This is a common application question for just about any job and answering it can be surprisingly tricky. How do you avoid giving the employer the idea that your whole team needs to be offered the job or that you can only work in a team when you lead it?
1. Be clear about the question
Working in a team is not the same as being able to tell other people what to do. There may come a point in your life when the ability to distribute jobs to others is critical. This is unlikely to be the case in your first graduate job. One employer I spoke to recently told me how amused he was by the fact that (according to application forms) every Warwick student is the captain of a sports team. He wondered how sport works here! Don’t be afraid to talk about being a team member, it’s probably what the question is about.
2. Use the CAR or STAR format to answer
A teamwork question is normally competency based. It’s asking you to write (or at interview to talk) about a time when you have done something. It’s time to follow the CAR or STAR rule. Context, Action, Result (or Situation, Task, Action, Result). Work logically through this. Deal quickly and concisely with the context (or situation and task); make sure you are not rambling through a mass of unnecessary detail. Then move on to the action. At least 40% of the words of your answer should be concentrated here. Finally talk about the result. Hopefully you nailed it! If not, then show insight into why things didn’t quite go according to plan and what you learnt from that. For more information watch my YouTube video.
3. What did you do?
The employer wants to know about you and not the team. A pretty good clue that you’re not getting this right is if your whole answer reads “We did this …. We did that”. You need to think about how you contributed to the team and your role in it. Did you make some suggestions? Perhaps you noticed when others were struggling and offered support. Did you reorganise your own work to take on more when things started to go wrong? Can you demonstrate that you put the team goal above your personal interest? This is what the employer is looking for.
4. Did the rest of the team do anything?
Don’t get so carried away in talking about what you did, that you forget there was supposed to be a team at all. Teamwork is about collaboration and working together. An answer to this question outlining a team task which demonstrates that you did everything shows that you’re probably not a team player.
5. Don’t be critical of other team members
Of course there are times when we all get frustrated with team members. Perhaps someone committed to taking an action and failed to do so. Maybe a team member was always late for meetings, or forgot them completely? It’s possible you did have to step in and do things yourself to save the project. I’d avoid this example. Effective teamwork involves motivating everyone to play their part. If you criticise your team members you raise an uneasy question in the mind of an employer. Were you actually the reason why the team didn’t work? Don’t let that suspicion arise.
6. You can draw your example from any part of your life
The situation you talk (or write) about can be from work, from volunteering, from your academic studies. Don’t try to think of the impressive task but focus on when your team-working was at its most effective. That way you’ll have a really effective answer