It’s easy to get so caught up in worrying about making a good first impression that you start talking about the one thing you know the most about — yourself. But while your personality and your interests are part of the answer, they’re not all of it, and focusing too much on the ways that the job might benefit you can leave your hiring manager with a sour taste in their mouth.
Loudly slurping cold press coffee and remaining on the phone during the majority of your interview is also not highly recommended.
Like many job interview questions, this is a bit of a trap, but it’s not as bad as some — for example, the question “why are you looking for a new job” is absolutely a trap, and one that job seekers fall into every day.
But even so, “why are you interested in this position” is a question that cannot be approached blindly. It takes some significant forethought about who you are and what kind of company you’re applying to, especially when it comes to the projects this company is actively working on or the corporate culture you’d be entering.
You see, the main trick to this question isn’t to talk about yourself as an attractive job candidate — it’s to frame your experience within the context of an existing company. You have to paint a picture of yourself not as the ideal employee for this type of position, but as the ideal person for this particular position in this particular company. It’s much more a matter of compatibility than it is your own interests, and that compatibility can be demonstrated to a hiring manager in 3 major ways:
Does the company provide work laptops? Are these work laptops too small for your gigantic Hulk-like muscle hands? These are but a few things you should research ahead of time.
More broadly, these steps can be characterized according to certain levels — namely, the Personal, Community, and Organizational levels. Let’s go through each these items in a little more detail, one by one.
Talking about yourself and your skills is an obvious first step when it comes to answering the question “why are you interested in this position?” It gives a hiring manager the necessary context to understand the things you’ve already told them in your resume by removing the context of you as a random, unattached 3rd party and reframing yourself as a new employee.
So what skills make you who you are? What experiences have defined your previous work experiences and shaped you as a job worker? For this first part, you’re answering an unspoken question that’s rolled into pretty much every job interview question — namely, “Who are you, really?” and “Why should I care about you?”
“Sometimes when I get bored of sitting at a desk too long, I pull the fire alarm. Just to see what happens. This innate curiosity is but a small piece of what makes me an excellent worker.”
This is where you connect with your hiring manager on a personal level. What are some relevant non-work related interests? How do you act as a person within the context of your job?
One thing that might help you establish yourself a little more in this regard is to think about yourself in terms of a concept that’s becoming more and more popular in tech circles especially — what is your “personal brand”? Think about it like this: how is it that you present yourself to the outside world, especially in a professional context?
Are you a fixer? Do you get things done in a timely manner, no questions asked? Are you more of an architect, planning out all your moves well in advance and then making them all at once? Or are you more comfortable in a supportive role, facilitating the work of others in a quiet, effacing way without stepping much into the limelight yourself?
Much of this will depend on the roles you’ve performed in the past and the role you’re applying for in the present. How do the roles you’re comfortable with filling fit into a larger team? What do you know about the specific team you’re entering into, and how do you plan to work toward meshing with them specifically?
For instance, a teammate might find it funny to send everyone in the office a different poorly drawn bird every day. How will you prevent yourself from physically injuring this teammate? Your answer may be recorded for training purposes.
The Community Level is an important part of your answer to incorporate, especially since one of the easiest mistakes to make is to spend too much time on the Personal Level. Doing so will eventually have you talking purely to a hiring manager about what kind of benefits a new job will bring to you, without mentioning what you’ll be bringing to the company.
It’s good to consider certain company perks when deciding to take a job, but while you’re applying for it, you should do your best to avoid sounding too “me, me, me.” Hiring managers are on the lookout for someone who is, if not entirely selfless, then is at least aware of the context that they’re entering into — unless a company is brand new, there’s almost certainly an existing team in place, and one of the most important things you have to do in a job interview is to show that you can appreciate this idea.
We’re going to zoom out one step further for our final section of your answer, the Organizational Level. After talking about yourself and defining your understanding of your role within your team (as well as why this particular role is of interest to you), then you have only one thing left to address.
You see, while you’ll be working with a specific team on a regular basis, that team itself operates in a larger role within the company at large — therefore, the last thing you need to do is show that not only do you understand your team’s role but that you understand (and are interested in) the company itself.
There are many ways to do this, but one of the easiest is to just speak honestly about the parts of the company that caught your eye. Does the company work with nonprofits that you think are worthy causes? Does the company’s product directly address a larger problem that’s of interest to you? Is the company’s organizational structure itself interesting to you, or does the CEO strike you as a person with a vision?
“On the white board behind me, you’ll see all the details about your company I find more interesting and exciting than the substantial pay bump I’ll receive upon being hired.”
Whatever you do here, remember once again to avoid the parts of the company that make you sound greedy or self-centered. This is not the time to talk about how much you love the company’s vacation policy, or how the office is located just a few minutes away from where you live. You’ve already talked about yourself — here is where you begin to focus on external factors.
So now that we’ve talked about the three major parts of this answer, it’s important to note one final thing. Your answer itself probably won’t be neatly segmented into these three sections — and honestly, it probably shouldn’t be.
Odds are good that you’re going to be interrupted, or you’ll forget part of what you were going to say, or you might end up going off-track into something that’s of interest to you or your interviewer. If so, that’s okay. An interview is a conversation, and conversations are messy.
This guide isn’t meant to help you meticulously plan out your 3-part answer — it’s to gently remind you that whatever you say needs to show certain things about you to a hiring manager and that there are multiple ways that this can be accomplished. You don’t have to focus on only one level at a time, and in fact, it’s quite likely that your answer will address some or all of these levels at the same time.
Let that happen — bring up specific stories and examples to back up some of the things you’re saying about yourself, and if you find yourself getting too far away from the question, loop it back around to the company. And if you find that the manager is moving on and you don’t feel as though you’ve addressed all three of these points, think about how you can work in some more of this information as you move along through the interview.
After all, your success in a job interview isn’t dependent on one specific question — it’s on making yourself memorable on average, over time, across all the questions you’re asked. It’s about making conversation with your interviewer, being prepared, and being insightful.
And whatever you do, if anyone starts passing around pictures of their dumb families, be sure to compliment them and then whip out any pictures you can find of a baby that’s somehow related to you. That’s the only off-ramp to that particular conversational highway.
In short, it’s about showing exactly why you’re a good job candidate in as distinct and compacted way as you can manage.
And whatever you do, try not to talk about how you “work best alone.” Odds are they’ll agree with you, and let you continue working alone — alone and unaffiliated with their company, that is.