Interview Question: "What Type of Work Environment Do You Prefer?"

How to Answer Interview Questions About Work Environments

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During a job interview, you may be asked about what kind of work environment you prefer. Interviewers ask this question to establish how well you will fit in at the company and with the company culture. It also helps them identify your most productive work environment.

Are you more comfortable in a traditional, more formal work environment or in a more casual office structure? Do you like a team-based approach, or do you prefer doing your own thing? An interviewer will really want to know in which environment you are most comfortable. You can only be at your maximum productivity if you are relaxed and feel that you fit in. 

How to Answer Interview Questions About Work Environment

When you are asked about work environments, your best bet is to try to stay relatively neutral, since at this stage in the interview process, you don't know what it would be like to work for the company. It’s a good idea to maintain that you are flexible and adapt happily in any environment. You wouldn’t want to say anything to damage your chances of getting to the next stage in the hiring process.

Avoid being dishonest, though. If there are certain environments that you absolutely cannot work in, do not say that you can handle them.

For instance, if you are an accountant, you can say that you are flexible in terms of work environment, but that you perform best when you have a relatively quiet space so you can drill into the numbers without distraction.

Image by Theresa Chiechi. © The Balance 2019

Examples of the Best Answers

These examples of possible answers to this interview question may be helpful.

I can be flexible when it comes to my work environment. From your website, it looks like the environment in the engineering department here at RRS, Inc., is fast-paced and structured to expand production. I enjoy working in an area experiencing rapid growth and I think this kind of environment is conducive to new ideas and applications.

Why It Works: Interviewers appreciate hearing that an applicant is flexible regarding the work environment. In this case, not only do you emphasize your flexibility, but you indicate that you can work in a fast-paced environment and that you don’t mind structure. If a fast-paced, structured environment is the norm at this company, this answer would be appropriate, and your flexibility would be a bonus.

I have worked in many types of environments and enjoyed learning new things from each. I would say that while I don’t prefer a particular environment, I really like working with people who are committed to getting things done and who are passionate about their work.

Why It Works: You show, in this answer, that you can handle any work environment, which an interviewer will like to hear. You also show your appreciation for fellow employees who enjoy their work.

I enjoy working in an environment where the members of the team have a strong sense of camaraderie and a good work ethic. I like working with competent, kind, funny people who like to get things done. It’s important to me to feel that I can trust my team members to always do their best because I do.

Why It Works: Your answer indicates that you are comfortable and enjoy working in teams and would be especially appropriate if you were talking to an interviewer for a company who used a team approach in the work environment.

Having worked in a variety of work environments, from very casual and laid-back to fast-paced, I think I adapt well to most. I’m not familiar with what the corporate environment is here; can you tell me about it?

Why It Works: If you haven’t been able to find out about the company culture and work environment through your own research, you can ask the interviewer. Once you know how they view their work environment, you can determine if you’ll be a good fit and can offer examples of how your work style matches well with their culture.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Relate your answer to the company culture. If it’s possible, relate your answer about the work environment you prefer to work in to the company’s culture. You probably would not interview for a job with a company whose work environment you didn’t like, so you should be able to fit your answer to the company’s culture.

Be honest. No matter what the work environment at the company, be honest in your answer. If the company uses a team approach, for example, and you prefer to work alone, you would not be happy working in that particular work environment.

Research the company’s work environment. The best way to prepare for this question is to make sure you do your research. Company websites contain plenty of information about the company environment, stated and implied. Look for the "About Us" section, which will highlight the work ethic of the company as a whole and sometimes provide information on individual employees.

Network to learn about the company. If you have a contact at the company, talk to them about the company culture. Reach out to your network to find information regarding the reputation of the company you are applying to. Use LinkedIn to learn about the company. It will be very helpful to you to analyze what the work environment will be because it will affect how happy and productive you will be if you get the job.

What Not to Say

Don’t criticize. If you’ve worked in the industry and, perhaps, in a similar company that has a different work environment, don’t criticize this company’s work environment to the interviewer. Don’t hint that you might know a better way.

Don’t be unsure. If there is a work environment you know you can’t handle, don’t say something like, “Maybe I could work in that environment.” The interviewer will realize that you are unsure and will sense that you might be desperate for the job.

Admit your deficiencies. If the work environment is one you have never faced, admit that to the interviewer and say you would like the opportunity to try, if that is the case.

Don’t overstate your case. Don’t talk too much about this topic. Be brief and as neutral as possible while being honest.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

  • Would you still be interested in this job if you knew, at some point in the future, the work environment would change from an individual environment to a team-based approach? Best Answers
  • How would you handle a hostile work environment? Best Answers
  • How would you handle it if there was a problem with a member of your team not doing their fair share of work? Best Answers

Key Takeaways

  • Use both online sources and other contacts you might have to find out about the work environment at the company.
  • Realize that you must be flexible and understanding regarding work environments because companies are ever-changing.
  • Prepare an answer to the question, “What Work Environment Do You Prefer?” before the interview.
  • Relate your prepared answer to the company’s culture.