If you’ve been on a few job interviews throughout your career, then you’re probably aware that a lot of common interview questions don’t actually provide much information about your fitness as a candidate. Many are overly vague (i.e. “Tell me about yourself”), while others waste valuable interview time on information that can be easily gleaned from your resume (i.e. “Do you know how to make a spreadsheet in Excel?”).
To conduct an interview that actually results in useful intel about the candidate to carry forward into the hiring process, interviewers should focus on thoughtful questions that get to the heart of what they actually want to learn about these potential employees. Unfortunately, a popular version of this question type — “What is your work style?” — can ultimately prove more confusing for the candidate than productive for the employer.
That said, asking about work style can absolutely help the interviewer get a sense of your workflow, how you interact with colleagues and whether you’re a fit for their company culture. If you find yourself drawing a blank when you receive this question in an interview, look to this guide for a full breakdown of what the interviewer is actually looking to ascertain, why they pose this question and how you can come up with a fully-formed response.
According to Psychology Today, a work style assessment is “an overarching assessment of your work personality — your ability to work with others, your attitude, and your work ethic, among other traits.” At their essence, these self-administered evaluations help you to pinpoint your individual work style (the way that you prefer to tackle projects and manage your flow), your collaborative work style (how you cooperate with colleagues, the roles you tend to play on work teams and project groups), and your overall attitude toward work (the type of management under which you thrive, the factors that motivate you to deliver your best performance).
If you Google “work style assessment,” you’ll find plenty of online quizzes designed to give you a distinct style profile, but you can just as easily figure your work style out for yourself by examining your habits and taking a close look at emerging patterns, both positive and negative.
When an interviewer asks you questions, she’s not just trying to get a sense of your accomplishments and your experience. After all, she has your resume in-hand; a lot of that information can be located either there or in your cover letter.
The opportunity to meet you in-person (or to talk to you over the phone, if you're a remote candidate or you're in the early stages of the interview process) can shed light on tough-to-measure characteristics, and your ability to self-assess your work style (and whether said work style is consistent with their hiring needs and company culture) falls into that category.
Employers want to find the candidate who’s the best fit for both the job and the company, and work style can be a major element of that fit.
Still wondering how to figure out your work style? Ask yourself these 5 questions:
Do regimented forms of organization like lists, Google calendar and flowcharts make you feel more productive, or do they feel constrictive?
Do you like to brainstorm in a group, or do you prefer to come up with ideas on your own before presenting them to your coworkers?
Do you have trouble saying “no” to your bosses and coworkers when asked to take on work that overwhelms you, or are you comfortable setting boundaries (and do you prefer a workplace where these boundaries are openly discussed and widely respected)?
If you’re given an assignment, what part do you tackle first, and what how do you prioritize the tasks required to complete the job?
Do you prefer direct oversight from your supervisors, or would you rather work in an atmosphere that gives you greater freedom over your own responsibilities and deliverables?
This question does call for genuine answers, so you’ll want to avoid anything overly scripted. However, this example of a response format can guide you in the right direction in terms of phrasing and general content:
“My work style is highly collaborative. I’m comfortable working independently and don’t hesitate to take initiative, and I also thrive when I’m able to communicate directly with my team members and can add my strengths to theirs for the benefit of the project. For instance, during my latest work initiative, I had the opportunity to work closely with four colleagues with differing skill sets, and because we merged our experience and know-how, we completed the project ahead of schedule and produced a deliverable that our boss called the most well-conceived proposal from our entire department.”
Remember that interviews aren’t one-way conversations. The employer isn’t just evaluating you; you should also be evaluating the company and determining whether their style and their expectations fit your needs and your career pursuits. That’s why it’s essential to answer the work style question as honestly as you can; if it turns out that your style is in direct opposition to what they’re looking for in their new hire, it’s best to find that out early.
Try to avoid subjective terms like “I’m dependable” or “I’m a perfectionist”. These terms don’t mean much to interviewers unless they’re backed by clear evidence. Instead, focus on real-life examples that you can share to illustrate your work style.
Unless you’re absolutely sure that this prospective employer puts major stock in personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, don’t use those results to explain your work style. Answering your interviewer’s question with “Well, I’m a INFJ, so…” can prove disorienting if said interviewer isn’t familiar with Myers-Briggs lingo.