A previous post listed some of the so-called “soft skills” that employers look for in potential employees. We know that technical skills can get people hired and soft skills let folks keep their jobs…. But what if you’re really not good at a particular soft skill?
Teamwork is a great example of this. Few people actively dislike working with others – or at least few would admit it – but there are definitely a lot of negative examples of teamwork in action. Our mock interviews are full of stories of teams in which one person did all the work but had to share the credit, supervisors who played favorites, frantic last-minute scrambles to finish, non-existent training programs, and other factors that make job seekers inwardly flinch at the thought of answering the Dreaded Teamwork Question.
A Google search of teamwork defines the term as “the combined action of a group of people, especially when efficient and effective.” This definition makes it obvious why an employer would care about teamwork – who wouldn’t want efficient and effective workers? If you’re struggling to find good examples of a functioning team, expand your thinking a bit and consider the reasons why we work on teams in the first place:
- Most jobs or tasks are larger than one person could realistically complete on their own
- The skills of others compensate for areas where you lack knowledge, experience, skills or expertise
- You can better develop your own skills by teaching them to others
- Working with a team provides support when things are not going well
- A team can provide accountability and structure in your work
- People who work in environments in which they are supported and feel a sense of belonging are more likely to stay longer, be more satisfied with their jobs, and be more productive
- When have you worked with a larger group to complete a really big project? How did your work fit into the overall project?
- When have you learned from someone else? Are you comfortable asking for help when you need it, instead of trying to work it out on your own and possibly taking more time/making mistakes? Can you accept training from a co-worker on your level (or a subordinate), not just supervisor?
- Have you taught, mentored, trained, advised, or otherwise instructed a co-worker on an aspect of the job? How did this help the person do their job better or benefit the team overall?
- When has a project gone terribly wrong? What did you learn? What would you do differently?
- Are you comfortable being accountable to others, or do you get defensive if someone asks for a progress report? Does working with a team help you stay better organized? Are you the person who hands out assignments and keeps everyone on track?
- What are you looking for in the next team you work with? What elements have been lacking in the past? What skills or strategies have you developed to compensate for working with less-than-stellar teams?
- How do you resolve conflicts within a group? How do you take criticism from peers? How do you provide feedback to others?
- Have you gone above and beyond or done work that wasn’t your responsibility in order to benefit the group or company?
Be prepared to give examples that show how you work as part of a team, following the PAR (Problem, Action, Result) format. Showing teamwork skills can highlight other important soft skills, like communication skills, creativity, flexibility, a positive attitude, and the ability to accept feedback. Even if working with a team hasn’t been a great experience for you in the past, having a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses will help a potential employer understand how you’ll fit in and what talents you’ll contribute to your new team.