Teamwork vs Individual Work: Navigating Your Job Interview



Teamwork vs Individual Work

During a typical job interview, you’ll most likely be asked many different questions related to the job and your qualifications. Some are straightforward, such as: “Why do you want to work for this company?” And some are seemingly silly: “Do you believe in Bigfoot?”

But from the practical questions to the just plain oddball ones, there is one that can stump a potential candidate—the preference of teamwork vs individual work.

Now, the reason why this question is tricky is because there really isn’t one “right” answer to give. Does the employer want you to be a team player, and work with a group of employees, or do they prefer individuals who are more autonomous?

When it comes down to it, inquiring about a candidates preference in teamwork vs individual work seems to really be asking if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Chances are, you probably know which one you are. Extroverts enjoy working with others, are oftentimes outgoing, and are energized when they’re around others. Introverts, on the other hand, crave quiet time and solitude, and are at their best when they are alone.

While it may seem like there’s only one choice that would satisfy a potential boss, in reality, there really are positives and negatives to working on a team and individually. 

Successfully Answering “Would you rather work on a team or alone?”

If you answer: “Work on a team.”

The pros to working on a team:

This might seem like the obvious answer to give. After all, collaboration is a key part of a successful team, and you might assume that your boss wants a new hire who can work well with other coworkers. They don’t want someone who is going to be antisocial or sit silently during meetings, you reason. Extroverted people can be exciting to be around, and their outgoing nature can make them quite likeable and amenable in a group setting.

The cons of working on a team:

All that aside, stating that you prefer to work on a team could potentially be misconstrued by a hiring manager. They might think that you need other people’s input and advice in order to make decisions. They could think that being on a team is a way to help you to get your own work done. And if you’re applying for a remote job, it could be counted against you, since you’ll need to know how to work independently in order to be successful.

If you answer: “Work alone.”

The pros of working alone:

Being able to work independently is a soft skill that many employers look for in potential new hires. So whether you’re working in a regular office space or remotely, you’re going to have to be able to work on your own at various times. Stating that you prefer to work alone conveys to an employer that you don’t require much hand-holding to get the job done (which is a big bonus!). It shows that you’re a good self-manager and most likely able to meet your deadlines without the interference of other team players.

The cons of working alone:

Even if you prefer to work by yourself, you might be hesitant to admit it. By stating that you enjoy working solo, you might imagine that your boss-to-be is thinking that you’ll be holed up in your home office, unfriendly and unwilling to engage with your fellow colleagues. Plus, you may think that you are sending a message that you don’t like people and would prefer to work alone.

Teamwork vs Individual Work: Guiding The Conversation

Point out the positives of both individual work and teamwork

One good way to discuss this is to incorporate the positive aspects of both options. You can say something like, “I enjoy both. I can work both on a team, and work alone. Depending on the project that needs to be done, I can work independently to complete my tasks on time, but I also enjoy brainstorming and collaborating with my colleagues.” That way, your potential boss realizes that you like a team environment, but you can also work independently, as well.

Mention your preference but explain that you’re flexible (if that’s true).

As stated earlier, the question of whether you prefer teamwork vs independent work could be used to determine if you’re an extrovert or an introvert—and how that personality type might potentially affect your work performance. If you’re an introvert, you can say that you generally enjoy working alone, but explain that you can also work well with others, too. For example, “I really enjoy collaborating with a team and brainstorming ideas, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work independently to get things done. For the most part, I prefer working independently in order to meet my deadlines, but enjoy collaborating in a group to spark fresh new ideas.”

Cite the job description.

When asked about teamwork vs individual work, cite the job description as part of your answer. You can say, “In the job description, it read that the right job candidate would be able to work independently, and that very much fits with the way I do my best work, too.”

Let’s say that focusing more on either teamwork or individual work isn’t implicitly stated in the job description. In that case, you should try to decide ahead of time which of these ways of working is most needed for the job, based on what you presume to know about the position. Try to understand your strengths and how you actually do prefer to work, so you can answer honestly and tactfully.

If you come across this question during your job interview, keep in mind that you don’t have to choose working independently or as part of a team. If you illustrate the benefits of both working alone and on a team, your boss will see that you are a versatile job candidate who would be a great addition to their company.

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A version of this post was originally published on May 4, 2014.