How To Answer “What Is Your Work Style” (With Examples)

Matthew Zane
By Matthew Zane
- Jan. 12, 2021
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Open-ended interview questions like “What is your work style” are common, but they can be tricky to answer. You want to let the interviewer know that you’d fit in well with the company culture while staying true to yourself.

In this article, we’ll cover why employers ask this question, tips for crafting a winning answer, things to avoid when answering, and some sample answers to bring it all together.

Why Employers Ask “What’s Your Work Style?”

Employers ask about your work style to see how well you’d fit into the company culture. Whether your employer runs a bustling office space or manages a small remote team, every environment creates conditions for certain work styles to thrive more than others.

Figuring out and expressing your work style will not only help the employer determine how good of a fit you are, but also help you decide if it’s the sort of place in which you wish to work.

Beyond that, your interview is looking for your self-awareness in this question. They want to see if you understand and can express your skills, weak points, and knowledge of the job’s duties within your answer.

To that end, you can certainly research the position and the company to help craft your response. However, you shouldn’t shy away from giving a genuine answer just because it runs counter to what your research uncovers.

In fact, by showing that you understand a contrast exists between your personal work style and the company’s ethos, you can describe your differing perspective as an asset or highlight your ability to adapt to any scenario.

Tips for Defining Your Work Style

Preparing for open-ended questions like “What’s your work style” is extra important because you’ll often give a vague or incoherent response if you’re caught flat-footed. While looking up information on the company can provide you a foundation on which to build your answer, it’s not the final step.

Let self-reflection be your guide in crafting a response, as you consider the following factors of your work style:

  • Autonomy vs. collaboration. Most jobs require some level of cooperation, so you want to steer clear of an answer that makes it sound like you don’t work well with others.

    On the other hand, you can be honest if you get your best work done independently – some roles may even require a lot of autonomy.

  • Relationship with authority. An interviewer wants to know how you navigate your relationships with management and your direct supervisor. Are you the sort of employee who likes a lot of direction and management, or do you prefer to be left alone?

    Regardless, you should express that you’re open to feedback and direction because those are both essential traits for any good employee.

  • Communication style. Communication is a critical soft skill to mention in answering a question about work style since questions like this are all about soft skills. Consider whether you’re apt to reach out for help, be available to help others, and how you deal with giving and receiving constructive criticism in the workplace.

    Additionally, think about what pieces of communication software you’re comfortable with, and try to integrate that into your response. You can also touch on if you’re a traditionalist who prefers in-person chats or if you thrive on the efficiency that technology offers.

  • Big picture vs. detail-oriented. This is an element of your work style that’s tricky to adapt, so be forthright if your answer touches on this point. Some employees love deep-diving into their work’s minutiae, while others care more about their final product’s overall presentation.

    This question could also be phrased, “speed vs. accuracy” – do you want to get things done quickly, even if somewhat imperfectly, or will you sacrifice speediness for perfection? Consider whether you focus on the forest or the trees when formulating your response.

  • Strict routine vs. quickly adaptive. Some people prefer a rigid work schedule where they can accurately predict what they’ll be doing for the next few weeks. Others thrive in a more dynamic environment, where every day brings news surprises and challenges. Are you quick on your feet, or do you like structure?

    The two aren’t necessarily discrete, but you should let your interviewer know your ideal scenario if you choose to incorporate this element into your answer.

  • Motivation. Whether it’s being the best salesman on your team, earning a big paycheck, or supporting your teammates, you can give insight into your work style by discussing your motivation to work. You could also think of this as asking yourself, “what makes me tick?”

    This is especially important to touch on if you’re trying to land a remote position, as staying self-motivated is critical for your performance.

  • Multitasking capability. Some positions will require you to juggle multiple projects simultaneously. Outside of impressing the interviewer with a favorable response, you should seriously consider whether you enjoy having multiple projects to work on or you work best when you’re tackling one thing at a time.

    Remember, this question is not just for the interviewer to determine whether you’re a good fit; it’s also to decide whether or not you’d enjoy working here.

  • Organization and time management. Think about how you like to plan your day or even your workweek or month. Are you a spreadsheet hero who has every minute of every day precisely planned out, or are you a go-with-the-flow type? Regardless, you should try to highlight your organizational skills.

    You can also mention if you’re the type to go above the rest and stay to work late hours.

  • Work environment and office pace. Ask yourself what type of environment you enjoy getting your work done in. Some people prefer open spaces and a communal feel, while others like having their personal space clearly delineated from others.

    Additionally, think about how you handle fast-paced environments or tedious arrangements. Ultimately, you’re going to spend a lot of time in your workspace, so you want to make sure you’ll be comfortable.

  • STAR method. For pretty much every interview question, you’ll want some evidence to back up your response. Anyone can say they’re a great collaborator who’s quick to adapt.

    Having a story that shows how you demonstrated those traits in a relevant workplace situation completes the picture.

  • Honesty. We’ve touched on this a bit in previous tips, but it bears repeating. Thinking about your workstyle isn’t just for the sake of wowing the interviewing. It’s also to make sure that you’d genuinely fit in well with your employer.

  • Efficiency. We know we’ve included a lot of things to think about, but that doesn’t mean you have to include each and every one in your response.

    Pick the most salient elements of your work style (for the position and/or your priorities) and include those in your response.

What Not to Say

Hopefully, you’re starting to generate ideas for how to respond to the question “what’s your work style?” You may be thinking about incorporating some extra information as well. That’s great – just be sure you don’t include any of the following in your answer:

  • Meaningless buzzwords. When interviewers hear certain words, they heave a deep sigh internally: team player, great communicator, outside-the-box, etc.

    Your answer can certainly include adjectives (it’s kind of hard to avoid), but the key is to prop them up with facts. That’s where having stories prepared comes in handy.

  • Prefer to work alone. It might be true, but you should never indicate that you prefer to work alone. The vast majority of occupations require collaboration, so stating that you don’t want to work alongside others will almost certainly shut the door on this job opportunity.

  • Inflexibility. Regardless of your preferences, you should always express your flexibility. A job and office space will never be a perfect fit for 100% of employees, and that’s why compromise is crucial (in any relationship).

    You shouldn’t indicate that some aspects of the job that run counter to your work style are dealbreakers.

  • Lies. Don’t say you’re a hyper-organized, detail-oriented morning person if you’re not. It won’t do you any favors to lie your way into a job where your work style doesn’t gel well. Both your employer and you will suffer as a result.

  • Long-winded response. When open-ended questions catch you off guard (this one or any others), don’t just ramble on for ages hoping there’s a nugget of good content in your five-minute spiel.

    Hit some of the key points we covered above and sum it up concisely. Preparation will serve you well.

Example Answers to “What’s Your Work Style?”

Example #1 – Accountant Position

While a good portion of my work is traditionally performed independently, I always reach out to relevant department heads and management to keep them in the loop when I’m working on a project that pertains to them. I like to do morning check-ins to ensure everyone’s on the same page, but my Slack is always open, and I’m ready to answer questions at a moment’s notice.

As an accountant, being detail-oriented is essential, but I try not to get caught up with small issues while focusing on the most salient aspects of the project at hand. I’m able to handle multiple projects at once by keeping a spreadsheet of tasks that assigns each task a priority level and takes into account collaborative necessities. This allows me to stay organized and in contact with whomever I need to be.

At my current position, there was a project being held up by one of our remote team members, and I couldn’t move forward without their input. By having a spreadsheet of all my tasks available, I was able to continue work on other pressing projects while I awaited my coworker’s action on the other task.

Example #2 ­– Remote Programmer Position

I’ve been working remotely for the past three years, and I’ve found a system that works for me and my productivity. I tend to work with headphones on and vocal-less music playing, as I find it helps me stay focused and alert. While I’m always available to communicate with, I take chunks out of each day where I mute notifications and can focus deeply on the task at hand.

Having a loose schedule is helpful for me, but seeing as issues are always arising in programming, I like to leave some of my day undetermined. That way, I don’t feel overwhelmed when I need to take on a new task unexpectedly and I’m able to keep tabs on multiple projects at once with ease.

I also work best when I’m allowed the freedom to perform tasks as I see fit. At my last job, there was a very regimented system for integrating new programs, and it really slowed down my team’s efficiency. I brought this up with my supervisor, and she agreed to allow us more autonomy. With this change, we saw turnaround time on new projects increase by 23%, and my team’s satisfaction, I’m sure, went up by even more, if such things could be quantified!

Example #3 – Graphic Designer Position

As a graphic designer, I feel that my work style incorporates a good amount of time for creative thinking. I particularly enjoy projects where I have the freedom to determine how best to perform my job. On projects like this, my intrinsic motivation skyrockets, as I’m competing against my own definition of excellence, which continually sets the bar higher for myself each time.

I get a thrill out of working in a fast-paced environment where tight deadlines encourage creative solutions. As an artist, I’m also a fan of free-form office environments, where open spaces allow for more rapid and informal collaboration.

At my current job, we have midday get-togethers that serve in part as brainstorming sessions and as professional development opportunities. The time spent on a free exchange of ideas led to some of my best insights on projects and helped me grow as a graphic designer.

For instance, at one of these get-togethers, I expressed frustration with a new update to PhotoShop that was throwing me off. One of my coworkers was able to help me navigate this issue. After, I reflected on the power of this unstructured moment to affect real change in how I performed my duties.

I think settings where informal collaboration can continually take place opens up a host of opportunities for individual employees and the organization as a whole.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Matthew Zane

Author

Matthew Zane

Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.

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