Besides writing CVs, resumes, cover letters and other such documents for the past 30 years, I have also provided my clients with related services, such as career counselling and mock interviews. I will ask the client the most common interview questions. And one of those questions is, ‘What is your ideal work environment?’
Although this is a commonly asked question, I have discovered that most people do not know how to answer it. The typical responses I get are, ‘What do you mean by that?’ or ‘I don’t know, I never thought about it.’
Considering the importance and frequency of this question in the interviewing process, anyone preparing for an interview should be know how to answer it.
So, if you are looking for guidance on approaching the question, ‘What is your ideal work environment?’, read on!
Why hiring managers ask this question
While many of the questions you will encounter during an interview may seem irrelevant to the job you are applying for, rest assured that they do indeed have a purpose.
One of the reasons for this question, like many that are asked during an interview, is to see how quickly you can think on your feet. To have a successful interview, you must be prepared to answer this question when it arises.
Another reason employers ask this question is for them to develop an idea of the type of person you are. For example, you may describe your ideal work environment is one in which you can make your schedule, work outside of the office a lot, and come and go as you please. This type of answer can indicate to the interviewer that you are responsible, mature and confident enough in your abilities to perform well without supervision.
Perhaps the most critical reason employers ask this question is to determine whether or not you are a good fit for the company culture and if you will be able to handle the tasks you are assigned. ‘Hiring managers ask this question to gauge how you will approach work and interact with colleagues,’ says Tony Giacobbe, HR and Talent Acquisition Leader at Amica Senior Lifestyles. ‘They want to gauge whether you fit with their company culture and understand whether your values and ways of working will mean you remain with the company long term.’
For instance, I was once turned down for a job as an article abstractor - someone who prepares condensed versions of published articles. The position would have required me to sit at a desk by myself all day and edit articles according to the company’s stringent guidelines. The interviewer, however, felt that I was too much of a ‘free thinker’ to fill that role and that I would soon become bored with the position.
How to craft a response
To prepare an effective response to this question, you must first engage in a bit of self-analysis. In other words, do you know what your ideal work environment is? Have you ever even thought about it? Well, now is the time. Here are some tips to help you develop an answer:
1. Ask yourself a few questions
Many of us do our job daily without questioning whether it is something we want to do. Take a good look at your current work situation and ask yourself a few simple questions. You may be surprised at the answers you come up with when you ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I like what I am doing?
- Is there room for advancement?
- Are my skills, training and experience being fully utilised?
- Is my work schedule compatible with my lifestyle?
- What is my relationship with my co-workers?
Once you begin to examine the specifics of your career, you can get an accurate idea of what you do and don’t like about your work environment, which will help you develop an honest and appropriate answer to this common interview question.
2. Take a self-assessment test
If you are still uncertain about your ideal work environment, the direction of your career or even the type of job you want to pursue, the best way to narrow your focus is to take a career assessment test.
You may have taken such a test in high school or college when you were trying to decide what you want to do when you grow up. However, there are many tests available online that can provide you with specific ideas about the type of jobs you should pursue and point your career in the right direction.
For example, our own CareerHunter assessment platform will help you determine your aptitudes and identify an ideal work environment for you based on your character, interests and skills.
3. Read job descriptions
If you are entering the workforce or starting in a new field, you may not be familiar with the type of work environment you will be entering.
An excellent way to become familiar with them is to research job descriptions about the role and the industry you want to work in. For example, a retail merchandiser is responsible for the overall appearance of the sales floor - they set up displays, hang up signs, put out merchandise and so on.
However, they usually do not have a lot of direct customer contact. Therefore, if your ideal environment involves a lot of customer service, this position may not be for you.
4. Read up on the company’s corporate culture
As mentioned, it is important to know about the company’s work culture before your interview. Once you learn what the work environment there is like, try to incorporate some aspects into your answer.
‘Carry out in-depth research and prepare an honest answer that aligns with the literature on their careers page, any team pages, or their ‘About’ page,’ says Giacobbe. ‘If they opt for an informal management style over micromanagement, be sure to reflect this in your answer. If they advocate team working projects, then say you would be looking to collaborate often.’
5. Be honest
Although you should be aware of the company culture and work environment, don’t fabricate an answer that doesn’t truly represent you but that you think the employer would like to hear.
‘Answer this question honestly,’ advises Dr Deb Geller, Associate Dean of Students at UCLA and author of Building Talent Pools: A Professional Development Model for Succession Planning. ‘Are you successful working independently, collaborating as part of a team, or both? Do you like having frequent contact with or feedback from your boss? Do you like to work onsite or remotely, or both? Be yourself, and if your strengths intersect with their culture, you may be the right fit.’
Indeed, if you are not honest, your answer may help you land the job, but you will likely be miserable in the position. It’s important, then, that your answer reflects your preferences and character honestly, whilst also complementing that of the company’s.
6. Don’t forget the commute
This may seem insignificant, but your commute plays a major role when considering your ideal work environment. For example, working in a big city like New York or London may sound exciting, but if you have to drive, board a train and take two busses to get to your job, the excitement is going to wear off pretty quickly. A difficult commute can negatively impact the quality of both your work and your home life. So, before your interview, consider the logistics, too, and use that information to formulate your answer.
Now that you’ve engaged in some self-analysis and taken various factors into consideration, it is time to fashion an answer. Below are some examples of appropriate responses to this question. Although these sample answers can serve as a guide, your response should be personalised and reflect your employment needs.
Emphasising specific elements and preferences
‘My ideal work environment would be one that is very structured. I like to work in a setting in which everyone’s responsibilities are clearly delineated, including my own, and I am made aware of the quality of my work will be evaluated. In my ideal work environment, everyone knows their role and has a place within the organisational structure.’
Showing your adaptable nature
‘I do not have a specific work environment in mind. I consider myself to be very flexible, and therefore I can adapt and thrive in whatever work environment I am placed in. My only requirement would be to work in an environment in which I can fully utilise my experience and abilities.’
Offering examples from previous experiences
‘I have had to work from home for the last year. During that time, I found that I was very productive when I could set my own schedule and working at my own pace, with a minimal amount of supervision. Therefore, my ideal work environment would be something very similar.’
Have you ever been asked about your ideal work environment during a job interview? If so, how did you respond? Let us know in the comments section below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 19 July 2017.