Professional Development

How to answer that classic job interview question, ‘Why do you want to work here?’

The simplest questions can be the hardest. Here's how to prepare for them without sounding like a robot.

Don't get tripped up by common interview questions. (Photo by Pexels user Tima Miroshnichenko via a Creative Commons license)

Years ago, I worked at a pizzeria, and I remember chatting with one of the managers on a slow afternoon. She was going through job applications, looking for someone to work the register for a few shifts a week, a position that typically went to high school kids.

She started laughing and showed me where, on one of the paper applications, a young applicant had handwritten the answered the question “Why do you want to work here?” with, and I quote:

“Free food LOL.”

It was funny. And it was honest. And we were allowed a free slice of pizza on our shift. But that young applicant did not get the job.

This wasn’t a tech or corporate job, obviously, but you as an applicant for any job have to take the process seriously.

Don’t lie, but don’t be too honest

While the real answer to “Why do you want to work here?” may in fact be because they pay well or you want perks like free food or you simply need a job, any job, those are not the answers that will put you in the “yes” pile.

On the other hand, going overboard gushing about how amazing the company is and how you’ve dreamt of this exact job your whole life probably won’t do you any favors, either. If you’re telling them that your expectations are that they and the job are perfect, it might make them hesitant to hire you, because they know the job won’t live up to that. Even the best workplaces aren’t perfect.

So how do you find a balance that won’t make the hiring manager cringe?

There are lots of templates online that essentially give you a plug-and-play script to use at your interviews. These are all very professional and unoffensive, but they’re also dry and generic, and you really shouldn’t be reciting answers like a robot (unless, of course, you know for a fact that the company looks for employees who do everything exactly by the book — which probably won’t be tech companies looking for innovators and creativity).

Instead, use the question to establish three things:

  1. You’ve done your homework on the company
  2. The role is in line with your experience and/or education
  3. That you see potential for growth at the company

Since they already know your experience and education from your resume, #1 is especially important in giving them new information — that you know what they do and what the job entails.

Be hyper-specific

This means research, but if you don’t have hours to spend reading everything about the company, hone in on a couple of details that pertain to the job you’re applying for. If you’re applying to be a social media manager, for example, tell them why you’d be a good social media manager for them.

For example: “I really enjoyed doing marketing for the clothing brand I worked for previously, and I know that experience will transfer well to running social media campaigns for WhatstheWeatherApp. With both clothing and weather widgets, you’re selling a brand, and you’re telling people why yours is right for them. I’ve been using the new multi-city feature and I already have ideas.”

(Important note: Do not share any super specific ideas in a job interview. Nothing is stopping them from hiring someone else and implementing your idea.)

The last part about seeing potential growth at the company is just a voluntary assurance that you’re not planning to use the company as a stepping stone or move away in a couple of months. You’re totally allowed to do those things, by the way, if opportunities come up — but when you’re in the job interview zone, you should be looking at the potential that it could be a long-term job, whatever long term means to you.

As an example, you can add something like: “I’m excited by the prospect of working for a company that’s going through a growth stage. I’d love to be able to watch the company I work for evolve.”

These are not templates. Instead, think about the company, what it does, how it relates to your experience, and what kind of trajectory the company might have. Fashion an answer out of that.

Gather information once you’re there

If your interview is at the location where you will be working some or all of the time if you get the job, look around and take in the culture as much as you can. Listen to your interviewer closely. These thing can be used to help answer the question of why you want to work there. Maybe the open workspace is an environment you thrive in, or maybe the interviewer mentions adopting a new language or tool that you’re familiar with.

If you don’t feel confident, it’s OK to write it down as a script beforehand, but be prepared to improvise if something comes up that appeals to you about the company. The main strategy for dealing with common interview questions is that you’ll have thought about them enough that when they inevitably come, you’ll neither be stumped, nor will you blurt out “free food LOL.”

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