Companies are looking for two key things in any candidate they’re interviewing for a job: ability to do the work and ability to thrive at the company. Interview questions like “What type of work environment do you prefer?” evaluate the latter.
“How long are they going to stick around? That’s the question,” says Muse career coach Jennifer Sukola. Employees who mesh well with the company’s environment will be happier and, in turn, stay in the job longer and contribute more.
So answering the question is simple, right? Just tell the interviewer that your preferred environment matches up perfectly with the company’s environment. Not so fast. While your answer should take the company’s culture into account in a big way, it should also be truthful to who you are. “This is your interview, too,” Sukola points out.
“I encourage candidates to remember that this is the environment that they are going to be spending most of their waking hours in, so the only ‘right’ answer is the one that is honest and authentic for them,” says Muse career coach Jennifer Fink, CEO and founder of Fink Development.
Read on for our detailed advice on answering questions about your preferred or ideal work environment—with sample answers included!
What Is a “Work Environment” Anyway?
You may think of your work environment as just the physical location where you do work, but it’s much more than that. Environment encompasses a lot of things, Sukola says, including obvious factors like the office layout (offices vs. cubicles vs. an open plan) and whether it tends to be quiet or noisy.
But it also includes things like company culture and how you get your job done. Is most of your work collaborative or solo? How strictly structured is your work day? Is it important that you’re at your desk from 9 AM to 5 PM or are things more laid-back as long as you get your work done? How much do coworkers socialize (and how and when)? How much interaction do you have with your superiors? Is the office dog- or cat-friendly? Is your job description very strictly enforced or are you encouraged to pursue projects that interest you and to collaborate with other departments?
When you’re answering this question, don’t just talk about where you want your desk to be. Talk about what you need and want in a workplace to do the best job you can. Here’s how to figure that out:
Step 1: Get Clear on Your Workplace Priorities
The first step in answering “What type of work environment do you prefer?” or “What’s your ideal work environment?” is to know how you do your best work, says Sukola. For example, do you focus best working on your own in relative isolation? Or do you thrive in an environment that’s more collaborative and always has a lot of conversation going on?
Think about “what creates energy and engagement for you in your workplace, versus what leaves you drained and dreading the next day,” says Fink. Look back at past jobs and make a list of the aspects of the environment that really helped you get your best work done and another list of things that that slowed you down or made you dislike your job or company.