Hiring managers and interviewers love to ask questions like:
In this article, I’m going to walk you through why they ask, how to give great answers when they ask about your ideal work environment, and the mistakes to AVOID if you want to get the job offer.
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 right now…
Giving a good interview answer when describing what type of work environment you prefer begins 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 of 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 description 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, and 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 the 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 make the hiring manager like you.
Let’s look at a few more word-for-word answer examples now…
I’ve worked in small companies as well as Fortune 500 firms. I don’t really have a preferred company size. I do think I work best in a collaborative environment. I enjoy working as part of a team, even though I can do independent work, too. I saw your job description mentions a lot of collaboration with other teams and departments, so I think I’d excel in this role. Communication and teamwork are strengths of mine.
I prefer an energetic work environment where people are excited to be there. I immediately got the sense that this is that type of place when I came into the first interview. I love the energy here and I think it’s the type of place where I’d do my best work. My last company had a similar environment and I thrived there. It was where I made the biggest gains in my career, learned the most, and accomplished the most for my team and company.
I don’t have one single ideal work environment. I’ve been able to thrive while working in very different environments in past jobs.
For example, I’ve done well in a corporate environment with a lot of structure in my most recent job. Prior to that, I was in a smaller start-up and enjoyed the fast-paced environment and the ability to wear multiple hats and be involved in many areas of the organization as we grew.
But to answer your question more directly, I enjoy collaborative environments. I’m a team player who likes to share ideas and work alongside others, so I enjoy a working environment that encourages teamwork and communication.
This type of work setting allows me to perform at a high level and excel.
I work best in a company culture and environment where team members enjoy working together and are positive and motivated. That was a big plus in my last company’s culture and I’d like to find another positive environment like that in my next position.
My previous company did an excellent job of employee recognition, too, which helped team members feel they were appreciated.
I do my best job in an environment like this, and I prefer working in a company that values these ideas.
One interview question I’ve been asking each employer is: “How would you describe the work style of the team?” Is there anything you can share about how the team currently works together?
The most common types of work environments that job seekers will encounter are:
These aren’t the only ways to define a company’s work environment. For example, we could talk about indoor vs. outdoor work environments, and more.
But the bullet points above are some of the easiest ways to understand a company’s culture and work setting, especially in the corporate world.
Reviewing the points above will help you recognize a company’s work environment/work culture when you see it, so that you can give a better job interview answer and show that you’ll be able to thrive working in a specific company’s environment.
Note that some work environments will involve multiple factors above. For example, a remote work environment can still have a start-up culture or a more conventional work culture.
As promised earlier, I’m now going to run through the top mistakes to watch out for when you describe your ideal work environment to an employer.
First, if you’re not too sure what type of workplace or culture they offer, don’t get too specific. The more specific you get, the riskier it is (if you don’t know their own work culture).
For example, if you’re not sure how a company operates, it’s risky to say, “I only like a relaxed, open work environment where people are free to do what they want throughout the day.”
You’d be better off saying, “Well, I’ve worked in some very relaxed companies where I was able to structure my own day, and I enjoyed that a lot. It taught me to be organized, prioritize tasks, and more. However, I’m able to work under closer supervision, too.”
This leads me to another mistake you should avoid: Don’t ever go into the interview without researching the company. Watch videos on YouTube. Check out their Facebook page. Read a recent news article or two about them.
This step should be a review if you’ve read the steps earlier in this article, but it’s very important.
Finally, don’t badmouth or complain. This was mentioned in the steps above, too. Focus on positive things that you enjoy in a workplace and avoid talking about what you dislike if possible.
If you avoid these mistakes, you’ll have a strong answer to what kind of work environment you like best.
Let’s move on to a recap of everything we’ve discussed…
If you follow these steps you’ll have a great answer any time the interviewer asks what type of work environment you perform best in, or what type of work environment is ideal for you.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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