6

I tend to have a "boilerplate" answer to this - " one that will challenge me enough to make me a better ___". They probably heard this answer too many times and might "knock off points" on me for not being original.

But I'm also tempted to append "... under certain circumstances."

If I describe exactly what I want, of course it's going to sound unreal, like everybody is motivated, I have the independence I want at the same time as I have a sense of company/administrative direction, and the company embraces new technology.

My answer could reveal that I'm unfit for the company.

What are they trying to determine by asking this question besides the literal answer a candidate may provide?

5

Depending on the skill of your interviewers, they're checking to see if you're self-aware enough to know what sort of workplace is ideal for you. Are you sensitive to disruption? Do you really value comradarie? Is that foosball table going to be seen as awesome or childish?

Answering the question without being demanding or unrealistic is probably best done by emphasizing ideal. You point out that ideally X, Y, Z, but that you are seasoned enough to know that things are rarely ideal, and you're a good flexible, accommodating worker.

10

How badly do you need the job?

Very

Give a flattering answer.

"I'd love to work somewhere where the staff are appreciated, the projects are interesting, everyone is friendly and the recruiters are all very attractive"

Every manager wants their company to be these things, and will think/hope they are these things. It's very clearly an actual answer (so they won't think you've dodged the question) and it will be a very rare manager who thinks "Well we're boring, unfriendly, we don't care about our staff, and I'm ugly as sin... so we don't want this guy!"

Not very

Give a flattering answer as above, but slightly more specific to things you do actually want. Perhaps include things like

"Somewhere the developers are given sufficient freedom to come up with solutions to a problem and develop it"

Try to include things you'd like, but without excluding anything: and be sure to mention that this is "ideal" not "must have" stuff.

This hints that you want a certain level of autonomy and not to be micromanaged, but shouldn't mean you're filtered out by companies unless they really hate autonomy and just want you to follow procedure. You'll get a few rare potential rejections on this approach, but you aren't desperate for the job so it's not the end of the world. This is a good approach if you know you want to work for them but not at any cost.

Not at all

You only want to move if this new place is ideal... so tell them what you want from an ideal workplace and find out if you're a good fit. If not, you've not lost anything and probably saved yourself working somewhere that isn't ideal

"Good pay, two monitors, a nice fast computer, tea and coffee when I snap my fingers, and tickets to the World Cup Final, please"

2

The best way to answer this question is to do your research and actually figure out if the company's work environment is well-suited for you. If you hear that the company has a big emphasis on transparency and this is a thing you value in your job, you might say something like "I am always trying to improve and I like to be in an environment where positive feedback is freely given and received", for example (note: a lot of people don't particularly enjoy receiving feedback). If you think you'll be a part of a smaller team and you enjoy working in smaller teams, put that out as a thing you like.

Sometimes it's not always possible to do this kind of research (although in many cases there's more info out there than you might expect - check GlassDoor, for instance, or look people up on LinkedIn) but even there I agree with you that the canned answer is at best going to wind up with interviewers taking a complete pass on the question. Just... know what you like in a work environment and describe that. Don't linger on negatives - in fact, ideally I think you want to try to couch every desire as a positive (rather than say "I hate overbearing bosses", you'd want to say "I prefer an environment that allows me the freedom to come up with my own solutions to issues", for example).

I guess the main pitfall here is that you say you prefer something that is the exact opposite of what the company does. Well, even there I think it's useful to look at the question this way: you are trying to determine if they are a fit as much as they are determining if you are one. I understand very well the need to just find work sometimes, good or bad, but once you're stuck in a bad job with a contract that basically says the only way you're getting out of it is if you get fired, you'll wish you were more up-front about what you want and what you don't want out of a job. Better to disqualify the employer from consideration before you get the job offer than 3 months after you've signed it.

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