Deciding you are someone an employer can work with is often what
distinguishes the winning candidate in the mind of the interviewer,
even though the interviewer may not consciously have asked
questions to elicit such information.
‘Are you the sort of person we can work with?’ questions are
designed to explore what you might be like to work with, including
your attitudes about work. These could include your values, likes
and dislikes, and general predispositions. One reason why these
issues are important is because organisations, over a period of time,
develop their own culture or way of interrelating and doing things.
Some organisational cultures, for example, are predominately
entrepreneurial—that is, dynamic, with one eye always on making
a sale—whereas others may emphasise order, attention to detail and
proper procedure. Cultures are largely determined by the nature of
the business, as well as the personality and beliefs of senior
management. Large organisations often have diverse subcultures
coexisting (or trying to coexist).
In many interviews, there is really very little separating the talents
of the job candidates. When employers are faced with equally good
skills and experience, they will look at other factors to reach a
decision. Arguably, the most important of these other factors is the
likeability of the candidate. In tight labour markets, employers are
usually inundated with candidates whose skills and experience exceed
their needs. With such an embarrassment of riches the ‘Are you the
sort of person we can work with?’ question assumes even greater
It would be misleading to think that ‘Are you the sort of person
we can work with?’ questions assume importance only when an
interviewee has responded satisfactorily to the ‘Can you do the job?’
questions. More and more companies are realising that hiring people
who have the technical know-how but cannot fit into the culture
of their organisation can actually be bad for business. In the final
analysis, a business consists of a group of people working together
to achieve certain goals. If these people cannot get on with each
other, or there are individuals who find it difficult to deal with the
prevailing group dynamics, then there’s a good chance the business
will suffer in some way. In fact, some companies actually give greater
weight to cultural fit issues than the skills and knowledge of the job
candidates. Typically, these companies are the ones whose procedures
and operating systems have been developed in-house and who
therefore need to train people from the beginning to get them up
to speed. For these sorts of companies, whether a candidate can
actually do the job may not even be on the agenda.
How do I recognise an ‘Are you the sort of person
we can work with?’ question?
Generally speaking, such questions are indirect in nature. Instead of
being asked ‘Are you the sort of person we can work with?’ you are
likely to be asked questions designed to understand how you work
with other people in a variety of contexts. Here are some examples:
• Do you prefer working in a team environment or solo? Why?
• What makes you an effective team player?
• Describe your favourite manager’s management style.
• Can you give us a specific example of working under pressure?
What was the situation and how did you handle it? If you could
do it again, how would you do it differently?
• What do you do when you’re not getting on with someone in
• What do you do when you cannot get a word in at your
• How do you handle someone who is demonstrating aggressive
behaviour and intimidating others at a meeting?
• Describe the last time you had a falling out with someone at
work. What did you do?
• What would you do if someone in your team was not pulling
• Imagine you are a team leader. One of your staff has just made
a significant error. What do you say to this person?
• Why do you want to work for us?
• An irate customer rings you and has a go at you for something
you’re not responsible for. How do you handle it?
• Describe yourself. What interests do you have?
What if the question isn’t asked?
Sometimes employers fail to ask ‘Are you the sort of person we can
work with?’ questions. Usually it’s not because they don’t want to
know; it’s simply that they lack experience in interviewing. This is
particularly the case with small to medium enterprises which lack
in-house recruitment experience.
But even if you’re not asked these sorts of questions, this remains
an important issue for the interviewer. You need to address these
issues by looking for opportunities during the interview to refer to
your suitability. If you find an opening, use it to your advantage.
Let’s look at an example of how we could do this.
The example in the list above which relates to dealing with an
irate customer may seem to be a customer service question. However,
it can also be seen as an ‘Are you the sort of person we can work
with?’ question! The most effective way to answer this question if
you feel the interviewer is not delving deeply enough is to tackle it
as both a ‘Can you do the job?’ and an ‘Are you the sort of person
we can work with?’ question. Don’t wait to be asked specific ‘Are
you the sort of person we can work with?’ questions. View almost
every question as an opportunity to plant seeds in the mind of the
Below you’ll find two brief answers to the question about the
irate customer referred to on page 58. The first one treats the question
as purely a ‘Can you do the job?’ one, whereas the second also
incorporates an ‘Are you the sort of person we can work with?’
answer (the difference is in the first paragraph of the second answer).
Question: An irate customer rings you and has a go at you for
something you’re not responsible for. How do you handle it?
Answer 1: addressing the question as purely a ‘Can you do
the job?’ question.
First, I wouldn’t take the aggression from the customer as a
personal attack on me, otherwise I might want to argue back—
which would be a mistake. I would listen carefully, without
interrupting, to find out the cause of the customer’s anger.
I might ask a few questions to clarify matters if I was still a
bit unclear at the end. Once I knew exactly what the causes
of the customer’s anger were, I’d look into coming up with
a realistic solution. I would then explain to the customer
what the solution would be, apologise for inconveniencing
them and ask them if I could help them with something else.
Answer 2: Addressing the question as both a ‘Can you do the
job?’ question and an ‘Are you the sort of person we can
Experience has taught me that when customers are angry,
there’s usually a good reason for it. In fact, every time I’m
dealing with a frustrated customer I see it as an opportunity
to improve our operations. I ask myself what I can do so this
doesn’t happen again. I’m highly motivated by turning around
So first, I wouldn’t take the aggression from the customer
as a personal attack on me, otherwise I might want to argue
back—which would be a mistake. I would listen carefully,
without interrupting, to find out the cause of the customer’s
anger. I might ask a few questions to clarify matters if I was
still a bit unclear at the end. Once I knew exactly what the
causes were, I’d look into coming up with a realistic solution.
I would then explain to the customer what the solution would
be, apologise for inconveniencing them and ask them if I
could help them with something else.
Whilst both answers address the question effectively, the second
answer contains an added dimension insofar as it provides a brief
but effective insight into the values/beliefs of the interviewee. By
doing this, it indirectly addresses the ‘Are you the sort of person we
can work with?’ question. Any employer would be keen to work
with someone who is highly motivated by turning around unhappy
There is no excuse not to address the ‘Are you the sort of person
we can work with?’ question if you follow the above example. The
reality is that most questions can be used as a vehicle to address
this fundamental question. It’s about being a pro-active interviewee
as opposed to a passive one. Look for opportunities to put yourself
in the best possible light rather than simply waiting for good
If you are asked
So far we’ve looked at how to address the ‘Are you the sort of person
we can work with?’ question when you’re not directly asked. However,
there will be plenty of times when you will have to address the
question directly—particularly if you’re sitting before an experienced
interviewer. The key to giving a good answer lies, as always, with
correct preparation. Here’s what to do.
Work out what the employer is looking for
There are at least eight qualities that all employers desire in their
employees. These are:
• a good work ethic;
• flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances;
• willingness to learn new things;
• cooperative behaviour (being a team player);
• ability to cope with pressure;
Whilst the above list is not exhaustive, there is a good chance that
one or more of these eight universal qualities (named because of
their widespread popularity amongst employers) will be the focus
of at least one interview question.
As well as preparing answers dealing with the eight universal
qualities, it is also a good idea to try to ascertain the dominant
culture or business values of your prospective workplace. Some
workplaces, for example, purposefully encourage a culture of ‘we’re
one big happy family’, whereas others might promote the values of
discipline and a strict adherence to rules. Your job is to try to correctly
ascertain what the dominant culture and values are, and prepare
accordingly. The safest way of doing this is by talking to the person
who is going to interview you. Here are some examples of approaches
you can make:
• I’ve heard on the grapevine that your company is keen on
promoting a culture of outstanding customer service.
• My research indicates that quality control is your number one
• I understand that your company highly values a team approach
to getting the job done.
Be careful here, however. Ascertaining organisational culture/values
can be difficult and dangerous. Suffice to say that organisations, in
particular the larger ones, have multiple subcultures coexisting and
competing against each other, and these subcultures are generally
in a state of flux. If the dominant culture/values are not glaringly
obvious, it is better to avoid speculating and perhaps getting it
wrong. The last thing you want to do is prepare the wrong answers.
If in doubt, stick to the eight universal qualities.
Putting an answer together
Once you’ve decided what the employer is looking for, your next
step is to put together a convincing answer. The good news is that
a number of the eight universal qualities will overlap with your ‘Can
you do the job?’ questions—for example, flexibility, cooperative
behaviour, coping with pressure and a good work ethic.
Once you’ve prepared your answers to the ‘Can you do the job?’
questions, look at the eight universal qualities and see which ones
you haven’t covered. The four steps to interview success are helpful
here. Let’s use them to address the work ethic question.
Here’s a standard work ethic question and a possible answer.
Question: In this company we do not stand for people who are
not committed to their work. We’d like to think that all of us give
our best. Can you give us an example of a time you had to go the
I believe that it is important for everyone in a team to try
their best. I’ve always given my best and I believe the high
quality of my work is testimony to that.
When I worked for Hannibal Enterprises, for example,
sales orders of elephants would not go through unless I
transferred the correct information to our suppliers. On two
occasions there was a mix up with the information which
threatened the sales. To remedy the situation, I stayed back
until midnight to ensure that the information was correct
and the sales went through. Even though I was not responsible
for the initial mistake and did not have to stay back, I did
so because I felt it was the right thing to do.
On another occasion we brought in a new software
system—The Carthaginian—which was quite complex and
full of set-up glitches. Because there was no time to learn all
of it on the job, I stayed back several nights after work, on
Table 6.1 Addressing the issue of a good work ethic using the four steps
A good work ethic
What I did to ensure
the duties listed under
step 1 were performed
When required, I always
stayed back to complete
the relevant tasks
• On occasions, I stayed
back for several hours;
otherwise the sales might
have fallen through
• The introduction of
new software required a
great deal of new
learning; because there
was no time to learn all
of it on the job, I stayed
back on several evenings
to ensure that I quickly
got on top of it
• I ensured that minor
problems were addressed
problems often become
Enterprises, I had
to meet important
relating to sales
orders. Failure to
the loss of sales.
• There were no sales
losses or dissatisfied
customers whilst I was at
• I trained others in the
use of the new software
my own initiative, to ensure that I got on top of it—which
I did. As a result of my efforts, I was able to train other people
in its use, which saved us considerable time and money.
Remember that characteristics such as loyalty and honesty are
not skills based, and do not readily lend themselves to step-by-step
procedures. In these instances, all you need do is think of specific
examples where you demonstrated loyalty and/or honesty. Try to
think of examples relating to work; however, if you are not able to
do this, non-work examples will suffice. Here are two such questions
and possible answers.
Loyalty question: We value employee loyalty highly. Do you
regard yourself as a loyal person?
I value loyalty a great deal. I’d like to think that I am a loyal
friend and employee, and that those who are close to me are
I’ve demonstrated loyalty on numerous occasions. In my
previous job, for example, I was approached many times by
employment consultants to see whether I was interested in
working for other companies. Furthermore, many of these
offers came with the promise of higher pay. On every occasion
I declined these approaches because I felt a strong sense of
loyalty to my employer, who had gone to considerable lengths
and expense to train me as well as make me feel a valued
member of the team. He placed a great deal of trust in me
and in turn I felt I could trust him completely. My values are
such that I would much prefer working in an environment
where loyalty is a given and is extended by both parties.
Honesty question: The work we do requires a great deal of
honesty and trust. We trust our people to do the right thing without
continually looking over their shoulders. Can you tell us about a
time you demonstrated honesty?
In all my jobs I’ve had to demonstrate honesty and I’ve never
given an employer the slightest reason to doubt my integrity.
In fact, I’ve always been trusted with handling large sums of
money and highly sensitive information. For example, when
I was working for the Wellington Project I was in charge of
storing and transferring highly sensitive data. In fact, I was
only one of three people who had access to the information
which was critical to the survival of the company. Had this
information been leaked there was a very real possibility that
our competitors, especially the French, would have captured
the segment of the market that we relied upon most heavily.
Both the above answers address the issues of loyalty and honesty
in a positive and persuasive manner. They do this by:
• starting off with a confident affirmation;
• going directly to the heart of the matter; then
• providing specific examples.
Suggested activity: The eight universal qualities
Try preparing your answers to each of the eight universal qualities
using the four steps.
If you’re about to attend an interview and you’re certain of the
culture of the workplace, you could prepare an answer addressing
the requirements of that culture.
Summary of key points
• ‘Are you the sort of person we can work with?’ questions, although
generally not as frequent as the ‘Can you do the job?’ questions, are
just as important and in some cases even more so.
• Even if you’re not asked ‘Are you the sort of person we can work
with?’ questions, you should attempt to address the issue by looking
for opportunities to talk about your relevant attributes.
• All employers are keen on hiring people who possess the following
eight universal qualities (so preparing responses to these qualities
makes a lot of sense):
– a good work ethic;
– flexibility and an ability to adapt to changing circumstances;
– willingness to learn new things;
– cooperative behaviour (being a team player);
– coping with pressure;
• Where possible, try to ascertain the dominant culture or work values
of the place you’re applying to work in and prepare your answers
accordingly. But make absolutely sure that a definite culture exists
and your information is correct. Otherwise, just stick to eight universal