Interview Questions: ‘What Work Environment Do You Prefer?’

Illustration of two men sitting on armchairs during an interview with a scene of a busy work environment in the background

What type of work environment do you prefer?  

Everyone thrives in different work settings. It could be at the office where deadlines are tight, and your colleagues are running around frantically screaming on their phones. Or it could be an at-home environment where you take it easy, listening to Bach and completing one assignment at a time. You may be an in-betweener, too – and that’s OK! Everyone’s different.

This is a common interview question, but it can also be hard to answer because our moods change from one day to the next. On any given day, you may like to work as if you drowned in a case of Red Bull. On another day, you might enjoy the office as if you are sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea.

So, how do you even answer or prepare for this question? We’ve compiled a guide on how to respond to ‘What type of work environment do you prefer?’ at your next job interview.

Why hiring managers ask this question

Before we explore why hiring managers and small business owners pose this question, it would be opportune to highlight the various work environments that companies offer their employees:

  • Conventional: You sit at a desk, punch in at nine and clock out at five and perform your duties. This is ideal for administration work.
  • Enterprising: This is a cut-throat office where the outgoing and assertive staff are competing for money and power. Stock trading and sales managing are the usual positions found in this place.
  • Social: A chief characteristic of this position is socialising and communicating because it’s a people-focused office environment. Teachers thrive in this world.
  • Artistic: Expression, freedom and self-direction are the attributes of this work atmosphere. Graphic designers or fashion sketch artists excel in this environment.
  • Investigative: While you’re working with colleagues, this workplace encourages independence and freedom of thought to foster innovation. Research scientists, computer programmers or mathematicians will succeed in this kind of environment.
  • Realistic: You work with your hands, operate machinery and work either on-site or off-site. Engineers and mechanics are accustomed to this world.

What do you prefer? While most older businesses might maintain a standard run-of-the-mill office environment, many newer firms in a diverse array of industries may have experimented with the artistic or social for their workplace. Your potential employer may have recently modified the corporate culture to embrace something new. And that’s why applicants are presented with this question.

If you opt to work alone and be left to do your work, you may not survive and thrive in an enterprising or social workplace. On the other hand, if you’re the outgoing type who needs to engage with coworkers to complete projects, an artistic one may be up your alley. This is what hiring managers want to gauge from your reply.

Whatever the case may be, hiring managers will lob this interview question and expect an honest answer. Knowing how to craft a response could be challenging since you may be someone who would prefer a hybrid option: one day social and the next day realistic. Is being neutral the best response?

How to craft a response

Now that you’re equipped with the reason why this question is posed to you, the next step is to craft the best response possible.

1. Do your research

Before you sit down for a job interview – either on the phone or in person – you should try to learn about the company. Whether it’s from reviews by previous employees or your understanding of how the company functions, you should attempt to determine what it’s like.

Is it formal or casual? Do managers appear to give employees autonomy, or do they micromanage? Are personnel permitted decision-making, or do they need permission for every little thing? Researching these matters can raise your level of confidence in the job interview.

2. Employ a blend of neutrality and elaboration

The next step is to aim for neutrality. Your goal should be to emulate Switzerland. It’s better to state that you’re flexible and that you can adapt to any situation.

At the same time, you can also discuss what you like about specific work environments. For example, you could explain that you enjoy a collaborative environment because it emphasises problem-solving or that you also think being independent is crucial to any organisation’s success.

3. Avoid being dishonest

Of course, it’s critical that you refrain from being dishonest. If you’re an extreme introvert who enjoys sitting in a quiet corner doing your work, you shouldn’t claim that you can excel in a more open office environment. Any time you’re honest and authentic, you’ll feel that your interview was successful.

4. Engage with past employees

Social media should always be at the top of your interview preparation repertoire. A helpful measure to employ is to perhaps network with folks who are presently or previously employed by the company. By engaging with these past employees, you can learn more about company policies, office environments and what the people there are like day to day.

Example answers

So, what is a sample answer you could provide to the hiring manager during your job interview? Here are some example responses that you can use to move on to the next step in the hiring process.

Showcasing your flexibility

‘I’m the type of person who is flexible and adaptable. I have researched your website, and from what I’ve seen, your organisation’s accounting department strikes a fine balance between collaboration and autonomy. While I can adapt to most environments, I think this type of atmosphere is crucial to the kind of work we do.’

This answer highlights both your willingness to fulfil your obligations in any kind of office environment and your due diligence. It also provides a little bit of insight into how you view a workplace atmosphere is crucial for a firm’s productivity.

Using humour (carefully)

‘Throughout my career, I worked at a wide variety of offices. At one firm, we were isolated from each other and left to do our work. You could hear a pin drop. At another business, everyone was working in one of those open-office environments where you could touch the other person’s face – that was how close we were. I managed fine in both extremes, so this shows how I can adapt to anything.’

Let’s be honest: a little bit of humour can go a long way in a job interview. But it’s also imperative that you incorporate some value to your answer. This response integrates both elements since it highlights your wit and your professional experience.

Buying yourself time

‘Unfortunately, I’ve been trying to find out what some of your workplace policies are or how you manage teams, but I could not find any information. Could you explain to me the type of work environment you maintain here?’

The tables have been turned! Your answer is a great strategy in somewhat evading the question and spotlighting your desire to learn more about the position, company and work environment, offering you the chance to better craft your response accordingly.

Demonstrating your work ethic

‘My primary aim in any job is to perform to the best of my abilities. As long as management is confident in my skills and I’m trusted to complete tasks independently, the work environment is not important to me. I’m ready to perform in any high-pressure or laid-back workplace.’

This a great answer because it suggests that you’re no-nonsense and that your only objective is to work. You’re ready, willing and able to handle anything that is tossed your way. As long as you’re respected and trusted for your acumen and skills, you can ensure you perform at a high level no matter what it’s like at the company.

If you prefer your solitude, you probably envision a desk in a quiet part of the office where you can do your work in peace. If you’re sociable, you would want an inclusive and vibrant workplace.

What work environment do you prefer, and how would you answer this question if it was posed to you in an interview? Let us know in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 9 December 2016.