Do you prefer working in a team or alone?
Even though asking if you prefer working independently or as part of a team is a standard job interview question, it’s also a bit of a tricky one. I can’t think of any job that doesn’t at some point require both work styles. So even though you probably do prefer working one way or the other, you will shoot yourself in the foot if you say so. It’s better if you are comfortable with both, and very important that you indicate that. But there are subtle distinctions in the wording you use that can make the difference between an adequate answer and a standout answer.
The standard answer that most people give: ‘I work well either way—I’m great as part of a team, and I’m comfortable working alone” is an OK answer, but you can do better. The way to be strategic about this question is to really know the typical working conditions of the job you’re going for and how much of your time will be spent on a team or by yourself. That requires some research on your part—but that kind of job interview prep is an essential part of creating your 30-60-90-day plan, which you should be doing anyway.
If the majority of the time you’ll be working alone, you can say, “I prefer to work alone, but I find that occasionally working with a team feels creative because we can bounce ideas off each other. I like to learn from other’s experiences.”
If the majority of the time you’ll be working on a team, you can say, “I like the dynamics of working in a group, but appreciate sometimes having a part of the project that’s my own personal responsibility.”
The general idea is to say what you prefer without being negative about the thing you don’t.
Maintaining a positive attitude is important, and it will make the hiring manager feel good about hiring you.
Everyone wants to work with people who are flexible rather than rigid.
But here’s one neat trick: Instead of just offering an answer, add a question to toss the conversational ball back to them. Say something like, “About how much time do you think will be spent working on my own vs. working with a team in this position?” Or, “Does the corporate culture encourage one style over another?”
Asking questions of your own like this during the course of the interview gains you more information while keeping the tone conversational and helpful.