Many hiring managers ask some variant on the question of why you want to work for the company, or the specific program or department. Whenver you interview, you should be prepared to answer “Why do you want to work here?”

Resist your temptation to sound excited by stating some generalities quickly. “I’ve heard great things about the company’s products” or “I have a friend who works here and he loves it.” do not display your strengths. Generic statements make hiring managers wonder if you are just looking for any job, or, if you really know what you want.

This is a question which can help you make the case for hiring you. To do that, you need to have a well-thought-out answer that is relevant to the specific work and to the organization.

Step 1: In preparation for every interview, research the potential employer.

  • Look at the job posting if you applied in response to one.
  • Review their website.
  • Check them out on social media.
  • Look at the reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Vault.
  • Ask people you know (i.e. your network) who have worked there for info – or ask them to connect you with people who do work there.
  • Do a search for new articles or trade press items that may tell you more.  Check out your public library for access to databases that track financial and other data too.
  • Keep notes of what you learn.

All of this helps you to know if this is a company you really can succeed in and want to work for. It will help you in preparing for all aspects of the interview and in forecasting what they may be most interested in.

Step 2: What Motivates You?

Look at your personal values and goals. Then assess what actually makes you want to work there. Perhaps their corporate values match yours. Or they work with a new technology that you are interested in. Maybe it’s something specific about the work or the project. Or the hiring manager has a great reputation that includes aspects important to your goals, such as developing their staff or being known as a terrific technical expert within the industry.  Understand how this job could fit into your career goals and what aspects of it matter to you.

Step 3: Develop Your Response

Once you know your own ‘why I want to work at X’, you can compose an answer that tells both your ‘why’ and demonstrates a reason to hire you. If you have a good success story that supports your reply, all the better.

Sample responses:

  • I have extensive experience in human resources management and all the information I have found indicated that Company X really values employees and has a positive culture. My work in developing people-focused performance programs and enhancing managers skills in developing their employees is among my proudest achievements. I have helped improve both poorly performing departments and enhanced executive development in high performance organizations. This position allows me to immediately support your strategic goals while offering a great place to grow and contribute.
  • The last four years of my work has focused on the Asia-Pacific market and I have traveled extensively there. Plus I’m learning Korean, so when I saw this opportunity, it appeared a good match to my interests and expertise. As I looked at your company, I saw that you do a lot of federal work which appealed to my goal of continuing to support our country. I also noted that you value teamwork. I have led several high-perfoming teams and want to work in a company which values and encourages teamwork. Would you like me to go into more detail?
  • I have extensive biometrics and DNA laboratory experience and it’s important to me to use the technology for positive purposes. Then I learned that you are a small, woman-owned business. Working for a senior STEM woman entrepreneur would be a wonderful experience, plus I have worked and excelled in three past small businesses. I love the positive can-do attitude of such workplaces and everything I read about this company makes me think I can really contribute and add value quickly here. Do you want me to discuss the technical goals I have or the small business aspects?
  • One of my career goals is to move into supply program management. My military experience includes a variety of experience in managing logistics programs and people. Everyone I have talked to about your company, as well as what I have seen of your veteran hiring efforts indicates this would be a place where I could both contribute immediately and grow in value to you.

Any question about why you want to work at a company or in a specific job offers you an opportunity to highlight your knowledge, experiences, and value. Creating an outline of such an answer in advance of an interview also helps you prepare for a wide range of other common questions about your relevant achievements. The average spoken word rate is about 125 per minute. In interviews when you are answering an important question, it is common to speak a bit more slowly than you do in regular conversation. In the examples above, I would expect most interviewees to take about 70-80 seconds which is within what most hiring managers expect for such an answer.

Give an answer which clearly and specifically shows you know the company, the job, and why you want to work there. It should position you as someone who can contribute to their success quickly. Details are important and so is your enthusiasm. Be prepared for follow-up questions too.

After you answer a question like this, it is a good time to ask a question. You might ask, if you are comfortable enough, “What about my background made you interested enough to talk with me?” This will help you see what they think is important and gives you insight into what else you might want to emphasize. Another good question at this point is “what led you to Company X and why do you stay here?”

Effective interviews are always a two-way street. The best are more of a conversation than a simple series of questions and answers. Being prepared makes you more effective and more comfortable. That helps the interviewer see you as competent and confident which makes it more likely you will get an offer.