Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Behavioral Interview Questions on Working with Teams

Although a subset of situational questions, group questions come up so often in behavioral interviews that they deserve special attention. Team questions probe your previous experiences working in groups. What the interviewer is specifically looking for varies from organization to organization. For example, they may be evaluating how you would fit in a “virtual team” environment or they be evaluating how you would fit in a team with older, more experienced, members.

A common mistake in answering team-related questions is only emphasizing leadership skills. Leading a team is not something many new hires do in entry-level positions. Emphasizing only leadership when a team question is asked may give the interviewer the impression that you are not very humble or are not willing to start at the bottom to learn.

Experiences that involve working with unskilled or unmotivated team members can often serve as the most impressive answers to team questions. Exceeding expectations while working individually is certainly respectable, but having the ability to influence others to drive results is far more valuable to an organization. Consider this example based on a true story:

Interviewer: Can you give me an example of previous work in a group?

Candidate: Yes. I was assigned to a group in a graduate database course. It was an interesting situation because the most senior member of our team seemed very unmotivated. It was clear from the start that he wanted to do the least amount of work possible.

Instead of assuming the rest of us would need to pick up the slack, I sat next to him during class and got to know him a little better. It soon became clear to me that the reason he wasn’t doing much work was a matter of pride. He was a Ph.D. student and didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know the first thing about the database system we were using.

After I realized this, I lent him one of my favorite books on the subject and highlighted the most important sections to get him up to speed. I also allowed him to make the ultimate decisions for his part of the project giving him ownership. I think this played well with his personality and allowed him to “save face.”

We were chosen to present our project in front of the class. Its success was far better than what would have resulted without his contributions. In fact, I don’t think anyone else in the group worked as hard as he did.


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