Let me tell you two stories, and you tell me which one sounds better.
1. During a team project for my statistics class in college, I worked on a team with three other people. I really wanted to do well on this project, so I arranged times for us to meet, came up with our idea, and then did the deep analysis. The other students did not care about the project as much, so I really carried the weight. It’s hard to work with people who are less motivated, but our group got an “A” in the end.
2. During a team project for my statistics class in college, I worked on a team with three other people. I really wanted to do well on this project, but knew that I was not as strong at the statistical program as my teammates who were majoring in math. So I played to my leadership strengths by scheduling regular times for us four to meet, taking diligent notes of our decisions, and communicating the division of work to my teammates. We met the deadline for our final project and received a good grade.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather work with the second person. Despite that, I can’t tell you how many times I hear people tell the first story when asked about a time they worked on a team.
No one is good at everything.
Let me underline that: No one is good at everything.
That’s the reason we need to work in teams. Employers don’t expect people, especially those young in their career, to be complete all-stars across the board. And if you argue that you’re the exception, you risk coming off as unaware.
Effective people know their weaknesses, are comfortable communicating them, and actively seek solutions to compensate for them. Why? Because you can’t be a good team member otherwise.
No matter what job you have, you will have to work in teams. Whether you go into research, teaching, or sales, you will be working with others. Your teammates will have different strengths and weaknesses to bring to the table, and the most effective teams will adjust their strategies accordingly.
So think back to those two stories. Today’s employers care deeply about teamwork, and they will definitely ask you about it in an interview. Showing that you are aware of your weaknesses will give your team — or interviewer — a sigh of relief. You know how to work with others. You’re not one of those people who thinks they can do it all.
Before your next interview, think about a story you could tell about a time you worked on a team. Think about how you played to your strengths and weaknesses. For people who haven’t had a ton of work experience or team experience, I find it helpful to think about strengths and weaknesses as opposites. For every weakness, you have an opposite strength. For example, I love to move quickly but tend to bulldoze the details in the process. I can still be rigorous when I need to be, but it’s important for my teammates to know that when things get stressful, I might need to be reminded to slow down.
What are you really good at? And then what does that mean you’re bad at?
Knowing this is the first step to being a great team member.
Malena Harrang is a Koru grad and the Program Coordinator in our Seattle office. She graduated from Vassar College, where she majored in International Studies.