Hiring managers and interviewers love to ask this question: “what type of work environment do you prefer?”
Here’s why it’s tricky: Usually you aren’t 100% sure what they want to hear, in part because you’ve never seen THEIR work environment first-hand. And if you say you don’t like the type of environment they happen to have, they won’t hire you.
Kind of a trap, right?
Don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through the best interview answers for this question.
It all starts with research. If you pay attention to previous communication, the job description, the company website, and do a quick search on YouTube just in case they have videos, you’ll get SOME sense of the work environment.
So, make sure you research the company before your interview. I can’t stress this enough.
Now try to come up with some idea what they want to hear.
You can also gather clues on some of these things in the interview. Or if you’ve had a previous interview, think back to what was discussed. (For example if you already had a phone interview with HR, and now they ask what type of work environments you prefer in the face-to-face interview).
Okay, now let’s look at exactly how to answer…
Give them a sense of what you enjoy but lean toward saying you tend to like an environment similar to theirs.
If the environment seems relaxed and they give their people a lot of freedom to operate independently, say you enjoy independence and you’re great at making decisions on your own.
If the job description repeated over and over that they want someone detail-oriented, and the hiring manager looks like she’ll fire you if you are one single minute late in your life, say that you prefer an environment that’s organized, carefully-planned, and systematic.
(Again… not sure why people choose to work in jobs like this, but there are plenty out there and they always seem to find workers somehow…)
If the job descriptions mentions a lot of teamwork and collaboration, say that you prefer a collaborative environment, and then give some examples of how you’ve been in similar situations in the past.
Or even better… tell them part of why you applied for the position is that it seemed like a great match for the type of work environment you perform well in (and then elaborate/explain). That will show them you’ve really done your research.
Focus on describing things you like. “I enjoy a collaborative environment”. “I really like an environment that values problem solving, creativity, and effort because I feel I bring those three things to my job each day.” etc.
That way, if you happen to say something that isn’t quite aligned with how the interviewer views their company, it’s alright.
However, if you had said, “I can only work in a highly-collaborative environment and I hate work that involves being isolated or not talking to other people,” you’re not getting hired if the job is even a little bit like that.
So keep it positive and focus on the things you like.
Give PROOF. After you tell them you love a collaborative environment, talk about how you’ve been successful in this environment in the past. In previous jobs, in school, in projects. Whatever’s recent and relevant.
If you told them you like an organized, serious work environment, talk about how you’ve used this type of environment to succeed recently.
So the first part of your answer is to directly address their question while staying positive. The second part is to give proof and examples.
Maybe it’s a first interview and you didn’t have time to do a lot of research (hey, it happens! I’ve done it).
If you really have no clue what type of work environment the company offers, your goal should be to sound balanced and versatile. You should say that you’ve worked in both types of environments and are able to adapt, etc.
You really shouldn’t be in this situation often. Research is important. If you’ve got on multiple interviews and felt like you know very little about he company, it’s probably the reason you’re not finding a job.
But it can happen once or twice, so here’s an example of what I’d say:
“I do well in a few different types of environments. I can adapt. In my last job we were given a lot of freedom to make decisions on our own, and I enjoyed that. But I’ve also worked in stricter environments and performed well and had no issues. How would you describe the work environment here, and what type of person usually enjoys working for you?”
(Ending your answer with a question is a great way to turn the interview into a more natural conversation, take the pressure off, and making the hiring manager like you a LOT more. I share more on this strategy with word-for-word scripts in my premium interview answer guide).