You want to advance your career, and that new job advertisement is peppered with terms like “self-starter,” and “ability to work independently.”
Your work experience includes anecdotal examples. Those episodes show how you were able to solve problems and where you leveraged your creativity and initiative.
So how do you highlight those skills on your résumé and get ready for that stressful interview?
First things first: The value of working independently
It’s all about initiative.
Employers value employees who show initiative. Duncan Muguku, writing for ThriveYard describes initiative simply as:
- seeing something that needs to be done,
- doing it, or
- figuring out ways to do it.
In other words, says Muguku, “Taking initiative shows the hallmarks of a leader in the making.”
Working independently requires a special skill set.
So, to work independently, you must demonstrate that you can work alone or with minimal assistance and generally with no supervision.
If you want to be an independent worker, your job search should focus on work responsibilities that rely on the following skill set:
- ability to manage your time under the pressure of tight deadlines—This demonstrates that you can complete tasks on time as well as juggle other projects.
- a recognition that quality control and problem solving cannot be sacrificed on the altar of deadlines. Independent workers rarely require assistance and correction to produce the best work. They overcome obstacles by setting achievable goals, adjusting deadlines when possible, or getting overtime approval if necessary.
- a sense of accountability with good communication skills—Independent workers stand out because they ask the right questions, know their limitations, and accept responsibility and accountability for their job performance.
- advanced research skills—Independent workers are constantly seeking answers on their own before asking for help. Rather than relying on guesswork and secondary sources, independent workers find the facts and can separate, curate, collate, and synthesize that information into useful data.
How to show on your résumé that you are a self-starter and independent worker
So, rather than simply relying on the stock statement, “I’m a self-starter and can work independently,” which could relegate your résumé to the bottom of the stack, you should instead specifically illustrate your ability to work independently skill.
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How to say you can work independently and in a team on a resume
Your statement about past work experience as well as illustrating your value as a team member, should show at least one anecdotal ability to work independently with minimal supervision sample.
A demonstrated ability to work independently example could include:
- the times you were required to work on a project on your own
- those projects you completed that required extra accountability
- times when you had to multi-task and juggle more than one project at a time
- examples of when you were ill-prepared and underqualified for jobs, but you managed to successfully complete through initiative, research, and good communication skills
Initiative plus independent work = accomplishments
In her guide book, Happy About My Resume: 50 Tips for Building a Better Document to Secure a Brighter Future, resume guru Barbara Safani notes that maximizing the use of accomplishments is the key to standing out from the herd. Safani notes that employers mainly focus on your accomplishments. Those accomplishments are better predictors of success than a discussion of job tasks.
So, when talking about how you contributed to a team project and then branched off to more independent work, your accomplishment statements, according to Safani, should “clearly indicate how you help the companies you support make money, save money, save time, grow the business, and maintain the business.”
How to respond to ability to work independently interview questions
While you may never have worked in a job without colleagues or a boss that you reported to, that’s not to say that you have never worked independently. There were often times when you have been on your own.
Depending on the job and your freedom of action, you may have had occasions to demonstrate the independent skills described above. You can expect a job interview to include a few questions designed to evaluate your initiative and ability to grow in the job.
Your job interview questions could be similar to the following:
1. Would you rather work independently or on a team?
Your answer to this question will depend on the job you’re competing for as well as your role in the company’s business model. Your response needs to match the realities of the job.
If the job requires both teamwork and independent action, tell the interviewer that you like both, and give your reasons.
2. What does “independence at work” really mean?
First, independence at work doesn’t mean you can do anything you want. This question is an opportunity to show that you have a sense of responsibility and accountability for your own time and accomplishments without direct supervision.
Refer to the skill set for independent workers and be ready to provide a perspective aligned with the job description.
If the job calls for mostly independent work, you can highlight the benefits of working on your own that include:
- more job satisfaction and fulfillment
- taking full responsibility for failure, or getting the credit for success
- ability and willingness to take risks
3. What is it that you like least about working on a team?
Beware of this question, because it can catch you off-guard. Again, depending on the job responsibilities, you could point out that what you like least about team work is that sometimes meetings, office politics, and other distractions can cut into your productivity.
You should stress that you recognize the value of teamwork, but you find that you are most often more productive on your own. You like other people and to belong to a group with common goals, but you prefer working on your own and to focus on your goals and core of your job.
4. Describe a time when you faced a problem and had to solve it on your own.
Be prepared with an anecdotal, scenario-based response. The interviewer wants to know how you approached the problem, and precisely what you did to attempt to solve it on your own.
The interviewer is more interested in your positive attitude, rather than the eventual outcome of your tale. You should avoid negativity, e.g., in describing a work conflict. You need to show that you did everything in your power to solve the problem at your level and only sought help when everything else failed.
5. Describe an instance when you reached a goal on your own.
Not every great result involves a group effort. For example, sales representatives have personal goals involving numbers and generating sales.
If you can’t come up with a workplace example, think about your personal life or your school work. Maybe your goal was to exercise more, or write a difficult research paper for your college business professor.
When talking about goal achievement, remember that you need to emphasize that when it comes to achieving goals you don’t have to depend on others.
6. How do you prefer to be supervised?
This question is a way to test your ability to work independently through asking about the opposite of independence. If the job involves independent action, your response should center on your preference for minimal supervision where you are free to be creative and reach job goals independently.
On the other hand, if the job involves less independence, say that you like a manager who helps with clear goals and guidance, and is approachable and helpful.
Again, your response should be nuanced to match the responsibilities of the job.
7. Tell us about your favorite sport.
This question might sound like an informal ice breaker. However, it provides insight on how independently minded you are.
People who like working on teams like team sports like football and basketball. Independent-minded people like individual activities prefer to work on their own in challenging sports like tennis, golf, or swimming.
So, this question, along with other personal questions about hobbies and what you like to do with your spare time, is designed to investigate how you look at personal responsibility for success or results.
Your resume is the key to getting the interview for the job that will advance your career. If the job requires independent work with minimal supervision, you’ll need to hone your skill set and write how your experience in those areas matches what the employer is looking for.
Remember that the ability to work independently skills aren’t skills per se. It is a combination of qualities and skills that are a product of experience where you showed initiative, and accepted accountability and responsibility without routine supervision.
Write about those examples on your resume and remember that what you write has to be centered around accomplishments, not job descriptions.
Finally, during the job interview, be prepared for questions that assess your ability to work independently. The questions can range from anecdotal to philosophical. Also, expect personal questions that measure your preference and proclivity to work independently.
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