How to Answer the Interview Question “What Is Your Work Style?”

Updated Dec 21, 20225 min
How to Answer the Interview Question “What Is Your Work Style?”

How to Answer the Interview Question “What Is Your Work Style?”

Elise GelwicksUpdated Dec 21, 20225 min
How to Answer the Interview Question “What Is Your Work Style?”

Would you like to work at Google? If so, your work style should "thrive in ambiguity, value feedback, effectively challenge the status quo, put the user first, do the right thing, and care about the team." Otherwise, your “Googleyness” will not come up to snuff.

“What is your work style?” is a common interview question posed by an employer to job seekers. It is designed to find out how well you would fit in their organization, your “Googleyness” in Google’s case. You’ll hear this interview question at interviews for many companies, not just Google.

Crafting a thoughtful answer to the question requires emotional intelligence and three other things: introspection, research, and honesty.

Here’s a guide to finding the best answer to a job interview question that is more complicated than it sounds.

Introspection: Understand Your Work Preferences and Personality Type

You need a critical understanding of your personality and work preferences to know whether you are a good fit for a certain role or organization, and there are plenty of free online personality tools to help you.

One of the most popular tests is the Myers Briggs. The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator is a self-report questionnaire that shows you your psychological preferences, how you perceive the world, and how you make decisions. A simplified, free version of this test is called the 16 Personalities Types test. It defines five personality aspects: Mind, Energy, Nature, Tactics, and Identity. The test tells you where you fall within a range for each aspect.

Mind: You may be someone who prefers solitary activities and feels exhausted after social interaction. Or, you may prefer group activities and find yourself energized by social interaction and teamwork.

Energy:  How you see the world and process information affects the way you work. Some people are practical, pragmatic, and down-to-earth with great work ethic while others are imaginative, open-minded, and curious.

Nature: We all make decisions and cope with emotions differently. Some individuals prioritize logic over emotions; they tend to hide their feelings and see efficiency as more important than cooperation. Others are sensitive and emotionally expressive. They are more empathetic, less competitive, and enjoy social harmony and cooperation.

Tactics: Tactics define your approach to work, planning, and problem-solving. You may be decisive, thorough, and highly organized, preferring clarity, predictability, closure, structure, and planning. Or, you may prefer to improvise and often spot opportunities.

Identity: Some people are confident in their abilities and decisions. They are self-assured, even-tempered, and resistant to stress. They refuse to worry too much and do not push themselves too hard. Others are self-conscious and sensitive to stress. They may experience a wide range of emotions and to be success-driven and perfectionistic.

The test also defines you in terms of role. The four roles are analyst, diplomat, sentinels, and explorers. Analysts have a utilitarian perspective and are excellent strategic thinkers; diplomats are empathetic and often good counselors; sentinels embrace order and create stability; and explorers are spontaneous, practical, and likely to undertake risky ventures.

Other popular personality tests are the TestColor personality test that predicts personality based on your color preferences and is science-based; the DiSC Assessment, which recruiters often use; the emotional intelligence test, which measures your ability to detect the emotions of others based on facial expressions; and the GoodJob’s PATH Assessment.

A Word of warning – Personality Tests Are For You, Not Your Employer

As fascinating as these personality tests can be, they are for your eyes only. Use them to learn more about yourself, but do not refer to them in an interview. Your interviewer is not interested in your personality test results. They care about how comfortable you are working in various situations and environments.

Researching the Company Culture

Once you have a better understanding of your personality type and work preferences, you can assess whether you are a good fit for a potential employer.

Review the job description you have your eye on as well as the company website. Some companies showcase employees so that potential applicants can become more familiar with the culture. Go to the company’s LinkedIn page and see if there is a possible contact who might be willing to talk to you about their role.

Alternatively, you could contact HR at the company and ask them to put you in touch with an employee in a similar role who can tell you a bit more about the environment and the expectations.

Once you have a grasp of how you might fit within the company, it’s time to develop an answer to the question, “How Would You Describe Your Work Style?”

Crafting an Honest Answer

"What is your work style?" is an open-ended question that invites cliche answers. Try to provide a bit more depth so that you sound more convincing.

Cliches are trite answers that will do nothing to differentiate you from the rest of the pack. For example, it is obvious that if your role is to be a coder, you most likely prefer to work independently and uninterrupted. On the other hand, if you are in sales, you are most likely a team player, a hard worker, and someone who enjoys a livelier environment with plenty of interaction.

So, how can you show more of an appreciation for the role you will play and convince the interviewer that you are the right person for the job? Try these suggested answers.

If the Role Calls For Collaboration

If you have done some research and you know that your target role requires teamwork, you could say the following:

“I’m most comfortable in a collaborating role. I like to work in a team environment because it allows the individuals to check each other. I also like to learn from others who are experts in areas that I am not. I’m a communicator, so I like to be open and to bounce off ideas. I usually do my best work when I focus on one project at a time.”

This sample answer works because the interviewee shows what type of work structure they are comfortable with and their preferred level of collaboration. This answer would suit someone who is interviewing for a role in a startup environment or incubator.

If the Role Requires a High Level of Skill with Minimal Supervision

In this case, try an answer similar to the following:

“I’m dependable, and I like structure. I like to be given a task and then given the freedom to complete it by a tight deadline. I enjoy a challenge and working on a project I can really focus on. I’m very good at interpreting what the expectations are for project delivery. I usually work independently, but I’m used to checking in with teammates to check that the project is on track.”

This example answer shows that you prefer to work independently, but it also shows that you understand that you are part of a project team and project process. This would be a good answer for a software engineer or programmer.

If the Role Requires Leadership and Strategic Thinking

For a management role, it’s critical to emphasize your ability to take a more holistic and big picture view of the people and projects. Here's a possible answer.

“I always keep on top of my projects. I like to prioritize my time and that of my team members. I always have my teams plan what decisions they need to make before starting an initiative— what resources they will need, who will be responsible for what, what communication tools we’ll use. That way, the team is set up for success. I like to have open communication and less structure. However, I prefer to have regular check-ins to avoid having to pivot if things are not working out well.”

This answer clearly shows someone who is comfortable seeing the bigger picture and taking responsibility for a group. The answer shows someone who is empathetic yet strategic. This answer would be good for someone targeting a product manager role.

Summary Tips for Formulating the Best Answer

1. Analyze your Personal Work Style

Decide what type of working environment and style you prefer. Take a personality test for insights. Some characteristics to consider are the following:

  • Whether you prefer to work independently or as part of a team.

  • Whether you like to be left alone by your manager to work on a project or prefer regular check-ins.

  • Are you a leader, or do you prefer to be part of a team with a specific role?

  • Do you like structure with strict processes or do you prefer to come up with your own ideas?

  • Is your working style fast, or are you more detail-oriented and prefer not to be rushed? If you answer that you like to work fast, be sure to tell the interviewer what strategies you use to avoid unnecessary mistakes.

  • What is your preferred communication style? Do you prefer email, phone conversations, or face-to-face meetings?

2. Tailor your answer so that it is true to your work style type but also convinces the interviewer that you are a good fit for the role.

3. Give examples of your past work style in a previous job that demonstrate the behaviors and approaches you think the interviewer is looking for.

4. Be Brief and be honest.

The question about preferred work style is a critical one for an interviewer to explore. From the employer's perspective, finding the right fit for a role is essential because hiring, onboarding, and training a new recruit is a costly endeavor. 

From the candidate’s perspective, it is in their interests to find the right fit because the wrong job will take them back to square one and another job search.

In short, it’s worth spending time building your self-awareness, researching your role and your potential work environment, and determining whether your “Googleyness” is genuinely a great fit for that environment or not.

Elise Gelwicks
Elise is a communications and emotional intelligence training consultant for companies and law firms

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