An organization may hire individual contributors to focus on one project or facet of the company. Individual contributors are employees who are not on a management track within an organization, but instead, manage their one-person team on projects and tasks. If you want to get hired as an individual contributor, it's important to develop useful skills in the workplace. In this article, we explore what those skills may be and how to succeed in an interview for an individual contributor.
What is an individual contributor?
As the name implies, an individual contributor is a professional without management responsibilities who contributes to an organization independently to help support its goals and mission. Although they usually have to report to someone within the organization, an individual contributor is not responsible for managing anyone except for themselves. They may be the manager of a process or project that they can complete as part of a team or individually, but are not responsible for managing a team of people.
Difference between an individual contributor and a manager
Both individual contributors and managers have managing responsibilities, but individual contributors perform more self-management. Managers are in charge of a group of people, which may include individual contributors, and the projects and processes they are working on. Individual contributors manage more tactile tasks, such as sorting online files. In contrast, a manager takes on the more strategic tasks of developing project teams and focusing on growth goals.
Because individual contributors are not responsible for a group of people as managers are, they have more time to dedicate to honing their craft and becoming experts in their work. Managers often have to attend meetings that an individual contributor doesn't, such as budgetary and employee relations meetings. Managers may also delegate responsibilities to individual contributors whose job it is to make sure they complete the task.
Read more: How to Become a Manager
Useful skills for individual contributors
When considering the path of an individual contributor, you will want to develop these skills to succeed in the workplace:
- Time management
- Ability to maintain autonomy
As an individual contributor, you are responsible for your own tasks and projects, but you will still want to maintain open communication with coworkers, managers and members of other departments. It's important to be an active part of the workplace because you may need to share information with others, and you'll want a healthy working relationship so any meetings can run smoothly.
For example, if you are working on improving the technology behind the loan application at your bank, you may need to communicate with the loan officers on how the customers should navigate through the new process. Ensuring that you have a positive working relationship with coworkers who are directly involved with the work you produce will help introduce any updates without many issues.
Individual contributors often work alone, so it's important to be able to manage your time appropriately. Consider using a calendar system to set due dates for major steps towards the completion of a project or blocking out time so you are completing all tasks assigned to you. Although an individual contributor is a one-person team, other people or departments may rely on your work to complete their own.
If you can manage your own time, you can then establish yourself as a valuable member of the team who other colleagues can rely on for consistent work.
Just as communication is important, collaboration is too. If you're involved in a group project that requires each individual to complete a specific part of it, collaboration will be necessary to accomplish the group goal of finishing the project by the deadline. To show collaborative efforts, work with others who may need your help in completing a task or understanding part of their work. You can also be an active part of a group meeting and offer solutions to issues that group members may mention.
Ability to maintain autonomy
An individual contributor may experience more autonomy than a manager. Therefore, it's important to be able to work alone for long periods while still being efficient in your tasks and producing high-quality work. Autonomy requires self-management of your time, the ability to pivot to contingency plans and work on multiple projects at one time without regulation.
Individual contributors may manage many projects or tasks at once, so staying organized is crucial to making sure you complete all of your work on time. An organized workspace will help you stay focused on your to-do list because there are fewer distractions to entice you away from the task you're working on.
How to succeed in an interview for an individual contributor
If you're applying for a role as an individual contributor, you'll want to make sure you stand out during the interview process by following these tips:
- Be yourself.
- Explain how you self-manage.
- Describe how you work with a team.
- Explain your method of prioritizing tasks.
- Be prepared to answer specific questions.
1. Be yourself
One of the best ways to succeed in an interview as an individual contributor is to be yourself so the hiring manager can think about how you'll fit into a company's culture. A strong company culture helps foster teamwork and uphold company values, and a manager should have this in mind when making their hiring choices.
Read more: Guide to Company Culture
2. Explain how you self-manage
Managers are responsible for more than task-based work. They may spend time dealing with employee relations or preparing for a company-wide meeting, so they are looking for individual contributors who they can trust to complete their projects on time and with limited supervision.
3. Describe how you work with a team
Although individual contributors may work alone, there can be opportunities to work with others in the office. In your interview, explain how you have worked within a team before, describing what the project was and the collective successes you experienced. Explain whether you took on a leadership role in the group or followed the direction of someone else.
4. Explain your method of prioritizing tasks
Self-management requires that you prioritize tasks appropriately to ensure all of your work gets done. A hiring manager will want to know how you do this, so explain methods you have put into place that guide you in your workday. This can be a calendar system or can involve talking to project stakeholders about what they would like prioritized. Describe different scenarios you have been in that show your ability to handle multiple projects and deadlines.
5. Be prepared to answer specific questions
As an individual contributor, you may have learned all about new software or have gained years of experience designing graphics for online advertisements. To make sure you're the right person for the job, the hiring manager may ask specific questions about the experience you have that makes you a subject matter expert. For example, managers may ask you about your coding experience. Be prepared to mention coding languages you have used so a manager can understand your experience more and feels confident in your abilities.