Q: "I recently went on an interview for a school paraprofessional position. The
head of the school board asked me if I was a team player, and what I would do
to become one?
I didn't know what to say because I didn't know exactly what he was referring
to. Is it OK to be direct and ask for specifics? What happens when interviewers
lead a person on in a guessing game of, "Do I know what kind of school
population I am dealing with?" In both these cases, is it all right to be
direct and ask questions, point blank? Or, do I assume I know what they're
A: How do you deal with someone whose questions are unclear at best and, more
likely, contain a hidden agenda? Here are two approaches you might consider,
using your team player issue as an example.
Given most people have a common, straight-forward idea of what it means to be a
team player, you might answer his question by saying, "My definition of a team
player includes pursuing a common mission and goals with my colleagues,
recognizing the sum of our experience and talent is greater than mine alone,
covering my responsibilities and pitching in to help others as needed and
presenting a united front on important issues. By my definition, I am a team
player." Listing the specifics of your teaming behavior not only shows you know
how to work on a team, it also explains how you would slip easily into an
You can also follow up on your answer by asking if your interviewer's
definition differs from yours. If it does, find out how, then respond to those
A second approach might be, "I think I'm a team player. However, it would be
helpful to hear your description of one, so I can answer your question more
fully." Listen to his description and respond point by point.
The school population issue sounds like a political mine field. Put yourself
squarely behind the man with the map, and only go where he leads you. To keep
your answer from blowing up in your face, you might say something like, "While
I am familiar with the demographics of the school population, I'm not sure that
is the question you are asking. From your perspective, what kind of population
will I be dealing with?" Then answer accordingly.
I hope you won't be working directly with the school board chair. He sounds
like he enjoys playing with people's heads while they twist in the wind.