What Type of Work Environment Do You Prefer?

During an interview, you will likely be asked, “What type of work environment do you prefer?” This answer is extremely important because it will have a significant bearing on your ability to do the job successfully. For example, if you need silence to focus but you’re forced to work in an office with a noisy open floor plan, you might make more mistakes or take longer to complete your work. 

Below we’ll talk about other motivations behind this question and explain how to answer it in a way that keeps you on the short list of candidates for the job. 

Why do interviewers ask what type of work environment you prefer?

First and foremost, interviewers are looking to see if you’re a match for the work environment at their company. This is actually a good sign, as it’s one of the more effective ways to judge culture fit. 

Asking this question shows they understand what’s important in identifying an employee-employer match. It also demonstrates their investment in making sure the candidate they select will be happy in their new workplace. 

Hiring managers also have their own reasons for asking the question, of course, primarily to find out whether you’ll do well in their work environment. Even if you have all the right technical skills, a poorly matched work environment could hinder your ability to succeed. 

What interviewers are looking for when they ask about work environment

What they’re looking for is pretty straightforward: they want to see if your expectations are aligned with the reality of working there, which makes this question a tricky one. 

You want to give an honest answer, but you also want to make sure you’re describing a work environment that looks like theirs. If you describe a culture or work style that’s significantly different, there’s probably not a very good chance you’re going to get the job. 

Based on your answer, interviewers want to feel confident that you’ll be able to thrive given the unique set of circumstances that exist in their workplace. They want a candidate who will be flexible to a new work situation and able to adapt quickly. Above all else, they want to make sure you don’t explicitly say you can’t work in the type of environment they have. 

How to answer

Research the company culture

Before your interview, find out as much as you can about what it’s like to actually work at the company. Ask current or former employees about their experience or look at reviews on sites like Glassdoor. 

Here are some clues to look for:

  • Work style (collaborative vs. independent, detail-oriented vs. idea-oriented)
  • Level of formality (corporate vs. casual)
  • Communication style (assertive vs. passive, face-to-face or technology-based)
  • Physical environment (individual offices vs. an open floor plan, traditional or modern)
  • Employee development (company-led vs. self-directed)

Talk about why you like this type of environment

You want to craft an answer that calls to mind actual aspects of the company’s work environment. So, based on what you learn in your research, cite specific elements that appeal to you. For example, if you hear that the company is big on teamwork, explain that you prefer a work environment where there are lots of opportunities to collaborate.

Give a real example

Make your answer even stronger by giving an example of how you thrive in your ideal work environment or what it would look like if you were to get this job. To build on the teamwork topic we just mentioned, you might describe how you came up with a winning idea after taking part in a team brainstorming session, then describe the role you see yourself playing on this new team. 

How not to answer

Focus on dislikes

Even if you’re a good match for the company’s work environment, you can tank your answer by placing too much emphasis on negatives, like how much you loathe cubicles or can’t stand coworkers who talk loudly on the phone. While everybody has their preferences, you don’t want to come across as inflexible or high maintenance. 

Sample answers to “What type of work environment do you prefer?”

Example #1

“I do my best work when I feel that I have the confidence and support of my manager. Your company has a reputation for empowering its employees, which was one of the reasons I was interested in applying. I’m someone you can trust to take an assignment and run with it without having to be micromanaged.”

Example #2

“It’s really important to me to find a work environment where I’m always learning and growing. For example, I try to attend at least one major developers conference every year, which keeps my skills sharp. I saw that your company offers an annual stipend for employee development, which is a benefit I’m very excited about.”

An ideal answer identifies the overlap between your preferences and the actual work environment with this prospective employer.