Relentlessly Practical*: A Tip For Interviewing

I have been sitting in on interviews over the past few weeks and have observed a pattern of behavior that is particularly troubling. It is something that nearly everyone has done, and yet is so simple to fix.

When you, as an interviewee, are asked the inevitable “Why do you want to work here” (or some variant thereof), what do you say?

Here is a sample of the responses I have heard: “I would really like to hone this set of skills that you focus on here”; “I believe this job will allow me to spend my time on my personal interests”; This job provides an opportunity to fill a gap in my own knowledge.”

What’s the theme here?

It’s all about what this job will do for you– the new employee. Great! That’s obviously one part of the person-job fit.

However, the people on the other side of the table want to know why you’re valuable. “Why do you want to work here” means “what skills or motivation do you bring to this job?” If you give a response like the ones above, you have basically just slashed your negotiating power in half by suggesting that you are going to take time and energy to train.

A slight shift in language can go a long way. “With my background and interests, I can contribute in this way to your mission.” “I bring the following set of skills and it looks like your organization could benefit from the work I have done to this point.” Now the focus is on how you can contribute, not the time and effort the organization has to put into teaching you something new.

Be open about what you still need to learn and how that fits in with your interest in the job. Lead your answer with the value you bring. You will increase your chances of getting the offer and put yourself in a stronger place to negotiate when it comes your way.

*“Relentlessly Practical” is a mantra of C. K. Gunsalus, Director of the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics. I have incorporated this mantra into my own work, and will occasionally offer blog posts with this title.