You’ve spent weeks perfecting the written application for a job at your dream company. Your résumé makes others’ pale in comparison and your cover letter was a perfect mix of professionalism and self-expression. The next thing you know, you are waiting in the lobby on the day of your much-anticipated interview. You feel confident, prepared, and excited to put your best foot forward and show your interviewer why you would be perfect for the job—that is, until the interviewer asks what seems like an innocently easy question: “Why should we hire you?” Your palms start to sweat, your heart rate accelerates, and all that you manage to say is a long line of “errr, ummmmmm, and uhhhhh.”
Donna Goldfeder, the Director of Career Services at Lehigh University, is here to help break down this unnecessarily scary question and help you form the most amazing response your interviewer will ever hear.
Why do employers LOVE this question?
When employers ask this question, they are expecting to get to know the applicant on a deeper level. While an applicant might look great on paper, the way in which they handle answering this daunting question could indicate otherwise. The question seems like it should have an easy, straightforward answer, yet some applicants may not prepare, and this lack of preparation is usually apparent to the interviewer.
Unprepared applicants typically respond with answers like, “Because I love the company,” or “I majored in business.” While these responses might be true, they don’t allow the applicant to show their critical thinking skills or their passion. Taking just ten minutes to think over this question before an interview may be what sets you apart from your competition and allows you to avoid any embarrassment.
This question also helps employers find qualified candidates who are a good match for their company. “Employers can look at hundreds of résumés just to find candidates with the right skills, but in the interview, they’re looking for the right attitude,” Goldfeder explains. “They want to know that the candidate understands what the industry, the company and the job are all about. They want to know if you see the position as a good fit.” Overall, it is a question that employers use to gauge interest, attitude, and future fit within the company.
It presents an opportunity for the applicant to really sell themselves to their interviewer. It might help to think of yourself as a product that you are trying to sell to a very specific customer, the customer being whatever company you are applying for. This question is really asking, “Why should the customer choose you as opposed to another brand or another applicant?”
How to best prepare
Goldfeder suggests a variety of ways to ensure that you won’t be caught off guard. To start, do your research on the specific industry, company, and job. Goldfeder explains, “There is no way a candidate can discuss their interest and fit for a job without knowing the specifics. Hit the corporate website, talk to alums who have a similar job, and hit up your college’s career services office.”
Once you have done your research, Goldfeder suggests reflecting on your own skillset and matching that to what you learned in your research. For example, if the company is all about working together and collaboration, then pick out your own skills surrounding teamwork to bring up during the interview. Goldfeder says, “Tell the company what you bring to the table that will help them solve their problems.” Companies want to hire those individuals who will help make the company the best it can be, so it is important to mention specifically how you will add value to the group.
Some examples of how to effectively express the value you will add to the company are as follows:
“From our conversation, it sounds as if you’re looking for someone who is a leader, works well with others, and is able to meet tight deadlines. With my two years of experience as an intern at (insert company name), I have developed skills that allow me to work well with others while maintaining a drive to get things done and done well. I’m confident my skillset would be a great addition to your team.”
“I am excited for the chance to use my skills to help bring your organization to even greater heights. My passion, drive, and hardworking personality combined with my ability to work well as a team player are sure to mesh well with the culture and demands of (insert company name). My previous experience in the industry as an intern at (insert company name) has allowed me to hone my abilities and I am confident I would become an integral part of the team.”
Goldfeder recommends relating any of your previous experiences to best answer the question. She explains, “Sometimes you have to be the one that points out how, for example, sales relates to fundraising. Even if the company knows, it’s nice to show them that you do as well.” While some answers might seem too obvious, it is always better to say too much than to not say enough.
Formatting and length of your response
Rambling on for 15 minutes about why you are the best fit for a company probably won’t leave a great impression. On the other hand, giving a two-sentence answer might seem like you aren’t as invested in the company as you should be. So how do you find the perfect medium?
Goldfeder explains, “It’s generally accepted that three minutes is about the maximum length any answer to an interview question should be. However, after those first three minutes, your interviewer may ask you to go into more detail. Then all bets are off. If your interviewer is interested… keep talking!” Stick to that three-minute time limit unless you feel like the interviewer wants to hear more. It is all about reading the situation and making the best decision for the moment.
If you are someone who likes more structure, then there is a general format that you can follow. Goldfeder explains, “If the candidate tells the interviewer, ‘My skills match this position’s requirements,’ then the candidate should be ready to talk about her skills, and give examples how and where she has used those skills in the past.”
When giving examples, Goldfeder recommends using the STAR model: Situation, Task, Action and Results. Interviewers want to hear a recent challenge and situation in which you found yourself. They want to know the task you had to achieve, as well as the actions you took to achieve that task. Finally, they want to know the results and final outcome of the process. Using the STAR model helps a candidate to “construct an organized, specific, thoughtful and concise response,” according to Goldfeder.
So you flubbed the question. Now what?
Interviews can be stressful situations and no one’s perfect. While it isn’t ideal to screw up the “why should we hire you” question, mistakes are bound to occur. That doesn’t mean it is the end of the world! If you leave the interview feeling less than thrilled with your answer, there is something you can do about it.
Goldfeder suggests addressing how you felt about your performance in your thank you letter. She recalls, “I knew a student who blew a question. In her thank you, she indicated that she had done some follow-up research and had a new way to answer the question. She was hired showing that you CAN talk about the elephant in the room.” Acknowledging your performance and how you felt about your interview experience shows a certain degree of professionalism and confidence that employers love to see.
To avoid a potentially unpleasant interview situation, all you need to do is spend some time preparing, researching, and reflecting on your own abilities. Preparation will only give you a greater feeling of confidence and help you to avoid the uncomfortable situation that involves freezing up during what should be an easy interview question to answer.
Good luck, collegiettes!