Team and customer working
“The importance placed on team working is a reflection of what is happening in the workplace. More and more you are expected to work in teams: the ability to mould yourself to be part of the team when you join an organisation is considered to be a very important requirement.”
-Carl Gilleard, Former Chief Executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters
As it's very likely you will be working as part of a team in any job, it is vitally important from an employer's point of view that you have the skills to work with people effectively, forge good relationships and understand the dynamics of the group you are in.
Similarly, customer relationships are essential to a wide range of jobs and it's likely that you will deal with both internal and external customers on a daily basis, so a recruiter will want to know that you have the knowledge, skills and experience to be able to deliver excellent customer service (see more in the Customer Working section below).
What do recruiters want?
Team working skills can be asked for in a variety of ways. Many adverts will simply ask for “a good team-player” or “the ability to work well in a team”. Others, however, may not make it so obvious. Phrases such as the below also indicate that teamworking is a key requirement of the role:
- “Confidence, initiative and team spirit will help you get ahead...”
- “You must be open to working collaboratively with different cultures...”
- “You must have a desire to participate as an active listener, contributor, leader and motivator”
- “You must work well with others, understanding and appreciating individual differences”
- “Demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills which enables you to work harmoniously with others whilst evaluating and accepting responsibilities”
- “Good people skills...”
These quotes are all taken from adverts for graduate jobs. As you can see, they don’t use the word teamwork, but all these recruiters are looking for the same thing - the skills which enable candidates to work effectively in a team.
What skills do you need to be an effective team member?
There is a lot of academic research into what makes an effective team member, but generally, you need to be able to demonstrate that you can:
- Listen – you should demonstrate that you can listen to other people's ideas and points of view. By actively listening you will know what others in the group have to offer and you can often build on their ideas.
- Question - it is important to ask questions so you are sure of the objectives of the team. Don’t just ask questions to who you perceive as the leader, ask, interact and clarify issues with all members of the team.
- Persuade – you have to be prepared to come up with ideas and defend them, but ultimately agree to rethink them if appropriate. Be willing to change and appreciate other points of view.
- Respect - treat all other team-members with equal respect and build up trust. Effective teams are composed of committed individuals who trust and respect each other. Criticize ideas, not people, and only give feedback on the task, not on an individual’s performance.
- Help - it is crucial to help others in the team. Be aware of what others are doing and offer help and support if you can.
- Share – be willing to share your knowledge, experience, time and talents with others in the team.
- Participate – you must contribute enthusiastically to the team without dominating other members, but you must also be willing to lead and motivate when appropriate.
Gaining team working skills
Below are some examples of how you may already have gained team working skills at the University of Bradford. There may also be some useful suggestions here if you are looking to develop your skills further:
- group working on academic projects
- involvement in sports teams, societies and music groups
- part-time work as part of a team, especially where customer service is also involved
- volunteering in the community
- being a career ambassador or course rep
- running for student union / student society positions
How do you prove to a recruiter that you have these skills?
It is not good enough to simply say “I am an excellent team-player”, you have to prove that you are by giving examples of when you have worked in a team and what you did to make sure the team achieved what it set out to achieve.
Think of an example of when you have worked in a team and then use the STAR technique to describe it:
||Define the Situation
||Identify the Task
||Describe your Action
||Explain the Result
This technique is useful at all stages of the selection process so it is worthwhile getting to grips with it.
Here’s an example:
S – define the Situation: (where were you? what were you doing? who were you with?)
My voluntary work for BTCV involves working with groups of between 10 and 15 people on conservation projects, mainly on weekends. On one project in the Yorkshire Dales, I was the only experienced volunteer.
T – identify the Task (what was your aim? what had to be achieved?)
Our task was to cut back the vegetation and collect the litter on a section of the River Wharfe. The work was mainly unskilled but there were issues of health and safety and it was critical that a supportive atmosphere was created before the work could be started.
A – describe the Action you took (be clear about what you did, what part you played in the team)
I volunteered to be the leader and we started the day with a coffee-break when I asked each volunteer to introduce themselves. I then gave an interactive demonstration of the day’s tasks and the health and safety relating to working in and near water. As this involved my falling in the river everyone was soon laughing and joining in. I then asked the volunteers if they wanted to pick one particular task, or have a go at everything, and individual choices were taken into account when allocating work groups.
R – highlight the Result you achieved (what did you achieve, what did the team achieve, be clear about what was successful!)
The day was very successful with the work being completed in record time. The real success, though, was that the feedback showed that all the volunteers had felt able to contribute fully, they had all enjoyed themselves, and they all said they would volunteer again.
Write a detailed statement like this, based on your own experience. You can then use it for applications and interviews, and summarise it for use in your CV, such as:
- My voluntary work with BTCV has developed my ability to lead and motivate teams of people engaged on conservation work.
- Have worked with different teams of people on conservation projects as part of my volunteer work with BTCV, motivating and supporting others to achieve our target.
Adapting Your Examples
The example above, for instance, could easily be altered to prove leadership and communication skills.
Have a go at writing some statements like this which reflect your own experiences from your work, your study and your personal interests. These statements can then be used in completing competency-based application forms, a skills CV, or used during interviews, and you can adept them to match each recruiters’ specific requirements.
See also the related key words below to help you develop your statements.
Related key words / skills
Improving your skills
Unlike some of the other employability capabilities which can be improved with research (e.g. commercial awareness), you will need to take part in activities and gain practical experience to become confident working with others and be able to demonstrate good team working skills.
In the above section gaining team working skills, there are some suggestions of activities that can provide useful experience, and below are some further ways that you can improve your knowledge of your own employability capabilities:
- Book an appointment with one of our advisers to discuss how to improve your employability in relation to your career choices. Call us today on 01274 234991 or come in to Careers reception.
- Take part in our regular workshops on many aspects of employability and job seeking.
- Check out these other websites with information on employability skills:
Prospects – features articles on skills and how to evidence them.
TARGETjobs – has details on essential skills and competencies.
Inside Careers - has advice on skills related to specific graduate professions.
Working with customers is related to team working and forms an integral part of many roles, so it is likely to be one of the capabilities that employers will be looking for when recruiting.
However, it is important to understand that a customer is not just someone who comes into a shop or eats in a restaurant, potentially anyone you work with or have a professional relationship with could be a customer.
For example, if you were working in the Civil Service, your customers could be members of the public, other departments within the Civil Service, private companies, or even Members of Parliament and it would be essential that you understand the needs of each group and respond appropriately.
Likewise, as an engineer, you could be liaising with individual customers, local authorities, suppliers and other contractors alongside your colleagues, all who have specific demands and could be classed as customers (and reasonably you could be working on different projects each with a different set of customers!).
To demonstrate to an employer how you have effective customer working skills you should be able to show:
- An understanding the elements of customer service: see the more resources section below for further reading on good customer service, but you can also draw on your commercial awareness to show this.
- An ability to communicate effectively with customers: you should have lots of good examples of your communication skills.
- An ability to understand customer’s needs and expectations: you should use your research into the role and company for this, along with your commercial awareness and communication skills.
- An ability to listen and respond effectively to customer questions and/or demands: this draws on your communication skills again
- An ability to resolve customer problems to the customer’s satisfaction: which links with your problem solving and decision making capabilities.
So you can see how customer working is closely related to many of the other employability capabilities, and having good examples of each means that you can adapt and tailor your applications and interview answers to meet (and exceed) the employer's criteria.