While your skills may determine whether you’re technically able to perform a job, your personality and preferences play an equally important part in whether you’ll be successful at a company. You might be the most talented person in your industry, but if you don’t mesh well with your coworkers, you won’t last long at an organization.
To help determine whether a candidate is a good fit for a job beyond their technical skills, interviewers often ask about work style. We’ll break down what they’re looking for and share the steps to follow to answer this open-ended interview question.
Why do interviewers ask this question?
An interviewer wants to understand what it looks like to work with you on a day-to-day basis. Are you speedy and efficient, or measured and methodical? Do you prefer to do most of your work independently or as part of a team?
These factors and more will determine whether you’re a good match for the norms of a workplace, which is a big factor in your longevity there. For example, if you prefer to make your own decisions but the company has a system with many levels of approvals, you might quickly become frustrated with the job and start looking for something that offers you more autonomy.
Retaining new hires is an important goal for organizations, so hiring managers do their best to pick candidates who are the right fit for the environment from the start.
What hiring managers look for in an answer
There are many different aspects of a candidate’s work style that can be useful information to a hiring manager. Here are a few of them:
- Communication. Are you a frequent communicator, or do you share information on a need-to-know basis? Do you communicate best via email, phone or in person?
- Independent versus collaborative work. Do you prefer to fly solo on assignments, or are you more productive when it’s a group effort?
- Physical environment. Do you need an office with a door, or would a more open floor plan suit you better? Do you sometimes need a change of scenery while you work?
- Management. Do you need frequent feedback from your superior? How close of a relationship would you prefer to have with your manager?
- Structure. What does an ideal day look like? How do you manage your time? Meetings: love them or hate them?
- Speed. Do you prefer to work quickly and make changes later if necessary, or take your time and carefully think things through in the moment?
Pick one or two of the areas above–or others that are important to you–to touch on in your answer.
How to answer “Describe your work style”
Think about your needs
While a hiring manager is weighing whether you’re a good fit for the company, your interview is also a chance to assess if the company is the right choice for you. So, spend some time considering which of your preferences mean the most to you in a workplace. These are good choices to bring up during an interview. While most jobs won’t cater to 100% of your preferences, being aligned on the top one or two things will go a long way to ensuring you’re happy there.
You want a job where your work style will enable you to succeed, not hold you back, so it’s important to be genuine in your answer. This is especially important for things you consider to be deal-breakers, like if you hate being micromanaged.
Tailor your response to the company
Try to find areas where your work style preferences overlap with things that are important to the company. For example, if the company mentions transparency as one of its core values, you might talk about how it’s important to you to be able to speak your mind and receive clear feedback.
To find out about the company’s values, you’ll need to do some research ahead of time. The ‘about us’ page of an organization’s website and its social media channels are good places to look. Tailor your answer based on what you find out, like “I saw the post on the company’s Facebook page about the new flexible workstations that were just installed. This was really appealing to me because I like to be able to move around a lot while I work.”
How not to answer
Don’t give an imprecise answer like “I’m flexible with my work style and open to whatever works best for the company.” This does you no favors in finding a job that’s a good fit and doesn’t give any useful information to the interviewer.
Be too rigid
Avoid answers that box you in too much or are overly demanding, like “I never take meetings on Fridays” or “I require a corner office with ample natural light.”
One of the biggest missteps you can make with an interview question about your work style is saying what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Not only is there no way of knowing that information for sure, but it will also be revealed very quickly if you end up getting hired and have misrepresented what type of worker you are.
By being honest about your work style, talking about preferences that you share with the employer and highlighting how these are positive attributes for the company, you’ll be more likely to end up in a job that’s both a good fit and an enjoyable place for you to work.