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How to Answer the Job Interview Question: Describe Your Ideal Work Environment

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When hiring managers ask about your ideal work environment, they’re trying to figure out if you’ll be a good fit for the job and the organization. Here’s what they want to hear.

Job seekers and employers alike care a lot about cultural fit, so when you’re asked in a job interview to describe your ideal work environment, you can be sure everyone in the room is interested in what you have to say. According to one survey, 88% of recruiters said cultural fit is important when assessing job candidates. Likewise, job seekers want to find a work environment that suits their personality and work preferences, says executive coach and HR consultant Paul Thallner. In fact, 73% of respondents to a recent Monster survey said they have left at least one job that wasn’t the right fit for them. 

Knowing the type of work environment that allows you to thrive is half the battle. You also have to know how to answer the question without unintentionally knocking yourself out of the running for the job. Take these steps to prepare a well-crafted answer.

Do your research

Many hiring managers pose this question to candidates as a litmus test to see how well you’d fit into the organization, says Thea Kelley, a job search coach and author of Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview. “Look for overlap between what you want out of a company culture and what the company offers,” she says.

To do that, you’ll have to thoroughly research your prospective employer, which requires looking beyond the company’s website (though that’s a good starting point). “You need to dig deeper,” says Mark Moyer, career coach and business strategist at New York City–based Compass Points Advisors.

These six sources can offer great insight into a company’s culture:

  • The company’s social media. Pay particular attention to the tone, “which can give you a good feel for the organization’s vibe,” Kelley says.
  • Current employees. Talk to two to three workers at the company to get an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to work there, says Moyer, who recommends asking mutual connections to make introductions for you. If you don’t have any shared connections, tap into your college’s alumni database, advises job interview coach Bill Cole. Though you can certainly ask employees questions over email, meeting with them in person can help you cement relationships.
  • YouTube. To take advantage of this often under-utilized resource, “punch in the names of key players at the company, and see what they say during media interviews,” Cole suggests. “Oftentimes, executives will talk about company culture. Then, you can mention that you saw the interview when you sit down with the hiring manager.”
  • Press releases. A quick google search can provide a look at what the company’s current initiatives and challenges are.
  • Company reviews on Monster. See what former employees have to say about working there. The caveat? One or two negative reviews isn’t cause for concern—after all, chances are good there will always be a couple disgruntled employees—but if you see an overwhelming number of negative reviews, take them as a warning sign, says Chrissy Scivicque, career coach and founder of EatYourCareer.com.
  • The job description. Job postings can help you glean information about a company’s work environment. Some job descriptions even describe what the organization’s culture is like, making your job a whole lot easier.

Show you’ve done your homework

Once you’ve done the legwork, it’s time to apply your newfound knowledge during the job interview. When you’re asked to describe your ideal work environment, your ultimate goal is to highlight the fact that you’ve researched the company and understand its culture.

Let’s say you want to work in a collaborative environment. In that case, you might say to the hiring manager, “From talking to a few employees here, I discovered that your organization prides itself on having a family atmosphere, where peers work closely together. I thrive in those kinds of environments. Does that match up with the way things work here?”

Remember, though, your core values should align with the company’s mission (e.g., “I want to work for a company that cares about giving back to the community, and that’s why I’m so interested in this opportunity.”). “If your ideal work environment is nothing like what you found out about the company, you need to carefully consider whether you really want to work there,” Kelley says.

Moreover, only focus on describing the kind of work environment you want—not what you don’t want, says Kelley. So, instead of saying, “I don’t want to work for a company with a lot of micromanagement,” a better frame way to frame that would be to say, “I’m a self-starter, so I’m looking for some autonomy.”