How to Actually Answer: “Do You Prefer to Work Independently or in a Team?”

How to Actually Answer: “Do You Prefer to Work Independently or in a Team?”

“Do you prefer to work independently or in a team?” is quite a challenging question really.

It’s all about establishing whether you’re a team player or a lone wolf.

On the one hand, you don’t want to sound like you can’t think for yourself, and on the other, you probably don’t want to come across like a miserable sod with no mates!

In fact, this is arguably one of the hardest questions you’ll have to answer if you’re applying for a remote role.

The reality is, there are positives and negatives no matter which way you choose to answer – but the key is to answer it in a way that makes the interviewer only see the plus side of things.

Why do interviewers ask this question?

Both hiring managers and interviewers want to see whether you’re naturally comfortable working with a team and on your own.

Although there is no right or wrong answer per se, certain ones may be more appropriate for the type of role that you’re looking to fill.

For example, if you are trying to land a role as a field sales executive which involves a lot of driving up and down the country, working independently is definitely the stronger answer.

In contrast, if you’re going for a marketing executive role in a fancy agency, you should probably lean towards ‘working in a team’, as this particular role involves a lot more communication between various professionals.

The key here is to find the right approach and strike the perfect balance between the two answers.

You should refrain from exaggerating your abilities to work independently or in a team, as this could backfire during the decision making process.

If you lean too heavily to one side it could give off the wrong impression.

Employers are testing you to see if you’re too reliant on others or you aren’t open-minded enough to collaborate on projects.

Get this wrong and they will get the wrong end of the stick, thinking that you’re not right for the job.

So, the question is: what is the right and wrong way of answering this tricky interview question?

Here are some top tips…

What shouldn’t you say?

One of the worst ways you can respond to this question is to simply highlight just one side.

The employer doesn’t want someone who is antisocial, as this could cause disruptions during meetings, impact morale or slow down projects.

Similarly, an employer may need you to work unsupervised at times and show some initiative to meet tight deadlines.

Try to avoid using expressions like “I prefer”, “I can’t” or any examples to explain why you don’t like working in a certain way.

All of these elements create a negative image.  

And yes, I know it can be particularly influential when someone asks you the question “do you prefer to work independently or in a team” to answer with a one-sided story.

Don’t.

It’s a leading question and you have to show that you can move away from that.

So, let’s move on to how you should answer this question.

How to answer “do you prefer to work independently or in a team?”

As I mentioned before, it’s about finding a balance between the two and addressing ways in which you are good at doing both.

Acknowledging working as a team and independently shows you are a well-rounded individual who likes all work environments.

However, employers won’t accept you directly answering “both”, so you need to pick one depending on the type of role you’re going for – but remember to address the other side too.

Let’s use the field sales executive role as an example again.

As I highlighted, this particular position would involve quite a lot of solo working and self-motivating.

Nonetheless, that isn’t to say that there won’t be any moments where teamwork is required. For instance, you may need to work with designers, fitters or any other applicable colleagues to ensure that the order is successfully completed in a certain style a customer wants.

An ideal answer would go something like this:

“As a self-motivated, driven individual, I’d say independently.

I have no issues working long hours on my own to ensure that I achieve more sales.

But when the opportunity arises, I’m also very accustomed to working as a team too.

My experience in [example] has taught me to communicate and work with others efficiently to make sure that the customer gets the very best service from start to finish.”

I answered the question using the job description, then turned the answer I didn’t pick into a positive. This particular example would make the candidate sound hard-working, passionate and more importantly, customer-focused.

Summary

So there you have it.

The key to success when answering whether you prefer to work independently or in a team is to always address the answer you don’t pick in a positive manner.

Think about the job description, target audience you’ll be working with and play on these elements.

It’s about using the facts of the job to make yourself look like a well-rounded individual and team player.

Want to learn more about how to answer some other commonly asked interview questions?

Then take a look at our previous posts, “How to actually answer…”:

Or, check out this video that our friends over at The Interview Academy put together called The 10 Most Common Job Interview Questions And How To Answer Them.

Good luck!

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