What if you can't answer a question?


Hey, I’m just looking through the various application forms and typical interview questions and noticed a lot of questions coming up along the lines of “give an example of when you have led/motivated/worked in a team.”

Well…I haven’t. What exactly am I supposed to do?
It seems stupid to me that I could be rejected simply because I studied a subject at university that involved no group work and because I’ve never had a team-based job. I know that I’m perfectly capable of doing the job and working “in a team” but let’s face it, if I get asked the question in an interview I’m just going to look like a complete idiot when I go “er…” and can’t answer.


Do you think you could work well in a team? How have you determined this? Do you think it’s a weakness? What have you done about it?

If you can’t answer any of these questions satisfactorily, without coming across as a know-it-all graduate, then I suggest you might want to look into getting involved in some team activities. Maybe sport? Societies? Clubs?

There’s no magic answer. What’s more telling is the fact you’ve identified this as a problem area and not addressed it.


Well I do play in a few team sports and things like that, but a lot of the questions are phrased in such a way that sports teams didn’t really seem relevant as far as I could tell. A lot of them seem to be angling towards work experience in teams rather than just teamwork generally.

And yes, I do know it’s a problem area but I figure asking for some advice is my first step towards addressing it!
My problem is that I was never aware just how crucial ‘team experience’ was in graduate employment until about a week ago and since applications have already opened for a number of firms I don’t exactly have a lot of time to rectify the issue.

I was going to write about team sports but to me it seems like a fairly weak answer which is why I wanted some help. I’ve been looking into some work experience and stuff like that to get something else to talk about as well but it’s pretty difficult to arrange it at such short notice. Do you think it would be sufficient to be able to talk about team experience exclusively in sports?

Sorry if I came across as a bit know-it-all, I can be quite blunt when I’m feeling a bit stressed out


Not at all. I also approached difficult questions by challenging the basis of the question which just doesn’t help ingratiate yourself with the interviewer.

Acknowledge it is a weak area but I think sport is appropriate. I would concentrate on the way you describe it, what you learned from it, how you dealt with conflicts or tension.

Probably need at least 2 examples. There must be something you worked with someone else at during school or university? A project or maybe something informal? The key is recognizing, articulating and demonstrating your ability to deal and work with other people.


According to some websites that give interview advice, the teamwork example you give doesn’t have to be the typical answer we’d expect e.g. some sort of project at university or work. Instead it could be trivial things such as when you and your housemate cooked a meal for the rest of your housemates. As long as the example answers the question and is clearly explained then it should be okay.

I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t give an example when I was cooking in an interview and I had a similar problem in where I couldn’t think of any decent examples of working in a team. To remedy this I started signing up for voluntary work, participating in exercises that involved working with random people, and doing presentations etc so I could give more examples. I also found that after a while, a lot of my activities I could relate to a core competency so I made a note of it on my computer for future use.

Anyway I’m just saying I had the same problem and had no clear ideas, after a bit of practice, answers become more natural. I doubt many people would have never had to work with someone at one point in their time. Have you ever been on holiday with a friend? Organised a trip away? Participated in societies where you were given a task? Revised with a friend? Here’s some ideas but chances are you’ll have plenty of potential examples, you just need to remember them!

Oh and as another note; most answers like this should follow a guideline similar to STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result).
So explain the situation, explain the task that was faced, what action YOU did and the result.

Hope this helps


Have a look at these articles:

  • [[teamwork]]
  • [[competency based questions]]
  • [[competency based interview]]

…for questions relating to teamwork skills you can certainly use examples relating to sports/extra-curricular activites/music… even travel (did you organise a trip somewhere, for example). Even specific examples are ok, e.g. a time where you organised a team social visit to Alton Towers.

Examples from previous work or academic group work are good, but not essential. You are not the only graduate to have got to this application without employment teamwork experience!

Be careful to use a different example to answer each question. Just using an example of captaining a rugby team for 3 or 4 questions is no good.


Thanks for all the detailed responses guys, you’ve been really helpful and put my mind at ease a bit now that I know it’s okay to include some more informal stuff when dealing with the application questions.

I’d thought of things like revising together with a group of friends, preparing for seminars in groups and things like small group presentations in tutorials but my course never involved anything like the proper group project work my engineering friends did so I was a bit hesitant to use the examples I’d come up with assuming they were a bit too loose and informal.

cheers everyone


I would like to know if sports teams, (e.g. being in a football team) would be relevant for using as examples in competency questions…

what can you really say about them?


Apart from being great evidence for general competency skills such as [[Leadership]], [[teamwork]], [[communication]], they also show that you are dedicated to pursuing something other than work or education, that you have other interests, that you are social, that you are sporty, and if you can discuss a winning team or competition wins, then you can show evidence of being successful too.

Sports teams are GREAT competency examples!


hmm okay, it’s just that sports examples seem a bit erm shallow,

e.g for academic examples you can show if you have been flexible, dependable and learned from others…basically showing intelligence etc

but for sports examples does this really apply? I really can’t see it :s although I really need to use it as an example,

I think once used it when i was stuck and they asked me what else I brought to the team except for the physical/sporting side of it…i said i lead by example e.g. always put in 110% and motivate my team verbally but i knew when i was saying it that it wasn’t going to cut the mustard…and it didn’t lol

If you are in a football team, what is there to say?

Do any of you guys use sports examples?