In the tech industry, positions are rarely so siloed that they require no collaboration, whether within their team or another department. Therefore, finding candidates with effective collaboration abilities becomes paramount. Interviews are an ideal time for candidates to share more than simplistic information about how they work with others, given that they are asked the right questions, of course.

This is the third blog in our Tech Interview Guide series. A candidate might allude to projects they’ve supported on their resume, but interviewing is an ideal time to push beyond high-level answers to truly understand how this person can communicate, align, and deliver on a final goal. Let’s explore how to approach the conversation.

How to Formulate Soft Skill Questions

The sought-after soft skills needed for a role can vary depending on the values of the company and the nature of the position. This means an enterprise must constantly refine and adjust its priorities related to these characteristics. While this can be challenging, there’s a simple recipe for developing a compelling soft skill question: Envision a scenario where the skill in question would have a notable impact, whether beneficial or detrimental and frame the question accordingly.

Definition of Collaboration

Collaboration entails working with others in order to create or produce something.

If you are looking for collaboration as a key skill, you need to consider a situation where collaboration is critical and provide a challenge to stress test the candidate’s ability. Collaboration is always most accessible with like-minded people who share the same approaches. So, creating a question that focuses on collaborating with different people forces the candidate to speak to their ability to work effectively, even with people who do not share their point of view.

Job Role Examples

  • Software Developer: Developers often collaborate with other developers, designers, project managers, and stakeholders to create software applications.
  • Product Managers: Product managers collaborate with team members in marketing, engineering, executive leadership, customer support, and sales to develop and implement product roadmaps and effectively deliver products to market. 
  • Project Manager: Project managers collaborate with team members, clients, and stakeholders to plan, execute, and monitor projects from start to finish.

Potential Collaboration Questions and Responses

1. “Tell me about a time when it was critical for you to establish an effective working relationship with someone outside of your department to complete an important assignment or project.”

Keep an eye out for responses in which the candidate genuinely seems aware of the importance of working effectively with others and the power of a well-functioning collaborative team. On the other hand, listen for any answers that do not focus heavily on establishing a relationship but instead on maintaining an existing one. 

The focus of this question is really how well the candidate builds new relationships with new stakeholders.

Strong Responses 

  • Any responses that credibly detail the candidate’s ability to build durable working relationships with co-workers.
  • Any responses where the candidate can display an understanding of the importance of teamwork in terms of driving successful business results.

Poor Responses

  • Any answers where the candidate does not provide an example of where relational skills helped them achieve results. 
  • An answer that points to the candidate using unprofessional tactics such as harassment, flirting, or offering a transactional benefit to the stakeholder for engaging with them. 
  • Responses where the candidate heavily relied on collaboration tools or platforms rather than directly building functional relationships with co-workers. A solid foundation of human relationship building is crucial in collaborative efforts over digital processes.

2. “What is the toughest group you have had to collaborate with, and how did you handle it? What was the outcome?”

Not everyone will always get along, so candidates who can course-correct and resolve conflicts are ideal. 

Look for answers where the collaboration dynamics are complex, and candidates had to overcome multiple challenges to succeed. 

Strong Responses

  • Answers where the candidate is able to demonstrate that they can rehabilitate colleague relationships. 
  • Any responses in which the candidate was able to prioritize trade-offs effectively and compromise on less critical issues to keep the team dynamic healthy.

Poor Responses

  • Responses in which the candidate avoids giving a proper example of conflict or team dynamic issues.
  • Answers that demonstrate an evasive approach by providing an example of an objectively positive relationship dressed up as a conflict.
  • Any responses where the candidate chose to escalate as a first step to a manager or leader. While we want our employees to escalate serious issues, ultimately, we expect that employees can solve basic issues independently. 

3. “Describe a time when you set aside your own priorities to help a team member. What did you do, and what was the result?”

If the candidate is interviewing with a larger organization, it’s critical that they view their role holistically and that their focus is broader than their own perspective. 

Strong Responses

  • Answers were the candidate genuinely respected the importance of team success over independent success. 
  • Any responses where the candidate legitimately offered to help a teammate without perceived self-interest. Bonus points if the candidate offered help without any formal recognition. 
  • Answers where the candidate is able to articulate the positive results to both the colleague and the company as a whole.

Poor Responses

  • Disengenuine or vanity examples, where the candidate either did not provide meaningful assistance or where the assistance was done with an extreme self-interest.
  • Any responses that detail situations where the candidate is a ‘pushover’ or has over-rotated on the idea of collaboration and is being taken advantage of by colleagues.

4. “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a coworker on a project. How did you resolve the disagreement?”

Strong Responses

  • Any responses in which the candidate showcases their ability to handle conflicts constructively by initiating an open and respectful dialogue with their coworker.
  • Answers that highlight their skill in actively listening to their coworkers’ concerns and perspectives which is crucial for understanding the root of the disagreement.
  • Any responses in which the candidate emphasizes their willingness to collaborate with their coworker to find a solution that satisfies both parties rather than imposing their own viewpoint.
  • If the candidate concludes by highlighting that the disagreement was successfully resolved, this will underline the candidate’s effectiveness in managing conflicts to achieve positive results.

Poor Responses

  • Any responses where the candidate can’t remember a time they didn’t get along with everyone or where the response suggests the person is avoiding conflict too much.
  • Any responses where the candidate does not try to appropriately resolve the conflict on their own before escalating to a leader.
  • Any responses where it’s obvious the candidate caused the conflict unnecessarily or was the root cause of the conflict but does not take any accountability. 
  • Any responses where the candidate failed to recognize the validity of a competing point of view or where they failed to find a resolution that satisfies both parties. 

Follow-Up Questions To Consider

  • What habits and values promoted teamwork and collaboration in that role?
  • Looking back, what would you do differently in that situation if you could do it again? 
  • What lessons did you take away from that experience? 
  • Can you provide another example of your teamwork experience where the results weren’t as positive? 

Key Takeaways

It is important to note that candidates who demonstrate a preference for working independently are not incapable of collaboration. Rather, it can help you determine whether the position they are interviewing for suits their strengths. In addition, keep an eye out for candidates who also feign to have this ability by making their process for collaborating overly simple or heavily reliant on others.

Want to ensure a well-planned approach to finding your next hire? Leverage our expertise. Our team at Talentlab works with you to understand the key skills you require for the right fit. Connect with us today to learn more.

Sarah Doughty

Sarah is a seasoned recruitment advisor, with a background in hard-to-find technical talent searches. Over the course of her career she has worked with hundreds of clients building high-tech employment brands, leading recruitment teams, marketing candidates, executing passive search strategies, and developing expansive passive candidate pools in key markets across North America. Sarah excels in tough situations that require creativity and tenacity to overcome challenges.