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Some of us are social creatures by nature, we thrive in environments where we are able to interact with others and draw from each other’s ideas and experiences.  While, others of us prefer to work in solitude, poking our heads out as necessary.  Even more of us find ourselves somewhere in between depending on the particular project we’re working on or our mood that day.

And, often times in the interview, how we like to work is put into question with inquiries such as, “Do you consider yourself an individual contributor or do you work best in a team environment?”

Or similarly, we may be posed with questions, trying to uncover more about our personal character such as, “What sort of people do you not like to work with,” or, “Have you ever not gotten along with a colleague or manager?”

While the intent of such questions may be to see if we are suited for the type of work that position entails or if we can work with various personalities and get along with others, there is another motive behind the questions that even the interviewer is sometimes not aware of, but they will bias their opinion of you based on your response to these types of questions.

So be aware, when responding to many common interview questions, what every interviewer wants to know, but may never ask outright is: Are you a team player?

It’s a question that sits in the back of an interviewer’s mind when they’re trying to assess whether you are a fit for the organization, whether they’ve inquired about it or not.  And, many of your responses to other seemingly benign interview questions may lead them to build unjust conclusions, without you realizing it.

You see, every organization wants individuals who work for the company.  That sounds obvious right?  Let’s qualify that statement: every organization wants individuals who work for the company, not individuals who work for themselves.  Make more sense now?

When a company looks to bring on a new employee, they want a team member, someone who will put the goals of the organization and their peer groups in the forefront of their work.

They want people who see beyond just a paycheck and a job and relish the experience of being a part of something bigger and being able to affect change.  (Or at least, this is our hope of companies.  Those that seem to miss this or forget this are those companies that seem to falter or fail.)

If they wanted someone who worked completely independently and just focused project to project without aiming for the larger goals and without seeking to improve the status quo, they’d probably outsource most jobs to contractors. (No offense to any independent contractors out there, the best have a similar focus and mindset to the improvement of their work, similar to an employee.)

As Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

The next time you’re asked a question in the interview that tries to depict how you like to work, make sure that no matter how you answer the question: whether you identify as an individual contributor, a manager, a collaborator, a recluse who puts their nose to the grind stone to get things done, that you also reinforce your ability to see the larger scope of the business.

Saying you are a hard worker who avoids distractions and works best independently is okay.  But, when you qualify it by adding that you seek out input from others to improve on your work and value collaboration or go out of your way to help those around you to achieve the same success, it raises your desirability as a potential hire.  (Of course, you need to put it into practice.)

Never let your answer to one simple question give the interviewer reason to place any pre-conceived notions that you may not be a team player.

But make sure too, when you’re evaluating job opportunities that you see the potential of being a team player within each organization you consider working for.  Because if you don’t see that potential, odds are, you won’t be happy for very long, or vice versa, the company may not be happy with you for very long.

Ask yourself if you are really a team player and how you exhibit that during the interview process?  And, if you haven’t been a team player in the past, start seeing what changes you can make to be one so that you can give an honest response in the interview and put your words into action when you’re hired.

Over time, you might just find your work ethic and quality of work improving without realizing it.  Often it is through helping others that we find solutions and uncover new ways of looking at things.  So being a team player isn’t just a benefit to the company, it is a benefit to yourself.

Understand how you embody being a team player, and make sure you can convey it confidently in the interview.

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