“What type of work environment do you prefer?” is a common job interview question that you need to be prepared for. Your answer will be an indication of how well you’ll fit and perform, so interviewers will be paying close attention to what you say!
This guide will teach you how to prepare a response that makes a fantastic impression.
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The Reason Interviews Ask This Question
Talking about the type of work environment that you prefer during an interview can seem unimportant compared to your skills and qualifications, but it matters more than you think!
Every company has a unique work environment. As a potential new hire, you must adapt to that environment. Hiring managers ask this question for a couple of reasons.
The first reason they ask this question is to see if your preferences align with the company’s culture. Work environments matter more than most realize, and many complex factors affect the overall work experience.
A company can have a fast-paced startup work environment full of excitement or a collaborative space where everyone works on teams. Some also have a more traditional corporate environment, lean heavily on remote work, etc. Those work environments require you to adopt new approaches and habits to get things done.
Not everyone thrives in all work environments. For example, if you’re a fresh college graduate, you might love the idea of working for a startup where employees act as generalists. But as a seasoned professional with several years of experience under your belt, you may want to stick with a more conventional corporate work style.
This question aims to see if your preferences align with how the company operates. It’s about seeing if you’re a good match. Employers want to bring candidates in who can succeed from day one, and the best way to do that is to choose someone who can thrive in the established work environment.
Another reason interviewers ask this question is to gauge your potential performance. If your preferred work environment matches the company’s, there’s a greater chance you’ll enjoy your time there. The odds of you performing well and reaching your full potential there are high, which means there’s a better chance you’ll stick around and grow with the company.
Those are the types of candidates employers want to invest in, and questions like this make it easier to see if you check off the boxes.
How to Answer “What Type of Work Environment Do You Prefer?”
This isn’t a question you want to think up on the spot. There’s an art to providing an impactful response that works in your favor.
Here are a few tips for sharing what type of work environment you prefer.
1. Think About the Environment You Value
The first step is to think about what work environment you truly value. While you may be adaptable and ready to mold yourself to whatever environment you’ll step into, it’s important to know what culture you thrive in most. This requires some self-reflection on past jobs and work experiences.
Think about the times when you were most successful and what environment contributed to it. Do you value solitude and the ability to concentrate in peace? Or does your best work come out when you have others to lean on during project collaborations?
Many factors can contribute to your workplace satisfaction. Some good things to think about include access to workplace amenities, good work-life balance, the physical space where you’ll work, how managers interact with employees, available training programs, the backgrounds of your co-workers, etc.
Consider making a list of your preferences. Understand what environments you value and how your surroundings influence the quality of work you do. Learning more about what work environments you don’t like is also a good idea.
That information can help you develop a solid answer that delivers everything the hiring manager wants to hear.
2. Learn About the Work Environment Where You’re Applying
Next, you should learn about the environment at the company you’re interviewing for. The goal is not to figure out the work environment so you can say what the interviewer wants to hear. Instead, you want to find common ground to highlight during your interview.
It’s fine if your preferred work style doesn’t match 100 percent. But you can still emphasize the things you do like to connect the dots and show that you’ll flourish in the new position.
Look at the job description. Many hiring managers include some information about the work culture and environment. For example, phrases like “fast-paced environment” or “strong collaboration skills” give you a good idea of what to expect.
You can also look at the company’s website or connect with people on social platforms like LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to network before your interview to learn as much as possible about the company.
3. Find Common Ground
Once you know your preferred work environment and the company you’re interviewing for offers, you can start finding some common ground.
As we mentioned, you don’t need to lie or pretend that the organization’s environment is the perfect match for you. Instead, you should find where things overlap to show you can succeed with them.
There’s usually plenty of common ground you can highlight. Look at your list of preferences and find ways to connect them to what the employer offers. The company may encourage collaboration or heavily invest in the professional development of its employees. Or maybe it provides the good work-life balance that you want.
Whatever the case, find those similarities. Your goal is to show that you can thrive in this new work environment and will be happy working for the company.
In most cases, you’ll have no issues spotting similarities you can emphasize. But if you don’t, you may want to reconsider applying. Work environments substantially impact your productivity, happiness, and success. So this tip is as important for your future as it is for your interview performance.
4. Demonstrate Flexibility in Your Answer
When responding to this question, one of the most important things is to showcase that you’re flexible enough to adapt. Everyone has their preferences, and you might have a few deal-breakers that make you reconsider this position. But if the work environment is something you can see yourself succeeding in, you must show that you’re flexible.
Mention that you’ve worked in many different environments and always find ways to adapt. You can also provide examples of moments when you’ve had to adjust, focusing on the positive outcomes that followed.
Your goal must be to demonstrate that you’re willing and able to work hard regardless of whether the work environment matches your preferences to a tee. Flexibility is a sought-after characteristic in a candidate, so putting that at the forefront of your response can make a big difference.
5. Keep Your Answer Positive
Here’s an important thing to remember. Always focus on the positive!
Questions like this can easily devolve into complaints. You can easily veer off course and start going off on a tangent about the things you don’t like about an organization’s work environment. Needless to say, that’s a big mistake!
Mold your response to highlight what you like. Instead of talking about what you don’t like, lean into the positives. Mention your preferences without saying outright that you dislike any particular work environment.
6. Practice Your Answer
Finally, you should practice your response. This isn’t a question you want to develop an answer for on the spot. Doing so could come off as inauthentic or ill-prepared.
Do your due diligence, give this question the thought it deserves, and have an answer ready! You don’t have to have something over-rehearsed. Instead, gain confidence in delivering a response with conviction.
Practice saying what you need to say a few different ways. The most important thing is that you stick to the main points and know how to respond effectively, no matter how this question comes up.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Despite how much a solid response can help your chances of moving through the hiring process, you can also easily do the opposite! There are several common mistakes people make when answering this question.
Here are the biggest ones you should avoid.
Always be confident in what you’re saying. That tip applies to every interview question, but it’s crucial with this one. Unsure answers include saying things like, “Well, I’m not sure,” or “Maybe I could work in this environment.”
Not only are answers like this unimpressive but they could also be seen as major red flags. You should know your preferences whether you’re new to this industry or a seasoned pro. Have conviction in what you say and avoid unsure responses that look like you didn’t think about this topic at all.
Try not to get too specific. You can discuss what work environments you prefer, but avoid saying anything too specific to the company. For example, saying that you hate working specific hours or you prefer work environments without meetings could come back to bite you.
If an interviewer can instantly think of how the company doesn’t fit with your work preferences, you’ve already lost the interview. Avoid getting too specific to prevent that from happening. Keep things broad enough while still delivering the information that hiring managers want to hear.
Complaints and Badmouthing
Of course, you should never complain or speak ill of your previous employers. No matter how frustrated you were in old work environments, avoid badmouthing. It comes off as unprofessional and may make hiring managers worry about what you could say about them in the future.
Accidental or Direct Criticisms
Here’s another major no-no. It’s easy to criticize the company when talking about your preferred work environment. For example, you might inadvertently say you hate things that the company does regularly.
That’s a quick way to remove yourself from consideration.
You can avoid accidental or direct criticisms by leaning on the positives. Say what you like and not what you don’t like.
Long, Drawn-Out Answers
Finally, keep your answer relatively short. Interviewers may ask for follow-ups, and that’s completely fine. But keep the main response quick enough to leave room for those follow-ups if necessary.
Bring up what you like, connect the dots to this position, provide examples if possible, and move on.
If you need a little inspiration for answering this question, you’ve come to the right place.
Your response will depend on your work experience and what you truly value in a job. Everyone’s preferences are different, so you should avoid copying examples verbatim. Instead, use them as inspiration to develop your own.
Our first example comes from a candidate who prefers a collaborative environment. This response works well because they briefly explain why they like collaboration before connecting the dots to this new position. It’s an impactful answer that reassures the hiring manager that they can succeed in this position.
“I’ve worked in many different environments, but I thrive when I get to collaborate with others. I like to take others’ considerations into account when making considerations. In my opinion, it’s the best way to gain perspective outside my own and do what’s right for the bigger goal.
That’s what drew me to this job opportunity. I saw that collaboration is a big deal at your company, and I especially love the open-concept office. It seems like the perfect match for me, and I can see myself checking in with team members and supervisors when working on projects.
I also like the closed offices you pointed out during my tour. While collaboration is how I prefer to work, there are always moments when I want to step away and focus on what I need to do. Your office is the perfect setup, and I can see myself doing great work here.”
Our next example is broader. It focuses less on the specifics of collaboration vs. isolation. Instead, it revolves around the overall work culture and vibes of the office.
The candidate talks about the energy of the environment. It works well because it allows the candidate to emphasize their enthusiasm for the job while showing that they’re committed to succeeding in the new role.
“One of the most important things to me is to work in an energetic environment. There’s nothing more motivating for me than walking into an office full of life and excitement. Seeing others who are passionate about their job is a wonderful thing, and I got that sense walking into your office today.
I love the energy here, and I believe I’ll do some of my best work surrounded by others who are just as motivated as I am!
My previous employer had a similar work environment. I thrived there and had the biggest gains in my career. I learned a lot from others through collaboration, and we maintained high productivity to achieve many impressive feats. I’m excited to be here for your company.”
In our final example, we have a candidate who prefers to work in a place that leans on professionalism and work ethic. This is a good response for a few reasons. In addition to connecting their preferences to the company, it shows that the candidate is serious about their job.
It’s the ultimate professional response, and it’s something many hiring managers would love to hear.
“I’m a pretty adaptable person and have had success working in many environments. But if I had to choose a preferred work environment, it would be surrounded by people with strong work ethics.
I enjoy bouncing energy off of other people. I’m a firm believer that work styles change based on what your colleagues give off. When everyone around you is committed to doing the best job possible, you can’t help but do the same!
It also builds a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment as a unit. Everyone’s working towards the same goal, and being around others who are just as driven helps me develop trust. It also makes work more enjoyable!
There’s nothing better than being around kind, funny, and competent people who know when to buckle down and get things done.”
“What type of work environment do you prefer?” is an interview question that provides you with a great opportunity. So do what it takes to develop a strong answer!
Think about how you thrive at work, keep things positive, and spend some time practicing your response.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.