Collaborative or independent? Scheduled or sporadic? Idea- or detail-oriented?

POV: your actual worst nightmare.

You’re at a job interview and you’re absolutely crushing it. That is, until your interviewer hits you with something totally out of left field:

“What’s your work style?”

You freeze. Because what does that even mean?

Cat in an "I'm confused" T-shirt.

“What’s your work style?” is one of the most common questions asked at job interviews. And, it can be a tough one to answer – unlike many other common interview questions, there isn’t really a “right” way to go about it.

If you’re asked, “What do you bring to this company?” you can combine your expertise and experience with the strengths outlined on the job application. If you get, “Why are you leaving your current job?” that’s a simple, straightforward answer. But, “What’s your work style?”

It’s vague, it’s open-ended and it’s completely up to you.

However, there is a silver lining. If you get this question at an interview, it’s likely a sign that things are going well – your interviewer is probably gauging how you’d gel with the work environment, which means they’re imagining you in the position.

So, to help you secure that salary, here are some tips to help you determine your work style:

Do your homework

A lobster does homework.

Since this is such a common interview question, it’s a good idea to do some background research on your potential employer before your interview.

Check their company website for a work philosophy or manifesto (it’ll usually be on the “About us” page). Alternatively, look at testimony from previous employees on review sites like Glassdoor.

That way, you’ll have a rough idea of what kind of worker the company is looking for.

Be honest

Keala Settle sings, "This is me."

It’s important that your work style fits in with the work environment at the company you’re applying to. But it’s equally important that the company’s work environment fits in with you.

Don’t misrepresent yourself just to please your interviewer – if you get the job, and you weren’t honest about how you like to work, you may be unhappy in the position.

Avoid clichés

Marie from Disney's "The Aristocats" rolls her eyes.

This can be applied to all parts of a job interview. Remember: your interviewer is probably meeting with dozens of people each day and will probably hear countless versions of the same responses. You want to find ways to stand out.

When you’re asked, “What’s your work style?” try to avoid saying things like, “I’m super hard-working,” or, “I’m really motivated.” Instead, prove these qualities by talking about some past achievements or opt for more unique adjectives.

Pick an angle

A person finds a camera angle.

Because this question is so open-ended, you have some leeway to answer it how you’d like. Do you want to talk about your teamwork abilities? How you like to pace your projects? Maybe what kind of office setup helps you get the most done?

Whatever angle you choose to approach this question from, make sure you stick with it to keep your response focused and concise.

Here are some examples of ways to answer this question from a few different angles:

Focus on communication style

Lady Gaga answers the phone.

“I like to stay really in-the-loop with my team, especially when it comes to long-term projects. Whether through meetings or direct messages, I think it’s important to provide regular updates on my progress and hear how things are going for my colleagues. But, with that said, I understand certain tasks are best completed privately and make an effort to communicate with others based on their preferences. For example, in my current role, my manager really values independence – so I only reach out to them when necessary.”

Focus on structure

“My typical work style involves completing routine tasks in the morning and moving on to more collaborative and inventive projects in the afternoon. I find my creative thinking abilities are at their sharpest right after lunch since my brain has had the morning to warm up and get into its ‘work mode.’ So, I try my best to schedule meetings and co-operative work sessions in the afternoon, to maximize my productivity and efficiency, while remaining flexible to my colleagues’ and employers’ time constraints.”

Focus on function

“I’m an extremely flexible worker. My background includes lots of work in creative fields and that has prepared me for adaptable, fast-paced thinking. This has proven very useful in my current role when I needed to balance multiple projects at a time – last year, my employer had to host its annual meeting, present a completed project, and pitch a new program all in the same week. Thanks to my ability to multitask and allocate my focus, all three went off without a hitch.”

Spongebob Squarepants dusts his hands off.

Voilà! You’ve just answered one of the vaguest interview questions like a pro.

Happy job hunting!

Put your work style to good use with these intern-approved work-from-home tips.

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