How to answer “When have you worked well in a team?”

Many of you will now be settling down to fill in application forms for a range of graduate schemes. It’s a time consuming process and can be very depressing if you don’t find yourself progressing through the levels. There are resources on the blog with advice on how to answer a variety of questions, so how about this one?

Definition of the word Competency highlighted with green marker.

This is a competency based question and you’ll be looking to use the CAR or STAR model to answer this. Context (or Situation –Task) – Action – Result. You need to concentrate your answer on the action section. It’s easy to get caught out writing line after line about the context. Be really succinct. What was the team and what did you have to do? You don’t need to talk about the circumstances of the team being set up, the time of year or what the weather was like! You’re probably on a word count and you need to make sure that every word you write is relevant to the answer.

We or I?

This question catches lots of students out. You’re being asked to write about teamwork so it’s really easy to embark on an answer framed around “We”. “We had to do this”, so “We took this action”. This is not what the recruiter wants to see. You need to frame your answer around “I”. What did you personally do within the team? What action did you take to ensure that the team operated effectively? How were you proactive in identifying members of the team who needed some support and in providing that support? If you have thought of an example which involved you doing a set task efficiently and within the time available and nothing else, you probably haven’t identified the best answer to this question.

So, how are you going to choose a good example?

Success_teamwork_jottings250This might come back to how much you have engaged with university life and what jobs you have had. If you haven’t worked and have chosen to concentrate on your studies, rather than get involved with student life then you might find that you have to fall back on some group work you’ve done as part of your course. If you’ve taken part in a joint project then think about how tasks were allocated among the team. What did you personally contribute to the discussion on roles? Once you started work, how did you support other members of the team? Did someone struggle and did you step in to support? Were you the person who had taken on too much and did you find a way of asking other team members to help you? Keep writing about your own role. Remember that good team work can be accepting help, just as much as offering it!

Waiter passing coffee cup

If you’ve worked, or been an active committee member of societies responsible for their organization, then you’re going to have a wider choice of answers to this question. Think about the time when you had most personal impact on a team. This might be when you worked in a busy pub and had to serve drinks and food, chat to customers and deal with any complaints. Don’t feel that an employer would be more interested in hearing about your role in a negotiation exercise run by a graduate recruiter on campus. That wouldn’t be right! The times when you will have really demonstrated your team working skills are when you had to take personal responsibility for something. As a student that might well have been when you had a fairly menial paid role.

Think about the difference between:

“As one of the bar staff in a busy pub I had to be an active team player. I suggested that at the beginning of each shift we should agree areas of responsibility between us, so that we each understood where our primary responsibility lay. It is impossible to predict precise workflows from day to day and as each shift progressed, it would become evident that some colleagues were much busier than others and under more pressure. I was always aware that if there were lapses in service customer complaints were more likely. I made sure that I kept a watch on what was going on so that I could identify which areas were busiest. I fulfilled the tasks assigned to me, but wherever possible stepped in proactively to support colleagues who were falling behind with their work. Of course, there were times when I was the person under most pressure. Then I asked for support from the member of the team who appeared to have most time available.”


“I attended a negotiation competition on campus run by (big graduate recruiter) there were two teams with different briefs and we had to work together to try to persuade the opposing team to agree with the brief we had been given. We worked out our strategy and planned who was going to speak when and at the end the recruiter declared that my team were winners.”

The second example isn’t very good and when I check applications I see many answers like this. It doesn’t answer the question or identify a single step taken to work effectively in a team. The first answer talks about teamwork but sticks with “I” throughout. When you answer this question re-read what you have written. If the balance of your answer is “we”, it might be time to start the answer again!

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