In 99% of jobs you’ll have some colleagues. You’ll have a supervisor or a manager–someone you will report to, and often also some subordinates–people who will report to you. But it doesn’t mean that you won’t have to work independently at all. Having colleagues doesn’t necessarily mean sharing an office, let alone tasks with them.

You’ll be on your own, sometimes just for an hour a day, and sometimes for vast majority of your working time. It depends on the job, your position in the organization, and many other variables. But it will always happen, and hence it is logical that you may face at least some questions about working independently, while interviewing for any decent job. In this post we will look at 7 such questions. Let’s start!


Tell us about a time when you had to solve a problem on you own.

The first one is a classic, scenario-based question. Regardless of your former jobs, you had to solve some problems. And they wonder whether you managed to do it on your own. They key is to demonstrate (while narrating a situation from your past) that you can do that, that you do not panic, and won’t stay put until you have a chance to talk to your manager.

It can be any problem–you struggled to meet a deadline, had a conflict with someone, something on your computer didn’t work, you struggled to find a solution to this or that issue, etc. Just describe how you approached the problem, and what exactly you did while trying to solve it on your own. Your attitude matters the most here, not the eventual outcome. Regardless of how hard we try, sometimes we just cannot solve a problem without someone’s help. It is all right describing such a problem. The key is to show them that you tried your best, before you eventually had to contact someone for help (if you had to).


Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?

We have a separate article online for this question, with 7 sample answers, so let me analyze it just briefly here. Think about the job description, and your role in the company. Will you work mostly alone, or with someone? Will you share the office with other people? What will be the type and methodology of your work?

Obviously your preference (or at least your interview answer) should align with the reality of your new job. If you’ll work mostly on your own, you should prefer so. And if you cannot figure it out from the job description, you can say that you like both. You enjoy working on a team and sharing the workplace with colleagues. If you have to be on your own, however, and manage some tasks independently, you do not mind doing that, and you do not need someone to stare over your back making sure that you actually do work, instead of checking social media online.


Tell us about a time when you reached a goal alone.

They say that “every great result is a team effort”. And while there’s some truth to that quote, you can achieve great results independently in a job, for example as a sales representative (generating some sales volume), or as an engineer (coming up with a critical idea or innovation). Think about it for a while.

Your personal life, or school, can also help you with a good answer to this one. Maybe it was your goal to pass a certain exam, get some certification, etc. Hardly anyone could help you much with that. It was you who had to study, prepare hard, and pass the tests later. Do not hesitate to give yourself some credit. Interviewers should get an impression that you do not depend on others when it comes to achieving goals. On the contrary, you are capable of achieving goals alone, at least those goals one can achieve on their own…

What does ‘independence at work’ mean to you?

Instead of asking about a specific situation, they may inquire about your perspective on independence at work, or what does it mean to you. In my experience, job seekers struggle with similar questions, such as “What does quality mean to you?”, or “What does courage mean to you?” In this case, I suggest you to talk about responsibility, and accountability.

Independence at work doesn’t simply mean that you can do whatever you want, or that you have no supervisor. It means that you are responsible for your work time, and for the results you achieve. You won’t hold anyone else accountable for problems, or for poor performance. On the contrary, with all the goods working independently brings to you, you are ready to accept also what it entails–responsibility and accountability.

Another approach consists in looking at the question philosophically. What does it really mean to work independently? Is it only about being alone, whereas you still have to follow the manuals and stick to the processes in place? Or do you have real independence, and a chance to put your creativeness to the test, a complete freedom to decide what you will do and how, as long as you manage to meet your goals? Think about it for a while. If your interviewers enjoy creativity and creative discussion (which isn’t necessarily the case but it can be), you may score a lot of points with a philosophical answer.


How do you like to be managed?

Another way of testing your ability of working independently (or your preference for such style of work) is asking about the complete opposite, and that’s how you like to be managed at work. Again, at this stage you have to think about the job, and the amount of independent thinking & working it entails.

If it is a lot, you should talk about laissez-faire management, that means when your manager really leaves you a free hand. Of course, they set the direction, and the goals for you, but then they leave it for your creativity and abilities to reach those goals. On the contrary, if you expect to have minimal independence in your new job, you should say that you prefer your manager telling you exactly what you should do, and keeping an eye on you.


What do you enjoy the least about teamwork?

Another indirect question that can easily catch you off-guard. You may be tempted saying how much you love teamwork and that except of conflicts you enjoy everything about it. And such answer isn’t bad, as long as you’ll spend majority of your time in your new role working on a team. But what if the opposite is true, and you will spend most time on your own?

In such a case, you can say that while you like teamwork, you believe that you can be most productive on your own, when you do not lose time with team-meetings, email communication, internal conflicts and other distractions. While it is nice belonging somewhere, and feeling support of your teammates, you actually prefer working on your own most of the time, since it allows you to focus on the core of your work.


What is your favorite sport?

What we do in our free time tells a lot about our preferences when it comes to work. People who love teamwork typically also love team sports–soccer, football, basketball, you name it. On the contrary, those of us who prefer to spend the day alone in the mountains, on a bike, on skis, or on feet, or those who enjoy sports like tennis, golf, or swimming, are typically people who prefer to work on their own, and bearing the responsibility for the results only on their shoulders. Keep it on your mind anytime they ask you about your hobbies, or favorite sport. Such questions may seem like ice-breakers, but sometimes there’s more to them than a common eye can see…

Ready to answer interview questions about working independently? I hope so! Do not forget to check also:

Matthew Chulaw
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