Of all the interview questions job applicants prepare for, the most obvious ones sometimes get the least attention. Yes, you came ready to share your biggest flaw, your greatest strength, a moment when you shined, and a concept you learned, but what do you do with a broad but direct question like “Why do you want to work here?” In this piece, the author offers three strategies for answering this common interview question and provides sample answers for you to use as a guide.
Sometimes the toughest job interview questions are also the simplest and most direct. One you should always expect to hear and definitely prepare for:
“Why do you want to work here?”
Like a similarly problematic interview question — “Tell me about yourself” — “Why do you want to work here?” requires you to focus on a specific answer without any clues, contexts, or prompting from the interviewer. It’s a blank space — but that doesn’t mean you can wing it and fill it with just anything.
How to Answer “Why Do You Want to Work Here?”
Drawing from my 16 years of experience as a communications coach as well as someone who’s sat on both sides of the interview table many times, I recommend three basic approaches:
- Express your personal passion for the employer’s product/service/mission.
- Explain why you would enjoy the responsibilities of the role.
- Describe how you can see yourself succeeding in the role, given your skills and experience.
You can use any combination of these three approaches so long as you keep your answer concise. Here’s how to tackle each approach effectively along with sample answers to use as a guide.
1. Express your personal passion for the employer’s product/service/mission.
Employers want to know you’re passionate about what they do, whether it takes the shape of a product, a service, a mission, or a brand. You can also connect your passion to the company’s core values, which can often be found on their website. Showing you’re passionate about the position is particularly important if you’re applying for a role at a nonprofit where the mission matches your personal values.
But how do you convey this enthusiasm? CEO consultant Sabina Nawaz offers useful tips in her HBR piece, “How to Show You’re Passionate in an Interview.” As she writes, “When you’re passionate about something, it tends to spill over into other aspects of your life.” Identify those examples in your own life and share them during your interview. Expressing enthusiasm is not about “display[ing] the kind of full-throated, table-thumping behaviors companies tend to equate with passion,” Sabina explains. It’s about conveying “what matters most to you.”
And remember to be clear about why you are passionate, not just that you are passionate. Simon Sinek has schooled us all on the importance of “why,” and it’s no less important in a job interview than it is in a sales call or CEO keynote.
Here are examples of responses that effectively connect passion to mission.
- “For most of my adult life, I’ve strongly supported X because I believe that Y…”
- “X is very important to me in both my professional and personal life because I strongly believe that…”
- “I’m very passionate about X and would be thrilled to work for an organization that subscribes to the same core values…”
2. Explain why you would enjoy the responsibilities of the role.
It’s no secret that we work harder, better, and longer when we enjoy the work, and what employer wouldn’t want that dedication from their staff? But it’s your responsibility to make that connection between job and joy clear. That connection can be as simple as “X is something I enjoy,” but expressing how or why you enjoy it makes that point even more valuable and memorable.
Here are examples of responses that connect job to joy.
- “I always enjoy helping other people learn — from my tutoring work in school to the training experiences I had at my last job — which is why I feel so fulfilled working in L&D.”
- “I’ve always loved to write and edit — from my days at the college newspaper to the web content I worked on as an intern — so I’m excited to see that writing is a big part of this job.”
- “Analyzing data has always been fun for me — the challenge of using numbers to tell a story and convey an idea — and I look forward to the data visualization work we’ll be doing on this team.”
3. Describe how you can see yourself succeeding in the role, given your skills and experience.
While the interviewer is hiring you for who you are and what you can do now, they’re also interested in what you can achieve in the future. After all, they’re not just hiring you; they’re investing in you.
Express confidence about your ability to succeed and grow in the role. Use phrases like “Given my experience in X, I can see myself succeeding…,” “I look forward to using my skills to…,” and “I think I will contribute by….” The key is to describe how your previous experience has prepared you to hit the ground running.
Here are examples of responses that paint a peek at what may be.
- “I can see myself succeeding in this position because I’ve done similar work in the past and know what it takes to engage these particular consumers.”
- “I’ve found I work best in a collaborative environment, so I look forward to working with several departments to align on and achieve our goals.”
- “After learning more about this job, I’m sure I can help you find ways to manage projects more efficiently and effectively.”
Combining the Three Approaches: Sample Answer
Here’s a sample answer using a hypothetical marketing position for a health care company where writing, creativity, and collaboration are key priorities:
I want to work here because, with physicians in my family, I’m passionate about helping people address their health challenges and make smart decisions about their bodies and their lives. I also love copywriting and diving into editorial strategy — especially in social media — and enjoy brainstorming with colleagues to come up with the best creative ideas. When I think about the needs of this role and the integrity of the corporate mission, I feel incredibly inspired and can see myself contributing in a big way.
Key Tip: Be Specific
As you develop your answer, understand that the more specific you are, the more powerfully your answer will resonate. Conversely, the vaguer you are, the more generic — or even canned — the response will seem.
In the example above, the writer alludes to health care professionals in their family, focuses on copywriting and editorial strategy — not just writing — and mentions brainstorming, a more specific form of collaboration. These are all examples of specificity that make the answer seem more personal and unique.
What Not to Say
It’s obvious how you shouldn’t answer the “Why do you want this job” question, but it bears repeating. Don’t say you want the job because:
- You like the salary
- You like the perks or benefits
- You like the title
- You want to work remotely or in a particular location
- You couldn’t get another job you really wanted
. . .
Before your next interview, practice your response to “Why do you want to work here?” out loud, not just in your head. And keep in mind that the best answer is less about why you want them and more about why they should want you. If you convey passion, enthusiasm, and optimism with specificity, you’ll connect to the interviewer’s wish list in a way that will leave them thinking, “This is why we want you to work here.”