by Gladys Stone & Fred Whelan
People are happiest and most productive when they work in an environment that suits them. By the same token, companies have different personalities, so it’s important for them to hire people who fit in the company’s environment.
Many job seekers stumble when asked in an interview to describe their ideal work environment. Remember, when you’re being interviewed, you are being screened for a certain skill set and cultural fit. Here are some tips on how to formulate your answer to this job interview question.
Small vs. Large
A very common question is whether you are most productive and comfortable in a small or large company. Both have benefits, so you need to think about which environment best suits you and your work style. If you like small companies, you might say, “I want to work for a small company because you get exposed to more things faster.” However, if you like the greater resources and more formalized training of a large organization, you should communicate that when being interviewed.
Your preference may also depend on where you are in your career. If you’re just starting out, a large company may be the place to learn processes. If that’s how you feel, say, “I want to own my own company someday and want to learn the best methodologies for running a business.” If you have a number of years under your belt and believe you already know how to manage all or part of a business successfully, then a small company might be the place for you. In your answer, you might say, “I’ve had great training from large companies and want to import those practices into a small company so I can have a greater impact.” Typical interview questions like small company versus large company are designed to determine where you will be best-suited to perform and contribute. Let the interviewer know why you prefer one environment over another.
Formal vs. Informal
Of the most typical interview questions, this one is designed to illuminate the environment in which you like to work. Everyone has a preferred way of working. Some people like the formality of processes. If that’s you, say, “I like when processes are in place so I know what steps to take.” Others may prefer a more informal work environment in which there is less structure in the way the company operates. If that’s your preferred environment, you might say you like extemporaneous meetings in hallways and business decisions made over a casual lunch.