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Science Says ‘Team Players’ Don’t Get Hired (Here’s the Surprising Data)

All the folks who tell you to say you’re a “team player” are dead wrong. Here’s why.

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 10 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Looking for a job? Maybe you've been told you should makes sure people know you're a real team player.

It turns out, that's a huge mistake.

Because sure, employers like to say that they value people who can work well on teams--but the data shows they don't.

Not really.

The folks behind TalentWorks figured this out recently when they analyzed more than 4,000 job applicants and job applications that had been submitted through their site.

Here's what they concluded about team player applicants--along with eight other surprising things that can affect whether you are likely to get an offer.

No 'betas' need apply

TalentWorks says that based on their research, people have 50.8 percent more "hireability" (a statistic they define "the number of interviews they get for every 100 job applications") if their applicants don't include "team player" language.

Company CEO Kushal Chakrabarti explains it this way. Suppose you have three otherwise similar applicants, who include the following phrases on their resumes:

  • Applicant #1: "Owned, analyzed and delivered on-time financial reports for business sub-unit A to management team on monthly basis."
  • Applicant #2: "Collaborated with full analyst team to create monthly financial reports for management team."
  • Applicant #3: "Assisted management team by creating monthly financial reports as a supporting member of the analysis team."

Which of the three would you want to hire?

For the applicants with the second and third descriptions, "I have no idea what work you did (vs. free-loading off your team)," Chakrabarti said, adding that "many collaborative words also have passive, subordinate, weasel-word undertones."

Results, not teams

So does this mean that people are lying when they say they want to hire team players? Or that team players never get hired?

Of course not--but there are two reasonable conclusions to be drawn.

First, employers might value team players not because they value teams in and of themselves, but because they believe that teamwork will ultimately lead to results.

It often does--but if as a candidate you can short-circuit that, and show that you can lead the way to results (rather than simply be part of a team), you've got a big advantage.

Second, of course team players do get hired.

Heck we have a 4.1 percent unemployment rate in this country, so almost everybody who wants a job can get one.

But the issue has to do with the quality of the jobs--and the respect with which someone, a self-described team player, will be treated--as opposed to a proven leader who shows that he or she gets results.

Oh, but there are others...

As mentioned, this "no-team-players" rule is surprising, but it's not the only interesting discovery. Among the other things Chakrabarti and his team say they found:

1. More education leads to more earnings (but...)

Not surprising. But, given the opportunity cost and the need to forgo making money while attending school, adding full-time education only makes sense for a small group of potential applicants.

2. Younger workers get more offers.

Yeah, age discrimination is illegal, but it still happens. Don't go back more than 10 years on your application. And if you're old enough to--say, to remember dialup Internet--don't include your graduation year.

3. Women are more hireable.

The TalentWorks folks were surprised by this one, but they found that applicants with obviously female names were 48 percent more hireable.

"Between the clear (data-proven) benefits of hiring women," Chakrabarti wrote, "that women are outperforming men in school, and the fact that most recruiters are women (who want to support other women), it makes 100% sense why women might be getting a boost when they apply for jobs."

4. More buzzwords? More offers.

Within reason, anyway. "Name-drop a buzzword every 3-6 sentences. Folks who dropped an occasional buzzword saw a +29.3% boost over others," Chakrabarti wrote. An easy way to do that: Include a "key skills" section.

5. More numbers? Also, more offers.

I suspect they have to be impressive numbers-- but using concrete numbers to quantify your past achievement led to a 40.2 precent boost in hireability.

6. Apply on the first Monday after a job is listed, preferably between 6 am and 10 am.

I'm combining three findings here, but if you've ever been the first-line person reviewing job applicants they'll make sense. You boost your odds by applying on a Monday (46 percent), applying before 10 am (89 percent), and applying in the first four days (65 percent boost).

7. Don't use personal pronouns, and use distinct, active verbs."

Never use the words "I," "me," etc., at least within the employment section of your resume. It's okay in an objective or personal summary section. 54.7 percent difference. Also, use the active voice. "Achieved X," not "was achieved by me."

8. Use leadership words.

This one sounds like it might be related to the "no team players" rule, but it had a 50.9 percent effect on hireability. Use words like communicated, coordinated, leadership, managed, and organization. Things that show you were the leader, even if you weren't technically the boss.

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