Tough Interview Question - Do you prefer a structured or unstructured work environment?

Do you prefer a structured or unstructured work environment?

Similar interview questions:
Do you require a large amount of direction in your work?
Tell me about a task you recently accomplished and what you were given to perform the task.
Is your current work highly defined?
Do you like being told exactly what to do or would you prefer figuring it out on your own?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
This is a company culture question. Most employers lean to one end or the other of the structure spectrum. The fact that the interviewer is asking that question is an indicator that they skew to one end or the other and usually candidates at the other end of the spectrum are not good cultural fits. The interviewer is attempting to assess whether you fit within the company culture as it relates to structure. Typically, there is a direct correlation between the size of the company and the level of structure, so the larger companies tend to be more structured than smaller companies.

The best approach to answering this question:
It is important to understand the overall company culture and structure before answering the question. The best answer is to provide a hybrid of both, yet leaning toward the end of the structure spectrum that is consistent with the employer.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"I can work well in both environments, so it would be a combination of both. I work my best where the required deliverables are structured and well defined, yet unstructured in my personal approach to achieving those deliverables. For example, on my current project, I had a very well- defined deliverable, yet the way I went about achieving the deliverable was non-standard. I pulled together the team for a scrum session and mapped out potential avenues and approaches to be explored. We eventually came up with an entirely new approach which allowed us to both meet the full deliverable while also creating new opportunities for further enhancements in the future. Here are some of the details about this project…"

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"I work well in both environments. My most recent internship was highly structured at the outset, but once I completed my primary deliverable, I was given a much less structured problem to solve for the team. This project had been tried twice by others without a satisfactory solution. I did further research on new tools which could assist us in achieving the solution and was able to implement with the use of a tool that no one on the team had yet worked with…"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"I don’t really like structure in my work. Do you mean like having someone standing over me all day telling me what to do? Well, I have that now and it’s not working out very well for me…"

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these Fifty Standard Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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