You've definitely been asked this in an interview and it's something you absolutely need to know if you're trying to build career success. So what is your dream workplace?
Outside of being able to describe it in an interview setting, you probably haven't put a lot of thought into it - and even then you've probably just taken the bad advice to describe the company that you're interviewing with.
Having an ideal work environment answer is one of the critical elements of career success, and it's one that far too many professionals neglect.
To help you discover where you should work, I have five questions to ask you today to help you not just nail the interview question, but to truly know where you will thrive.
What is your ideal working location?
This sounds really obvious, but it's something that a lot of people either overlook, or mis-evaluate.
You probably already know, if you're an office person, or if the thought of having to work in an office for eight hours a day and be chained to your desk makes you want to pull off your skin. But one thing that most people don't actually consider is the ability to work on-site versus the ability to work remote.
And if they want to work on-site, what are the important qualities for their working space for them to be able to thrive?
It's interesting, I actually spent the vast majority of my career in the tech industry. And once upon a time ago, working from home was a really big trend, it was one of the biggest assets that every company needed to offer in order to attract the best talent. However, in the past few years, there actually seems to be a trend in the opposite direction. A lot of big companies and small companies in tech alike have decided that being on-site is an absolute mission critical element for their employees, and they now require it outside of extreme circumstances.
When you're considering an opportunity or a work environment you need to figure out which one is actually best for you.
I know in theory that working from home sounds awesome. You got to work in your pajamas and watch your stories while you work. But if that's actually your attitude, that's a great indicator that working from home is not for you.
Similarly, there is a trend towards open office spaces. And if you find open office spaces to be really distracting, that might be something that you want to consider when you're considering joining a new company, if that is the setting that there is. On the other hand, you may find that cubicles are your own personal hell.
No matter what though, as you consider the different settings and locations that you could potentially work in, there is one thing that I really want you to be clear on.
You need to differentiate between what is great for you in theory, and what is great for you in practice.
You can simplify this by defining if you do your best work in an office or your best work remote and go from there into question two...
What is the Company's Culture & Values?
Really what I'm saying is considering the company values.If you've already created your professional mission statement and gone through the value discovery process you're ahead of the game.
Armed with your values, it's important for you to align those with the values of the company that you are potentially joining.
For example, if you value risk-taking and adventure, working for a highly analytical and methodical company is probably not going to be the place that you're going to be able to do your best work and be super appreciated.
If you haven't already gone through the practice of uncovering your values, thinking about the qualities that make you thrive. What's really important to you that you want to have in common with your colleagues.
For example, does kindness make your heart sing? Are you dependent on being in a transparent environment? Is tenacity something that you really value in yourself and your colleagues? Knowing what your values are and how they align with the company that you are potentially going to work for is going to help you land in your ideal work environment.
That said, assessing the company's values isn't always so cut and dry. Some larger companies already have professed values, you can find them on their website, you can find testimonials on YouTube about them, and when you talk to people that might really be living by them. However, if you're working for a less mature organization, what you might find is that their values actually have not been defined, or they may have defined values that aren't actually consistent with them.
What this means is if you're currently interviewing and you're preparing to answer the what is your ideal work environment question, you need to potentially do a little bit more groundwork to understand the values of the company and how they line up with your own. There's a ton of ways that you can do this including asking those questions and interviews, looking on Glassdoor, and more.
I know a lot of people think that this is fluff. However, when there is a misalignment in terms of values, it is something that you're going to feel. And on the flip side, when there is complete alignment, you're going to find that cultivating career success is so much easier when you're in the right workplace.
What size of company are you looking for, and what what level of formality helps you succeed at work?
While these aren't exactly the same thing, I've actually clumped them together, because in general, you are going to find that there is a correlation between the size of the company and the formality that's required. This isn't focused on superficial elements like dress code (that maybe that matters to you too), what I'm actually talking about is essentially the level of bureaucracy that you're going to encounter.
How hierarchial is the company? How many levels of approvals do you need to go through?
It's those types of formalities and processes that are going to differentiate a big company and a small company. The reason this is a really important question for you to get clear on is it's going to help you avoid feeling like you've acquired a job that fits like skinny jeans, which leave you with a severe case of muffin top. Different company sizes are going to offer different benefits to you.
Big companies are amazing if you crave stability, if you want to be able to consistently find answers. And if you don't want to be inventing any wheels. At big companies, there is likely already a process for everything, they've gone through all of the scaling pain points to figure it out and in and in general life is going to be very well defined in terms of what you do your expectations and how you interact with others. It is essentially a well oiled machine.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have small companies or startups, these can range really greatly in terms of how they function, especially as you consider the different industries if it's tech, if it's like a mom and pop shop, things like that. But in general, you can expect a lot less structure, a lot less bureaucracy, and a lot more flexibility in terms of what you do. This can be great, especially if you're someone who likes to wear multiple hats and likes to make really big impact in terms of scope.
However, there is the other side of working in a startup or a small company. And that is that leadership might not be as mature. And if you're in a startup that is VC funding dependent, there may be less stability associated with that. Because if they're not operating profitably, they are dependent on their next round in order to sustain their business. Then there's the in between, which is a mid-sized company, and even things like later stage startups.
Mid-sized companies actually have some of the benefits of both big and small companies. So there is going to be more maturity in most cases. However, if they're still in growth phase, there's probably still a lot of flexibility and a lot of opportunity within that company for you to make an impact.
So which one is right for you?
The answer this question is actually a moving target, because this is something that is going to change over the course of your career. I've worked with people who have actually defined that a mid stage startup with between 30 and 1,000 people is best for them right now. And then as they progress, they've decided that they needed to grow up, and they need to work for an enterprise company, or they've gone the other way, and they've joined a company with less than 50 people.
Don't worry about defining your ideal workplace in terms of company size and think that is going to stay the same forever, because it absolutely isn't.
What do you need in terms of work life balance?
Knowing what you want to put into work and what your personal requirements are, is essential.
Maybe you really love what you do. And you're totally stoked to do it for 60 hours or more a week, maybe you would do the work for free. But on the flip side, if you have other things going on, you're trying to run a try out the line, you have kids , you have other ideas, maybe you have a side gig, or you just really enjoy throwing pottery, and those are things that are really important to you that you need to make sure that you have time for, you need to have that defined, because all of those things are going to be strong indicators that having reasonable work hours, and maybe even potentially some flexibility here schedule are going to be essential factors for your ideal work environment.
Again, there's no right or wrong answer. And this is going to be something that fluctuates over time, however, you want to make sure that you're very clear and honest with yourself in terms of what your actual work life balance needs are.
What level of independence do you need in order to be successful?
To illustrate this point, let me tell you the tale of two professionals.
The first professional when I began working with her, told me that her biggest obstacle at work was the lack of attention from her manager, they had bi-weekly one on ones, they had a weekly team meeting, and he sat in the same office within her general vicinity. However, she didn't feel like she was getting the support and guidance that she really needed to grow in her role, the way that she wanted to. And while she liked him, she didn't think he was doing a particularly great job as a manager.
Another client I had was in a similar role at a similar stage startup, her and her manager actually sat in different location. She actually went more than eight weeks without speaking to him with the exception of a few emails where she needed his direct input on something or he needed input directly from her. She told me he was the best manager she had ever had.
So what was the difference between these two?
The difference between these two was really the level of support that they needed in order to do their jobs in a way that they felt like they were growing and successful. One wanted regular input and guidance, she actually wanted to be micromanaged because that was what was going to give her the confidence that she needed to go out there and just absolutely crush it in her job. And the other one just needed freedom to do her job, she felt like having space was going to be how she would be able to best perform, she was able to go out do things, learn from her mistakes, and didn't feel like she was being constantly judged.
These are two very far ends of the spectrum, but you probably sit somewhere in between in terms of what you actually want in terms of leadership, and autonomy in your role.
The reason why this is so important to understand about yourself is that once you've defined this element of your ideal work environment, it's going to help you assess the leadership style of the company that you're potentially joining, as well as the manager who you will potentially be working for this obviously super important if you're heading into an interview and preparing to answer that interview question right now.
However, if you're currently at a role, and you just want to understand your ideal work environment in general, this can actually help you have a conversation with your manager about how they can better help you.
Are you someone who would benefit from having additional guidance and inputs from your manager? Or would it be better if they actually stepped away a little bit?
Help guide them in how in terms of how they can better lead you.
A lot of managers are just going to assume that there is one way of leading and it is the way that they like to be led. Obviously, that's not true. But the more that we can foster the conversation in terms of how we can be successful and how they can help get us there, the easier life is going to be for all of us, and the more ideal your workplace will be.
The important thing here and with all of the points that I'm making today, is to be really true to who you are.
One of the things that I think is really botched when we think about our ideal workplace is we're thinking too much about what a personality test says, or what the company's website says they are, and we're just trying to answer accordingly. Or we're just really hopping onto the trends.
But when you're not being true to yourself, what is going to end up happening is if you're not in your ideal work environment, you are ultimately not going to be in the best setting for your success, which is what we really want to focus on.
If you're not in the right setting for you to succeed, you're going to waste time shrinking instead of succeeding where you were actually meant to be.