teamwork in these places. Because in such a fast-paced working environment, where processes relate to one another, you are in a way dependent on your colleagues. What I try to say here is that you can hardly make the customer satisfied with your work as a cashier, when they have to wait five minutes for their burger because someone does a slow job in the kitchen… Was our team successful? I wouldn’t necessarily say so. Because these types of jobs for students attract all sorts of people, and not everyone felt the responsibility towards other crew members, just like I did. Well, what can I say? I tried my best, encouraged other team members. Sometimes it worked and we did a great shift, and sometimes it didn’t, because someone was texting on their phone all the time…
- Speaking honestly, I am still waiting for my first success on a team. In my last and only job I was more of a lonely wolf, the only person in the store, responsible for everything. Because it was a small store, and we didn’t have more than ten customers in an hour, so you had time to stock the shelves, clean the place, and everything. I must say though that I missed something in the job–words of encouragement from a colleague, a nice joke here and there to ease the tension, a helping hand when suddenly many people came to the store at once, and so on. Judging by my results I was successful in the job, but I still decided to leave it. Because at heart I am a team player, and I knew I needed a different working environment. That’s why I am here today.
- First and foremost, I try to stay humble and always try to improve on my results. Was I successful in my last corporate job, as a part of an FP&A team? That’s hard to say, and perhaps my manager, or the FP&A director, would be the right person to answer your question. I tried my best, but one thing I realized during my time in the company is that in these big corporations, it is sometimes hard to see the impact of your work… You spent nine hours a day in front of a computer screen, collecting data, doing some analysis. For sure it has a meaning, and someone else in the company benefits from your work, but sometimes it is hard to see how. Anyway, the profit of the company kept growing, so we likely did a good job in the FP&A team. But now I am looking for a position in a smaller company, in which it is always easier to see the impact of your work.
- My last job in social work is a great example. We had many difficult cases: Broken families, problems with alcoholism and depression, violence–definitely not a great environment for children. But I belonged to an amazing team of social workers. All of us saw the meaningful purpose of our job, and we didn’t give up on any case, regardless of how hopeless it initially seemed. Progressing step by step with everyone involved in each case–parents, children, teachers, guardians, and so on, we helped to improve the situation in many families. But I knew I would never achieve the same level of success working alone, because job of a social worker is mentally taxing, and you really need someone to be there at your side, and to help you cope with the challenges this work presents…
Regardless of whether you have fifteen years of working experience under your belt, or apply for your very first job, you can always find some teamwork experience in your memory. Think school, sports, extra-curricular activities, volunteering, anything. It doesn’t matter much for the hiring managers whether you talk about an experience from work, or from school. Your attitude matters the most for them.
As long as you demonstrate (with your example) that you are ready to work hard for the success of the team and sacrifice something, that you feel the responsibility for other team members and it motivates you to try your best (since you do not want to let them down), and that you enjoy teamwork in general, they will be satisfied with your answer.
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- Are you a team player?
- Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone else to achieve a goal.
- What does teamwork mean to you?
- Do you prefer to work independently, or on a team?