The Best Interview Question To Test If Job Candidates Are Good At Teamwork
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Teamwork. It means something different in every organization, which means you need an interview question that effectively assesses whether or not a candidate is a fit for your unique definition of team.
Here are some examples of commonly asked interview questions that don’t work:
- How would you describe your ability to work as part of a productive team?
- Are you more energized by working alone or by collaborating with other individuals?
- Describe a disappointing team experience. What could you have done to prevent it?
These questions all provide a tip off to the ‘right’ answer. “Productive” “Energized” “Collaborating” and “What could you have done…” all feed the candidate just enough information to fake the right response.
Instead, I suggest the question: Could you tell me about a time you worked on a team?
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It’s not very sexy, and that’s by design. It’s architected to be very open-ended, with no giveaways about the right and wrong answer. And that’s why it’s so effective at differentiating high and low performers. You can see more questions designed like this, and how tough they are to answer correctly, with the free online test “Could You Pass This Job Interview?”
It’s a great question, but before you go into any interview, you need to know how your organization defines teamwork. To demonstrate how radically this can differ from organization to organization, here are two examples:
Company A: “We’re a team of individuals. Our friendly competition pushes folks to do things faster, better and smarter and we’re all for that. We work as a team towards a shared goal, but individual recognition is still a big part of what drives our people’s passion.”
Company B: ”We’re a tight group that always works together. A lot of hugging goes on in this office! Our ‘Give Back Program’ is a great example. Once a month we go out into the community as a group and do something significant like fundraising or surprising a local business with breakfast.”
What works as a team for one company could be a total disaster in another. So make sure you know how your organization defines teamwork (both good and bad) and share that definition with everyone who meets with your candidates.
So, what kinds of responses will you hear when you ask: Could you tell me about a time you worked on a team? Here are a few examples of actual candidate responses to this question:
“I can’t think of a particular experience, but almost all my work is done in a team environment.”
Sometimes low performers reveal themselves by having little to nothing to say. My response to this is, really? You tell me all your work is done in a team environment and yet you can’t come up with one example to share with me in an interview? I’m going to end this meeting fast.
Other times you’ll hear the candidate’s overall philosophy about teams, but get no evidence of real-life experience:
Mostly when I’ve worked in teams it’s been people talking past each other, not wanting to offend or challenge or question. In my mind, our world has changed so organizations have to change their products, messages and their media to be relevant. But no one is doing it, so it’s sort of pointless to even think about.”
A lot of hiring managers get sucked in by this kind of response, but the candidate told you absolutely nothing about a time they actually worked as part of a team. That’s probably because they have no real-world team experience so they try to fluff up the answer hoping that something sounds like what you want to hear.
You know you’ve struck gold when you hear a response that tells you how the candidate really performed in a team situation:
My most vivid team experience is one where the various department leaders were charged with creating a new product. I saw an opportunity to modify an existing product to suit the needs of a large client for a big sale. I recommended a way to make the necessary adjustments with minimal impact and got the appropriate stakeholders involved to see if they had any suggestions, concerns, or comments. Outside of these meetings, however, one of my peers had met individually with the stakeholders and basically threw my ideas under the bus. Well, I wasn’t going to be outdone by that. I got in there and fought and in the end my idea was selected as the best idea.”
It’s not an example of team that would fly in every organization, but if you’re Company A above, and your definition of team includes competition, individual recognition and a “what’s in it for me” attitude, then this may be a candidate you want to probe deeper. But, if you’re Company B and all about the warm and fuzzy team experience including frequent group hugs, this probably isn’t the right new hire for you. Instead, you’re looking for a response that sounds like this:
My strongest team experience was helping develop our Annual Conference. We were committed to making the experience for attendees successful and positive, including the vendors. We came together to work as one cohesive group, blended, like we were an orchestra, each with our own jobs, but creating this great whole. I’d love to work on a team like that again.”
Putting the right people on the team starts by knowing what teamwork in your organization looks like and then asking a question that lets the candidate reveal the truth about how they define teamwork. Start your next interview by asking the candidate “Could you tell me about a time you worked on a team?”