Interviewers often ask candidates whether they prefer a structured or flexible professional environment to help determine if they're a good fit for the company culture. The question might seem simple, but candidates' answers can be more nuanced and articulate their strengths. Understanding the expectations behind the question can help you prepare a successful answer. In this article, we discuss why companies ask whether candidates prefer structure versus flexibility, explain how you can answer the question and provide sample answers for your reference.
Why companies ask whether you prefer structure vs. flexibility
Companies typically ask about a candidate's preference for structure or flexibility to determine whether their ideal work culture fits the company's environment. This question is a way for companies to determine whether the candidate would succeed in the role. Often, companies want to hire people who have a degree of flexibility. A person who says they can only work in an environment that's either completely flexible environment or rigidly structured to succeed likely wouldn't be a great fit. Companies want adaptable employees who can accept a degree of oversight but also can take some initiative in getting their job done.
How to answer whether you prefer structure or flexibility in a job
You can answer this question using these tips:
1. Tell them both are important
When you answer this question, it's best to articulate what you like about both. You can talk about how you can use your strengths in either situation. In this type of answer, incorporate what you like about each and how your own abilities fit.
Example: "I perform well in both situations. Having some structure is helpful because goals and expectations are clear. You know exactly what to strive for in your performance. Having a level of independence and flexibility allows me to create a workflow that is right for me. A combination of the two is really ideal. I recently completed a project where the outcomes were very clear and I received good guidance, but I was allowed to create my own approach to complete the task within the project's parameters."
2. Emphasize adaptability
Most companies have a culture that exists somewhere between rigidly structured and very flexible. A hiring manager may want to find out if you're one extreme or the other. In your answer, you can talk about how adaptable you are and emphasizes this positive aspect of your professional approach.
Example: "In my experience, I have performed in many different types of environments and workplace cultures. Having some structure is nice because it gives you a good sense of mission and helps focus tasks. Being flexible and independent also can have its rewards as it encourages initiative. I'm a very adaptable person who can adjust to the culture and environment. I've had strong success and positive experiences in a variety of workplace environments, so I see the value in both approaches and would work well in either."
3. Pivot to collaboration
Many companies want accountability and some oversight of what you're doing. They also want someone who can perform independently and take initiative while still collaborating with peers. In your answer, you could pivot to talk about how much you value teamwork and collaboration, answering a question about culture in a positive way.
Example: "Having an element of structure can encourage collaboration between team members, and I like that aspect a lot. I think it's important for people to perform together as a team and a structured environment can help make that happen. A flexible structure encourages creativity and independence and these are things I also value a great deal. I think you can be flexible in a professional setting but still have some structure in place to ensure strong teamwork and collaboration. It's important to me to have good relationships with my peers and to work with them toward common goals."
4. Emphasize your flexibility
In this answer type, you can frame flexibility in a positive way. Start by stating that being flexible and working in a structured environment are not necessarily opposing ideas. Your answer can tell the company that you can get the job done, are flexible and still are willing to accept some structure.
Example: "It's a good idea to have both. Structure can help clearly define mission, but flexibility is something that can be very beneficial. In my experience, flexibility becomes important when things don't go exactly as planned. There are times when you have to be flexible to satisfy a client's needs or adjust because something went wrong and you're addressing the issue. In some ways being flexible supports structure because sometimes you need to be flexible to get the job done. I don't view a flexible environment as being at odds with a structured environment. I think the two can really complement each other."
5. Find out about the company's culture
It's helpful to perform some research prior to the interview to learn more about its culture, mission and goals. There are limits to what you can find out through online research, so you can use the interview to ask some questions yourself. Asking some questions about culture can be helpful with this question and others that will come later in the discussion.
Example: "I've worked in a number of different types of cultures. I've enjoyed having a degree of independence, but structure is also helpful because it clarifies the company's mission and your role. I'm fairly adaptable and the most important thing to me is being part of a team. I'd like to hear about how you approach creating a professional environment and what you value with your company's culture. What can you tell me about it?"