Answering The Interview Question You Don’t Want To Be Asked

Why do you want to work for us?

Why do I want to work for you? I’ve just graduated from university, and I want to work for you because I want money. You’re (presumably) a decent company, and I need a job. Why not you?

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was helping my not-so-little brother with his interview prep for his first serious job, and he exploded at this question. “Why do they even ask this question? I studied chemical engineering, you employ chemical engineers, and I need employment. That’s essentially it. I could apply to thousands of companies, all of which have pretty similar ‘core values’ and ‘standards of excellence,’ so I’m maximizing my options of being employed by applying to as many places as possible.

To some extent, he’s not wrong — a lot of people share this feeling. Realistically, you won’t know whether you like working in a company until you’re working there. The best you can do is infer what you can from their website, maybe even find out what it’s like from someone who works there. But even then, their account is likely to be biased. And you can’t depend on their experience and expect the same for yourself.

So it’s not an easy question to answer. But guess what? The interviewer knows this. They know that you can’t accurately predict what working for them will actually be like for you.

They ask this question because they don’t want to invest in someone who’s going to leave in a year or two. They want someone who wants to develop a long-term career at the company. Whether or not this is true for you, it’s what they want to hear.

It comes down to highlighting what you like about what they do and explaining how that will help you develop the skills you want to cultivate so that you can make a positive contribution to them in the long-run.

So they’re looking for you to show that you understand what you’re getting into and that you think you’d be able to make a valuable contribution to whatever that is.

It doesn’t hurt to take this opportunity to flatter them a little either. Give them a professional variation of: “you’re the crème de la crème, and so am I. It’s meant to be.”

Here are a few ways in which you can reason your motivation for applying to them. Bear in mind that these points will need to be adapted to suit the context of the particular company you’re applying to, and it’s critical to refer to their unique offering.

But there are a few general points that apply to most jobs, which essentially answer the question, “why do you want to work?” Then it’s just a case of applying these to them for the “for us” part of the question.

1. You’re keen to gain Practical Experience

Whether you’re applying to your first job or your tenth, this motivation is a good way to demonstrate your interests. Find out what it is that they do, either broadly or in a particular area. Explain that this is something that interests you; maybe you’ve studied it as part of your degree, or you’ve taken an online course, or you just like to read up about that topic.

Now is your opportunity to show that you already have a basic or an academic understanding of the area and that you have enough information to know that you want to pursue this avenue.

You haven’t just applied on a whim; you’ve made an informed decision. You’re eager to learn more and apply your existing knowledge in practice.

2. It’s an opportunity to increase your commercial awareness

It’s good to introduce each point by sneaking in the experience or the knowledge you already have. So instead of just admitting that you don’t have much industry experience, pitch it in a way that makes it sound like ‘like the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.’

For example: “During the holidays, I used to help my Dad with his business. I learned a lot about X, Y and Z, but this experience made me appreciate how much there is to learn in business. Therefore, I’m eager to gain hands-on experience in the industry, and begin to build my career.”

This way, you’ve shown that;

  • you’ve learned from previous experiences (these don’t even need to be work-experiences
  • you could mention your involvement in volunteering activities or what you’ve learned from other adults)
  • you appreciate that building a prosperous career requires time, and you’re committed to the long-run.
3. You want to gain a holistic perspective of the business

Being a good leader requires a holistic understanding of the business as a whole. It requires an appreciation of how everything works and how everything ties together. So explaining that you’re keen to develop a holistic perspective of the business is a good way to show that you’re interested in building a long-term career with them; that you’re someone worth investing in.

A lot of graduate jobs offer a rotation scheme. If so, this is a great way to build a holistic understanding. If the role you’re applying to doesn’t, it probably requires some element of collaboration with employees in different departments.

Explain that you’re eager to get involved in a variety of work and that you enjoy collaborating within multi-disciplinary teams. This will also show that you are likely to be someone who works well with others and that you’re adaptable and eager to learn new things.

4. You want opportunities to solve problems

Every business is looking for people to come up with solutions. Whether there’s an existing problem or not, every employer wants its employees to develop ways that help the business improve in one way or another.

You’ve already got problem-solving experience. You can draw from your studies or draw from life experience or your involvement in extra-curricular activities. It’s your opportunity to show that you enjoy innovating solutions. Ultimately, you’ll be someone who makes their life easier.

5. Excellent training

Many companies will outline the training you’ll receive on their website. If they don’t, you could reach out to an employee who works there; if you don’t already know someone, you can look them up on LinkedIn.

Find out what training they received or what their ‘learning curve’ has looked like. Were they offered any mentoring? Do they receive much support from their supervisor? Are there any formal training courses to complete? Or would you be learning by doing?

All of these things can be positive. You just have to find out which applies and explain why you find value in it. Explain why this method will help you develop the skills you want to cultivate.

This is a great way to compliment them too. And it’s another way to show that you understand what your experience with them would look like.

Final Take-away

The “Why do you want to work for us?” question is not an easy one to answer. Of course, there might be a handful of companies that you’re a fan of. You might like their products, or you admire their leader, or you value their mission, or you’ve heard great things…

But realistically, you want to increase your chances of being hired. So you don’t want to limit your applications to the few firms that you admire. You want to apply to as many as possible, and there will be some companies that you might not know much about.

So in these situations, keep those five points in mind. Remember that you’ll need to apply your answer to each company specifically. But these points are likely to apply to many employers. Because ultimately, they all want to see the same thing:

  1. That you understand what they do and what you’re signing up for.
  2. That you’re applying because you want to develop a particular set of skills.
  3. That you understand how these skills will help you develop a long-term career with them.

Keep this in mind and tell them what they want to hear. Good luck!

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