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I was asked in an interview whether the environment I work in is structured or unstructured. I believe at their end it is unstructured. How will my answer hurt or help my chances at the company? What is the intent of this question? The place where I work is structured in terms of the technologies we use but all of us work pretty independently on the individual problem. Is this a sufficient explanation? What individual areas can I highlight to support my answer?

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Did you consider that structure could be subject to interpretation here? To some, structure can imply paperwork and formalized process. For others, structure can simply mean there is a general framework for how things get done. There is also a lot of middle ground between these that could be considered structured to some degree. –  JB King Nov 15 '12 at 20:32
    
Not sure what you mean by structured in terms of the technologies we use –  Kirk Broadhurst Nov 16 '12 at 6:24
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't think you have fully understood structured/unstructured:

  • Structured - you tend to receive more specific to-dos. The work you do may be more documented and functionally detailed prior to doing it and may involve more consistent feedback with management throughout the process. This sort of work tends to be more common in larger corporations
  • Unstructured - the opposite. Work assignments tend to have considerably more flexibility and perhaps vagueness in description. Oftentimes the employee is expected to "figure out the how" on their own. You may have longer periods of time without direct feedback from management

Both have their positives and negatives.

How will my answer hurt or help my chances at the company ? And what is it intent of this question ?

This is a question you really want to answer correctly. If you are someone who cannot stand a structured work environment, you do not want to end up working in one. Likewise for the opposite. Whether it helps or hurts probably depends on how far along the company is in one direction. For example if you are interviewing with a 5 person startup, they probably will be looking for "unstructured" as an answer. If interviewing for an IT help-desk, perhaps structured.

The net effect probably slightly depends on the management philosophy as well.

It normally would be to determine how good of a fit you would be for the work environment and avoid any significant culture clash.

The place where I work it is structured in terms of the technologies we use but all of us work pretty independently on the individual problem. Is this a sufficient explanation. What individual areas I can highlight to support my answer ?

This is probably a good answer (even if you misunderstood structured vs unstructured). You could expand to show the way you have approached problems, for example, if you had a manager give you an assignment such as, "this feature doesn't work, we don't know why, fix it" you could detail how you took that, developed steps to identify and fix the issue, etc.

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Even though they asked about your current environment, I would have talked a bit about my current enviroment and then why I liked or disliked it and what kind of environment I prefered to work in and why.

Frankly I wouldn't care what their enviroment was like when I answered this because if it doesn't match what I need and am good at working in, then I'm not interested in them. Both you and the interviewers are looking to see if you are match for their workplace. When you answer workplace fit questions, just be as honest as you can, you don't want to go to a place you don't fit anymore than they want to hire you for one.

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