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It's not a sprint, it's a relay: team players wanted

It's not a sprint, it's a relay: team players wanted

By The Good Jobs Team, 18 May 2017

Interview tips Job seeking strategies

When you come to a job from school or university, you're coming from about 15 years of competitive examinations. For just about as long as you can remember you've been rated and ranked and scored. You've been able to measure yourself on an accepted scale against everyone else in the state. You carry your final scores into job interviews as your sales pitch.

People have different opinions on what assessment is good for. People who think our society is a meritocracy tend to think that exam results are important, and vice versa. People who don't do well at exams tend to think that exams miss as much as they catch, and vice versa.

In any case, though, that particular balloon is about to pop. If you get the job, nobody there will care what you scored. From now on, it's all about the job. And because it's all about the job, it's not just about you - it's about your team. Especially in the not-for-profit sector, which has a theoretical commitment to community over celebrity.

In the real world, unless you're Usain Bolt, it's very unlikely that you'll be working on your own. You'll be part of a team, and your success is going to depend in large part on how well the team works together. If you place your own interests above those of the team as a whole, that'll hold the team back and you won't do as well; and if you don't do as well, everybody loses.

This presents an obvious assessment problem. You work as a team, and succeed or fail as a team, but when you apply for a new job, you apply as an individual. If you're moving on, how much of the credit for the work of the team can you take with you? It's tempting to say "All of it!" and go into the interview boasting that you single-handedly wrote that report or introduced that policy or raised those funds. This approach does, however, have its drawbacks.

The first, obviously, is that you may not be believed. The interview panel is used to inflationary hypotheses, and will probably discount your claims on general principles. They may press you for details, which aren't that easy to improvise on the fly. They may ask you to be more specific about what you actually did.

A bigger problem, though, is that in claiming all the credit for the work, you've ruled out taking any credit for the teamwork, and teamwork is one of the things employers are looking for. If you pulled back a little and let other people in you'd be able to signal that you knew what teamwork was and knew it was important - something they really don't want to have to teach you. One of the criteria in any job, formally or informally, is "works well with others". You have to tick that box.

If you were leading the team that's especially valuable, and in that case you can afford to be modest and distribute credit widely. The better your co-workers are, the more you deserve praise for bringing out the best in them. The coach doesn't gain anything from bagging the players; if the team is falling short, it's generally not the players who get fired.

So talk the talk. You're a good team worker, you're a good team leader, or at least a good potential team leader. You've led teams, or sub-teams, or sub-themes within a team -whatever you think you can speak confidently about. But talk team. Show you know what the employer wants - a productive office that pulls together for a common goal. Make unselfishness work for you.