People are happiest and most productive when they work in an environment that suits them. By the same token, companies have different personalities, so it’s important for them to hire people who fit.
Many job seekers stumble when asked in an interview to describe their ideal work environment. Remember, when you’re interviewing, you are being screened for a certain skill set and cultural fit. Here are some tips on how to formulate your answer to this job interview question:
Small vs. large
A very common question is whether you are most productive and comfortable in a small or large company. Both have benefits, so you need to think about which environment best suits you and your work style. If you like small companies, you might say, “I want to work for a small company because you get exposed to more things faster.” However, if you like the greater resources and more formalized training of a large organization, you should communicate that when interviewing.
Your preference may also depend on where you are in your career. If you’re just starting out, a large company may be the place to learn processes. If that’s how you feel, say, “I want to own my own company someday and want to learn the best methodologies for running a business.” If you have a number of years under your belt and believe you already know how to manage all or part of a business successfully, then a small company might be the place for you. In your answer, you might say, “I’ve had great training from large companies and want to import those practices into a small company so I can have a greater impact.” Typical interview questions like small company versus large company are designed to determine where you will be best-suited to perform and contribute. Let the interviewer know why you prefer one environment over another.
Formal vs. informal
Of the most typical interview questions, this one is designed to illuminate the environment in which you like to work. Everyone has a preferred way of working. Some people like the formality of processes. If that’s you, say, “I like when processes are in place so I know what steps to take.” Others may prefer a more informal work environment in which there is less structure in the way the company operates. If that’s your preferred environment, you might say you like extemporaneous meetings in hallways and business decisions made over a casual lunch.
How you respond to this question may be a litmus test for how well you’ll fit into the organization. For some people, the ideal work environment has set hours, with people arriving at 9 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. For those with family responsibilities, this may represent the ideal environment. If this is what you want to convey, you could say, “I think it’s important to be productive by 9 a.m., so I can feel good about leaving at 5 p.m.” For others, work is their life, so their ideal environment is one in which most of the other employees feel the same way. If that’s you, you might say, “When I’m on a roll, I like to work late, so I like it when there are other people around.” Many people like an environment where they can work remotely, while others prefer the interactions that can happen only at the office. Work-life balance is a typical interview question, so you should give it a great deal of thought because your work environment will have many implications for your long-term happiness.
Some companies look for people who share their values and may expect you to address that in your interview. Review the company’s mission statement to understand how it addresses its long-term goals and the way it does business. Let the interviewer know how the company’s mission reflects your values. You might say, “I want to work for a company that cares about the environment, and that’s why I’m so interested in this opportunity.”
We all spend the bulk of our day at work, so making sure the work environment is right for you is critical. When interviewing, spend a few minutes describing your ideal environment so both sides can make an informed decision.