How to Interview: Recruiting Team Players

By: Dona Dezube

Do your organization’s HR goals include recruiting team players to accomplish strategic missions?

Knowing how to interview is the best way to assess a job candidate’s teamwork skills – which can be crucial to your hiring success.

You can enable your hiring managers to more effectively distinguish a genuine “team player” from the casual team player. The key is asking the right interview questions and listening for tell-tale indicators to determine if a candidate has the team player mindset.

A New Definition of Team Player
The old school definition of a team player — someone who goes along and always supports the company program — no longer works , says consultant Glenn Parker, Skillman, N.J., author of Team Players and Teamwork, Completely Updated and Revised: New Strategies for Developing Successful Collaboration. 

In today’s innovative, agile world, Parker adds that today’s savvy HR pros are recruiting team players who can:

  • Provide meaningful feedback to peers
  • Raise questions without raising hackles
  • Work well with both horizontal and vertical colleagues
  • Prioritize their team over their own success

Eight Team Player Interview Questions to Ask
Parker suggests that you show hiring managers how to interview potential candidates by incorporating these eight interview questions to ask that probe into the candidates’ mindset and their prior team experience:

  1. You are on your way to the first meeting of a new project team, what questions are on your mind? 
  2. What does it mean to be a good team player?
  3. Let’s say you’re on a virtual team (you’ve never met most of your teammates.) How can you develop trust with your teammates?
  4. Is it possible to be a good team player and yet disagree with your manager?
  5. Is it more important for a team player to have solid technical skills or effective interpersonal skills?
  6. In today’s fast-paced, global, technology world, what team attributes are going to be most valued?
  7. In this organization, you will most likely work with several teams, each with separate goals.  How will you adapt your style as you move from team to team?
  8. Imagine you are a member of a project team.  One of your teammates is pushing the team to come up with an overarching goal, specific objectives and a timeline.  You are frustrated by all this talk — you want to get to work on the tasks at hand, given the challenging deadline imposed by management.  How should you react?

As they listen to candidates’ answers, managers can consider how frequently the job candidate uses the words “we” or “us” versus “I,” says Andrew J. DuBrin, professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology and author of The Breakthrough Team Player: Becoming the M.V.P. on Your Workplace Team. True team players will tell you “we were able to cut costs” rather than using the first person, “I was able to cut costs.”

Questioning the Candidate's Job History
The job candidate’s history can also offer clues about his or ability to work in teams.

The key is to dig beneath the surface in your candidate interviews and delve into the teaming aspect of the job, says Eric Herrenkohl, author of How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even If You Don't Have a Recruiting Department.

Ask a behavioral interview question about the job history.

Follow up with a question that explores how much credit the job candidate gives himself or herself for past successes and how much credit is given to others, such as: “What was your role and what were your teammates’ roles?” he says. 

“That question really gets to the heart of teamwork — the ability to give credit to others while at the same time needing to be a talented individual contributor.”

DuBrin also recommends that you ask a “trick” question at some point during the interview: “How do you like working alone?” You never know when a supposed team player will answer: “I love it.”