How Do You Answer the Interview Question: "How Do You Work as a Member of a Team?"

How Do You Work as a Member of a Team?

There are a wide range of interview questions that you might be faced with when applying for a job and going through the interview process, but as we’ve discussed in previous posts there are some commonly asked questions that you can be prepared for.

One of these is: “How do you work as a member of a team?”

Veterans have a big edge here so make sure you take advantage of your opportunity to shine.

Emphasize the Skills You Learned in the Military

A Harvard Business Review article, What Companies Can Learn From Military Teams, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal answered some questions about what companies could learn from the military. One of them related to teamwork: “Are the lessons of military team-building really transferrable to the private sector?” He responded: “The lessons are hugely transferrable. I’ve spent the last five years on the commercial side, and it’s much less different from the military than I’d expected. The perception of the military is that we’re always on a razor’s edge, operating in dramatic environments, and making extraordinary decisions. Yes, there is a fair amount of that, but that’s more TV and movies than day-to-day. The things that make the military so good and able are very basic things, such as building levels of relationships and understanding capabilities.” 

Teamwork is clearly essential regardless of which branch of service veterans have been involved with. The ability to work well with team members has a direct impact on military safety. Veterans have received training, and have had experiences, that make them adept at contingency planning and skilled in reading others’ non-verbal cues—both essential elements of working well in a team environment.

Related Article: How To Prepare for Job Interviews

When faced with a question regarding your ability, and comfort level, with working on a team, take advantage of the opportunity to reinforce how your military career has provided you with specific team-building skills above and beyond what other applicants may have experienced. But don’t focus too heavily on just your military background and experiences—or use too much jargon that the interviewer may not be familiar with. You need to ensure that you’re focused on the needs and requirements of this job and how your skills and experiences will be a great fit.

Anticipating the Teamwork Question

Prior to your interview you should have familiarized yourself with the company as well as the position you are applying for. In anticipation of questions related to your ability to work effectively as a member of a team, consider the ways in which you would work with teams in the job you’re applying for:

  • If you’re applying for a sales job you will need to work with members of marketing to learn about your organization’s products and services and, possibly, to request collateral and communication materials to help you do your job. You’ll likely work with members of the customer service and accounting or finance departments as questions crop up about service, billing, accounts, etc.

  • If you’re applying for a job where you will be in some type of tradesperson role, consider the other tradespeople you will need to either take over a project from or pass one along to. How will your existing teamwork skills aid you in those situations.

  • If you’re applying for a supervisory or management job, teamwork with both staff members and colleagues will be a critical part of your job. Be prepared to explain you’re your experiences will help you here.

  • And, of course, regardless of the type of job you’re applying for, or the industry you’ll work in, you will be working with others as part of one, or more, teams.

The important thing is to give some consideration to how you might apply this type of question to specific elements of the job that you’re seeking. You should also, though, be prepared for the interviewer to drill deeper, perhaps into potentially negative or sensitive types of interactions.

Teamwork and the Behavioral Interview

Many of today’s HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers have been trained to ask what are called “behavioral” questions to get a better sense of a candidate’s competencies than more direct questions that ask them to speculate. Here’s a look at the difference:

  • What steps will you take to work effectively with your team members? (standard question)

  • Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team. What was your role and what specific things did you do to ensure that the team worked well together?

You should also be prepared to answer questions related to not-so-good team experiences and we have all had them!

  • Tell me about a time when you were part of a team that failed.

  • Tell me about a time when you were a member of a team where you had to work with someone difficult.

  • Tell me about a time when your performance on a team was criticized.

In each of these cases, you could call both upon your military experience or experiences you have had in other types of jobs. What the interviewer is looking for here is an indication that you have learned something from any of these types of experiences you have been involved with that you will be able to apply in new settings.

So, your response might sound something like this: “Yes, one time (share example and your role). What I learned from that situation is…In the future, when if I were to face similar situations, I would…”

Also, when faced with behavioral interview questions, don’t be uncomfortable taking a little time to think about some good examples (and, hopefully, you will have done some consideration of the types of questions you will be asked prior to the interview so you may have some ideas already in mind).

Your ability to emphasize your teamwork experiences and to reflect on past situations and ways you would improve in the future will go a long way toward positioning yourself as a potential member of the new team you’d like to join.

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