Tag Archives: teamwork

Who’s on your team during the job search?

Recently in a Résumé Writing workshop, I asked an attendee to tell the story behind a verbose accomplishment statement she had on her résumé. (Yes, I ask interview questions in Résumé Writing.) Immediately she used the personal pronoun “we.” I called her on this, and she said she’s still in the mindset of team. I get that.


But in the job search, who’s on your team? You could say your buddy group, career advisors, friends, spouse, etc. But when it really comes down to it, you’re the one who is dealing with the ups and downs of the job search; submitting your résumé; engaging on LinkedIn; going to networking events; sitting in the hot seat; and following up.

How to answer a question the incorrect way

I ask a workshop attendee, “Tell me about a time when your diligence paid off in completing a project on time.” An incorrect answer goes like this:

We were responsible for putting out the quarterly report that described the success of our training program. We worked diligently gathering the information, writing the report, and sending it to the Department of Labor. We met our deadline and were commended for our efforts.”

Here’s the problem: there’s nothing about the job seeker’s role in the situation. As the interviewer, I don’t want to hear about what the team accomplished, nor will employers. I want to hear about a candidate’s contribution to the overall effort.

How to answer a question the correct way

Here’s the question again:  “Tell me about a time when your diligence paid off in completing a project on time.”

This answer, using the STAR formula, is more satisfying, as it describes the candidate’s specific contribution.

Read this article, Use 6 important components when telling your interview stories.


As part of a five-member team, we were charged with writing a report necessary to continue funding for an outside program.


I was given the task of gathering information pertaining to participant placement in jobs and then writing a synopsis of their training and jobs they secured.


I started with noting how I recruited 20 participants for the training program, a number I’m happy to say exceeded previous expectations of 10 participants. This required outreach to junior colleges, vocational schools, and career centers, where people desiring training were engaged.

Step two involved writing detailed descriptions of their computer training, which included Lean Six Sigma and Project Management. Then explaining how this training would help them secure employment in their targeted careers. I collaborated with the trainers to get accurate descriptions of the two training programs.

Next, I interviewed each participant to determine their learning level and satisfaction with the program. All but one was extremely satisfied. The person who was not satisfied felt the training was too difficult but wanted to repeat the training. She noted she was very happy with the expertise of our trainer.

As well, I tracked each participant over a period of four months to determine their job placement. Jobs were hard to come by, so at times I approached hiring managers at various manufacturing companies in the area in order to speed up the process. I engaged in finding jobs for four of the twelve people, even though it wasn’t my responsibility.

Finally I took the lead on writing a five-page report on what the members of the team and I had accomplished in the course of  three months. Other members of the team were of great help in making sure all the “is” were dotted and “ts” were crossed and that the report was delivered on time to Boston.


The result was that we delivered the report with time to spare and were able to keep funding for the project for another year. I worked hard and was integral to proving to the DOL that the project was successful, but it took a lot of collaboration to bring project all together.

Note: when appropriate, job candidates need to mention the contributions of those who helped in the process. It is not only about the candidate.

Certainly there are times when employees require the assistance of others, but they always have a specific role in the situation.  Prospective employers want to hear about the candidates’ role in the situation, not the teams’ overall role. It is best to answer the question using the STAR formula, which demonstrates the situation, task (your), action, and result.

Photo: Flickr, Mehul Pithadiya


Do you play well with others? 5 approaches to take


You may remember your impressionable years when you played in a sandbox in the park with other children. Think about whether you joined the other kids who were playing together, or if you sat alone with your new, shiny shovel and bucket. If it was the latter, your parents probably worried if you would be aloof and have a hard time making friends.

How about at work? Do you join your colleagues or stay to yourself? While staying to yourself and burying your head in the work that needs to be done may seem like the correct way to work, you may be labeled by your coworkers as a loner, antisocial, or even a snob. This is not how you want to be seen.

Be social, join your colleagues for lunch

Where I work we have a staff room where most of the employees gather to eat together. There we talk about current events. Anything from sports; local or worldwide news; family; and, yes, politics. We touch base. Laugh. We try not to talk about work, but that is sometimes unavoidable.

Sometimes I would prefer to eat lunch at my desk, rather than trudge to the staff room, but I know it’s important to interact with my colleagues. I don’t need to stay the whole hour we’re allotted for lunch, so I may eat and leave in half an hour. In this way, I get in a few laughs and engage in enough banter to remind my colleagues that I’m part of the team.

Be willing to help others

You’re buried with an assignment or two. You’d like to close your office door, if you have one, or retreat to another part of the building. How am I going to get all this work done, you wonder? One of your colleagues needs you to help her with a customer. You, after all, are the only expert in this area.

You have the option to tell your colleague that “there’s no way I can help you. I’ve got my own work to do.” But here’s the thing: when you’re working as a team, you don’t only have your own work. You are contributing to the overall goal of the company, and your work is merely a piece.

Am I suggesting you drop what you’re doing immediately all the time? No. There will be times when helping others can wait an hour, day, or even a week. This is when your ability to prioritize is important. One of my colleagues asked me if I could help his customer with a résumé. I told him I could in a few days. He and his customer were very grateful.

Deal effectively with conflict

For some reason a colleague has it in for you. You’re not sure why, but it’s obvious that there’s a conflict. You can ignore your colleague, react with anger, or take the high road and make an attempt to resolve it.

I recall a time when I didn’t make an effort to resolve a conflict between a colleague and myself. At first I was angry and willing to ignore her. Then I had a sense of uneasiness. Finally I was resigned to not speak with her at all. This went on for close to six months. To say I didn’t handle this well is untrue.

Another time I had a dispute with a colleague, but instead of letting it fester, I addressed it that day. “We should talk,” I told him. “I’d like that,” he said. I told him why I reacted with anger for what he had done. He explained how he misunderstood a procedure set in place. Wanting to be the bigger person, I apologized for my actions. Was I right or wrong? It didn’t matter. The very next day we were talking as if the incident never occurred.

I call one of my colleagues the peacekeeper, because when I tell him I’m disappointed with the behavior of another colleague, he’ll remind me that I need to let some things go. And  he’s right; there are some issues that aren’t worth addressing. Some battles not worth fighting.

Accept others’ failures

Are you always right? Do you perform your duties without failure? Are you perfect? The answer to these questions is probably, “NO.” And if this is true, you’re not alone; no one is flawless. So why should you expect those you work with to be without flaws?

You will come across a boss who expects you to hand in perfect work. He may demand that you take on more work than humanly possible. In other words, he may be unrealistic in his expectations. Good bosses understand that their charges will commit errors, and occasionally will let them pass.

Don’t be too proud

There’s a reason why Pride is considered one of the most severe of the seven deadly sins. Of course a little pride is important, but when you feel you own every project or assignment and won’t let others contribute, you jeopardize the success of the team.

Have you ever felt that you were the only person who should be the leader of a project? I know the feeling. There was a project that I fought my boss to control to no avail. I realized I had to give up the project and let others contribute. I was proud and wanted the project for myself. I was that kid in the sandbox who wouldn’t share my shinny bucket and shovel.

Letting go of your pride may be difficult at first, but when you understand how important it is to let others contribute, so they can gain experience; you’ll see the bigger picture. This truly shows emotional intelligence (EQ). In addition, ask yourself if what you’re doing is necessarily right or the only way to do it.

What I’ve talked about in this post is the ability to get along with your colleagues and boss. Over and over I’ve spoken with job seekers who have lost their job due to personal conflict with the people with whom they work. Employers value more than ever the “soft” skill referred to interpersonal. Your ability to interact with your colleagues will take you places. Unable to work with others may lead you to talking with me…and I don’t want that.

Photo: Flickr, Maggie

A rejection letter to a college grad

The story of a college grad who was rejected for a position because he didn’t do what college students should do. 


Hello John.

Regretfully I have to inform you that the hiring committee went with another candidate for the accounting position. Although we felt you were strong in many areas, it was your lack of job-related experience that prevented us from hiring you.

A number of attributes, which I’ll describe in detail, made you a strong candidate. I’m not in the habit of doing this for job candidates, but I want to give you some feedback from the search committee. I feel that you have a great deal of promise and hope to see your job search come to fruition.

To begin with, we were particularly impressed with your leadership skills. You were a lifeguard supervisor for two summers. During this time you were responsible for six staff members. The recommendation from your manager described you as a “natural leader.”

Another attribute you possess is strong communication skills. You demonstrated this as president of your class at the State University of New York. There you proved your verbal communication skills as a member of the debate team. As well, you wrote weekly articles for the university newspaper.

Your grade point average of 3.9/4.0 is remarkable by any standards, especially because you majored in Business Administration and minored in International  Studies. You should be extremely proud of yourself. This fact did not go unnoticed by the hiring committee; let me assure you of this.

You also came across as someone who would work well in a team environment, which is essential in our organization. By leading organizations on campus, most notably the Self-Awareness committee, you proved that you can work well with a diverse group of individuals. I was impressed when you told us that you empowered your teammates by delegating responsibilities you knew you could handle on your own.

Having played lacrosse for my college, I was impressed with the fact that you were the captain of the team your junior and senior year. I know how difficult it is to be the goalie in a game like lacrosse. You have be a quarterback and be able to bounce back from injuries due to blistering shots from the opposition. This experience shows that you have leadership skills.

Lastly I want to applaud you for taking control of the problem that aroused from your dormitory. You realized a problem existed with certain factions in the dormitory, so you organized a forum where people could discuss their complaints. You moderated these weekly meetings and eventually came to a resolution. This showed your problem-solving skills, which is important in any job.

Despite all this, John, we couldn’t ignore the fact that you don’t have the job-related experience required to hit the ground running. As you know, we need someone who can: prepare, examine, or analyze accounting records, financial statements, or other financial reports to assess accuracy, completeness, and conformance to reporting and procedural standards.

The hiring committee didn’t get the sense you were strong in all these areas. They also wondered if you could adapt to a very fast-paced environment with very strict deadlines. I admire your experience of supervising the lifeguards, but the responsibilities you would have assumed here are dissimilar.

I want to end with a little bit of advice, John. You don’t have any internship experience throughout your university years, and this hurt you. However, it’s not too late. You can seek out internships, or volunteer experience, near your home town. If you’re fortunate, you may secure a paid internship.

I wish we had a spot for you on our team, but we need someone who—as I’ve stressed—has the job-related experience.



Susan Jackson, Hiring Committee

This post originally appeared on http://www.youtern.com.

4 skills college students must learn in college

Is it a lack of technical skills employers are most concerned about when they consider hiring college graduates? Nah, those can be learned.  It’s the lack of soft skills employers are concerned about. 

What do the following skills have in common: writing, presentation, teamwork, and critical thinking?

According to an article on Glassdoor.com, What Employers Wish You’d Learned in College, these are valuable skills lacking in most college grads with technical degrees.

True, they have the technical know-how but, “When soft skills are lacking, there’s a direct effect on the bottom line,” the article asserts.

College StudentWritten communications: We all realize that writing is an important skill, but what does it have to do with being an engineer?

A lot, according to HR director Amanda Pollack who is quoted in the article: “A big part of what we do as engineers is write reports and specifications for our plans, and we find that writing isn’t something that is really taught to engineers.”

Verbal communications: In addition to written communications, we can’t neglect to mention the importance of verbal communications, listening skills, and body language. These all contribute to effective communications. College students should be taught proper communications and have to practice it in real-life situations.

Would it be too far-fetched to require college students to attend Toastmasters or an organization similar to it?

Little emphasis was placed on presentation skills when I attended college, yet delivering workshops is my job. Somewhere along the way I learned the art of public speaking, but it was a long journey.

Similarly, project managers are expected to present to upper management the progress of the projects they oversee. Sales people rely a great deal on their ability to speak persuasively to their potential customers.

Some employers claim that communication skills, verbal and written, are the most important transferable skills an employee can possess.

Collaboration: Another skill held in high regard by employers is being able to function as a team. “Most importantly, employers are looking for teamwork,” said Brian Tabinga, a program manager who is quoted in the Glassdoor.com article.

No surprise here. Companies are working with less, while trying to produce more. Tabinga, who works with military members, says there’s no difference between the military and private sector in terms of trying to meet their collective needs.

How can colleges teach teamwork? Some elementary and middle schools are attempting to teach teamwork through collaborative projects—I’m surprised yet delighted with the number of group projects my kids work on.

More projects that are graded based on participation within a team is one way to ensure that students learn teamwork in college. Should there be courses offered on teamwork or, perhaps, minor degrees in “Collaboration?”

Critical thinking/Problem solving: The last skill the article mentions is critical thinking. Tabinga states, “Critical thinking means being able to look at a problem from multiple angles.

A lot of times you are trained to go from A to B in a straight line, and that’s not always what’s needed. Critical thinking means taking a step back to look at multiple solutions,” The article says.

All is not lost. The article gives four suggestions to help graduates develop these skills once in the workforce:

  • Get a mentor, someone in the office or outside work who can spot your shortfalls and coach you to improve them.
  • Listen openly to feedback from your supervisor.
  • Join young professional groups like The United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees), where peers get together to improve their career skills

To me, this seems a bit late. If colleges are interested in preparing students for the competitive labor market, they should do something about it before they release young students, strong on theory but needing improvement on their soft skills, into a world that requires employees to hit the ground running.

Photo: Flickr, Mikey Smith