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NIH Office of Ombudsman National Institutes of Health
Collaboration and Team Science

Interviewing New Team Members

For team leaders, interviewing is a key part of bringing new talent into an existing team or building a team from scratch. In addition to reviewing a candidate’s CV, letters of reference and research statement, those conducting interviews may find it extremely informative to utilize different types of questions to be sure to gain insight into a the individual’s values and past performance, as well as how he or she is likely to deal with everyday challenges that may arise.

When conducting interviews, be sure to ask the potential team member to expand on his or her answers and give specific examples. In addition to listening attentively, watch for body language and visual cues that may provide more important insight.

Values-Based Interview Questions

Values-based interview questions can help you learn more about whether a potential team member’s values are consistent with the principles that guide your team. The first step is for the supervisor and work group to identify the characteristics of an ideal candidate. Next, they should develop interview questions that will help them determine if the candidate has those values or characteristics. Sample values-based interview questions include:

  • Describe three things you particularly liked about your past job(s)? What were the key ingredients that made those situations so agreable ?
  • What would you do if you realized you had made a mistake in your work?
  • In working on a research team, you may encounter some people who are more challenging to work with than others. Describe your approach to working collaboratively.

Performance-Based Interview Questions

Performance-based interview questions can help you determine whether the candidate is capable of performing the job at stake. While a person’s resume says that he or she “led a team that successfully identified a gene that modifies disease susceptibility,” performance-based questions encourage the candidate to describe how this achievement was accomplished. In addition, ask the candidate to speculate on how he or she would approach a particular situation. For example, you might say: “The successful candidate in this position will be responsible for developing a policy for data sharing and communicating research results for our laboratory. How might you approach such a task?” Deeper questions such as these can help you determine how an individual may actually perform in the position and provide insights as to the candidate’s potential for success on the team. Sample performance-based interview questions include:

  • Describe a project that you led that had a tight deadline and its outcome.
  • One project of great importance to the team is[explain project]. How would you approach it?
  • Tell me about a time when you have led a team and a time when you have been a participant on a team.

Behavioral-Based Interview Questions

Behavioral-based interview questions can help you understand how a candidate may behave or react under certain circumstances and what skills he or she would bring to specific situations. Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that you will have a better idea of how an individual may function on your team if there is past behavior to assess.  It is usually most helpful to present a specific scenario and then ask the potential team member to describe how he or she would behave in the situation at hand. After the question is answered, you could then discuss the impact of his or her behavior. Sample behavior-based interview questions include:

  • Your team is under a tight deadline to submit data for an important medical meeting and you are feeling particularly stressed about your role. How do you respond?
  • Your team has adopted a new policy that you think is overly restrictive. How do you respond?
  • A fellow team member tells you he is upset; he says you did not take his idea for a new research direction under serious consideration. How do you respond? 

For more on Team Science and Collaboration - check out the Field Guide (see below).

Download a free PDF of the "Field Guide"
Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide is intended for anyone who is currently participating on or leading a research team, considering becoming involved in a research team, or contemplating building a research team.
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