10 Ways to Spot a True Team Player

Woman in job interview


AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger

Finding someone who is a real team player is key to any hire. You want to make sure that whoever you spend time and money bringing on board is going to be a collaborative member of the team and fit the company culture well. Otherwise, your efforts could end up being a waste of time.

Of course, finding a team player can be difficult because most people practice for interviews. In other words, a lot of what many people say is probably just what you want to hear — but it's not always genuine. 

There are some signs you should certainly look out for that signal a true team player. Here's how to know you might have found your person:

10 qualities that signal a strong team player

Keep an eye out for these 10 qualities that suggest the person you are interviewing does well in team settings. Just remember that these qualities won't necessarily mean that they're the right team player for your department or company, but they are good signs nonetheless. 

1. They're attentive.

One surefire sign of a solid team player is someone who is a good listener. You can tell by how attentive they are in your conversation. Notice their body language and how they respond to your questions. Try to tell if they're just listening to you (but not really hearing you) and are just reciting rehearsed answers — or if they're really absorbing your questions and taking the time to think before they speak.

2. They've done their research.

If they've done their homework and have studied up on the company and you, this could be a sign that they're a valuable team player. After all, someone who cares about the company and the people for whom and with which they'd be working cares because they know, if offered the job, they'd be part of the team. Doing their research shows that they want to know who the people are they'd be working with — and that interest alone is a good sign.

3. They ask you questions, too.

Interviews are two-way streets. They should be engaged conversations and not feel like you're just playing a round of 20 Questions with a stranger. If the interviewee asks questions, too, it's a good sign that they care about the environment, too. It shows that they're not just looking for any old job — they want to make sure that the company boasts a culture in which they can seem themselves. If they ask questions about you personally, it also shows that they care about they people for and with whom they'd work. That's a tell-tale sign of a team player.

4. They share examples of teamwork.

If you ask your interviewee to share an example of a time that they were a team player, and they have a perfect answer (or more than one example of a time from which to choose!), it's a positive sign. Just make sure that their story sounds genuine and dig a little deeper. Remember that most people will have rehearsed a great-sounding answer to a question like this (since it's a common interview question, after all). So try your best to weed out the fake answers from the authentic ones.

5. They hold themselves accountable.

Ask the person you are interviewing to talk about a time that something came up at work and they were confronted with a challenge. How did they handle it? How they answer this question can say a lot about them. For example, if they place the blame on others, this could be a red flag. But if they hold themselves accountable and talk about the ways in which they worked together with others on their team to navigate the challenge, it's a great sign.

6. They embrace diversity.

Embracing and advocating for diversity is so key in teams. After all, it's all of the different opinions and insights that are rooted in various backgrounds that bring goals to fruition. No team would get anywhere if they didn't challenge each other and bring fresh ideas to the table. So look out for keywords that show that this potential employee supports diversity. They may show this in examples of past work experiences that they talk about, for example.

7. They have a "we" mentality.

Being a team member often means being flexible. It means not always focusing on what's best for you personally but, rather, being willing to make compromises for the greater good of the team and, ultimately, the company. Look out for how this person talks about their experiences. While they should certainly take the time to boast about themselves and their skills, you'll also want to hear them talking about themselves in team settings. Listen to hear how much they say, "I, I, I," and how much they also say, "we." 

8. They can adapt well.

Being adaptive is important in team settings. You need to be able to work well with different types of people. If the person you are interviewing has held different types of positions or has worked with different types of professionals before, this can be a huge asset. It shows that they are flexible and can perform well under different circumstances. You may choose to ask them about a time when they had to be able to adapt — and how exactly they handled the situation. Did they handle it with grace? If so, you may want them on your team.

9. They can talk about their biggest weakness.

Being asked about their biggest weakness isn't easy. It's a tough question to answer in an interview, since no one wants to make themselves seem incapable. But if someone can talk about their weaknesses in a way that suggests they know when and how to lean on others and/or ask for help, it's a great sign. Part of being on a team means leveraging everyone's strengths. Knowing how best to delegate work and collaborate to work efficiently takes humility and the ability to admit when someone else can do a better job. This is important.

10. They understand their role.

Look for mirrored language. When an interviewee uses the same words that you used in your job advert, this is a good sign that they understand their role and what is expected of them.  And, when they do, it's a good sign that they're a great team player because they know where they fit. They already have a grasp on their piece of the puzzle before they've even met the rest of the team.

10 team player interview questions

Here are 10 questions to ask the person you are interviewing.

1. Do you work better individually or in group settings?

You will want to know that the person you are interviewing works well both individually and in group settings. After all, if they are supposed to be working on a team, you need to know that they've done it before and are willing and capable of doing it again.

2. Do you prefer to work alone or in a team?

Not only do you need to know if the person you are interviewing can work in a group setting, but you also need to know if they enjoy it. Employees who are satisfied and fulfilled tend to produce better work. So if they prefer working on teams, and the role is in a team setting, they will do well and produce great work.

3. Describe a team you disagreed with a teammate and how you resolved the conflict.

Conflicts happen and people disagree. It's the nature of life, and you need diversity on a team to make business go 'round. After all, if everyone always agreed, no one would ever challenge each other or push the boundaries. And teams need that. But you also want to know that the people on your team challenge each other and push each other with respect and open minds.

4. Talk about a time your teammate needed help and you were able to offer it.

You want to know that the person you are interviewing is able to step up and be there for others. Of course, one of the benefits of being on a team is getting the support you need. But, equally important is being able to offer others support.

5. How do you describe a successful team?

You want to make sure that the person you are interviewing for this team shares the same values and visions with the team. You want to know that their idea of success aligns with that of the team so that, together, they can achieve it.

6. What is the most important meaning of a team to you?

People place different meanings on things. Knowing that the person you are interviewing feels the same way about teamwork as you and the rest of the team is important. You should all share the same values so that the team respects each other and appreciates one another.

7. What are the most important qualities of a team?

Again, people appreciate some qualities in teams more than others. Knowing what your interviewee likes the most about teams can be very insightful. For example, if they think that mutual respect and support are important, it shows that they probably practice respect and support.

8. Talk about a time you and your team leveraged your various skills to achieve success.

People that make up teams have their own individual skills and strengths. Learning about a time your interviewee leveraged their team's strengths can be indicative of how they'd do the same on your team. They may also share their own skills and strengths that they'd bring to the team.

9. How would your past teammates describe you?

Knowing how other teammates in the past would describe the interviewee is important. You want to know what they think others think of them, because they probably take a lot of pride in their image and reputation.

10. How would your friends describe you?

Friends are like teams outside of the workplace! These people are just as important to hear from. While you can't go around asking an interviewee's friends about them (well, you could), you can find out what they think their friends would say about them. Usually, the person they describe is probably the person they at least strive to be.

How to be a better team player

If you're interviewing for a job yourself, here are some ways to prove that you're a coveted team player. Just remember that, most importantly, you should always be yourself! Every job interview is a two-way street, and you should go into it trying to determine whether this company is the right fit for you, just as much as the hiring manager is deciding on you. 

1. Be an active listener.

Communication is key. Make sure that you don't do all the talking. Instead, take the time to truly listen, too. Again, interviews should be more like conversations than questions and answers. So be sure to ask questions and truly listen to what the interviewer has to say back. In other words, don't just ask questions to fill awkward silence. Ask questions because you're genuinely interested in hearing the responses.

2. Be positive.

Nobody wants to work with a Negative Nancy or a Debby Downer. Be the person in the room who inspires others and who shares the company's vision.  You can show your optimism with stories of how you prevailed through challenges in the past. You can also talk about the vision you have for the company and your own future. Similarly, you should always speak positively, using confident language ("I can!" instead of "I cannot!"). Never doubt yourself, or the interviewer will doubt you, too. Carry yourself with conviction, as this alone can convince someone that you need to be on their team.

3. Share your strengths.

Don't be afraid to show off your strengths. These are your biggest assets, and they'll provide value to the team. But don't just talk about how wonderful you are. Talk about the ways in which your strengths will come in handy for specific challenges that the company for which you are interviewing is currently facing. This way, the interviewer can more clearly see how you'd fit into place. For example, you might share how your strengths can specifically help the company with hypothetical situations.

4. Show your problem-solving skills.

Talk about challenges you've faced in work experiences in the past, and precisely how you overcame them. Anyone interviewing you would want to know that you're an innovative thinker who can thrive when faces with a challenge. If you possess solid problem-solving skills, you'd be a huge asset to the team. You can talk about a time you solved a problem similar to one that the company for which you are interviewing is currently facing, for example. If you can't think of a specific example, you can also talk about how exactly you'd go about helping the company with a current challenge. Paint a picture that resonates — something that will leave the interviewer wanting to know and see more from you.

5. Be flexible.

Working with a team means making compromises. It means being willing to step up for someone else from time to time. It means lending a helping hand where you can. It means being flexible to take on tasks both independently and alongside others. And it means being able to work with different kinds of people who have different kinds of work styles. You can talk about examples of how you've been flexible in previous positions, and how you've worked well with diverse people to achieve shared goals.

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.