How common is this question and why might it be asked?
“Why do you want to work for us?” is one of the questions you’re most likely to face during an interview. A favourite with interviewers across many industries, it is traditionally asked during strengths-based interviews, though it can crop up throughout the interview process.
Seemingly straightforward, “why do you want to work for us?” is actually a combination of two different questions:
- Why are you interested in working for the company?
- Why are you interested in this particular role?
By combining two questions into one, it is purposefully designed to assess a range of factors, namely:
- What you know about the role and the company (what research you’ve done)
- What aspects of the job/company most appeal to you and why (what motivates you, aside from money)
- What you can bring to the role and how that fits with their expectations and requirements (why you feel you’d be a good fit for the position)
How to prepare in advance
When answering this question, it’s important to keep two things in mind: why this role, and why this company?
In some cases, it can be easy to identify why you want a specific role in a certain company, particularly if you’ve been working your way up to promotion in a company you already enjoy working for.
In other cases, it’s not always so easy. You may have found the job description interesting, generally have a lot of the skills the role requires or really want to work for a well known brand. But none of these answers are going to showcase your knowledge of the company and role, or highlight your skills to the level required to get the job.
It’s all about the research
To come up with the most effective and persuasive answer, it’s vital you thoroughly research the company and the role when preparing your answer. One of the best ways to do this is to spend time reviewing the job description and the company’s website, which will highlight the organisation’s history, ideals, recent achievements and major success stories.
If you have any connections within your network who have worked with the business, it’s also a good idea to speak with them to find out more about the company from someone who has experienced it first-hand.
When doing your research, make notes on what you find most interesting and exciting about the company. It could be that it’s at the forefront of wearable tech development, that it has an excellent Corporate Social Responsibility programme (CSR), that it’s known for encouraging on-the-job training and staff development, or that it’s a start-up that’s keen to employ fresh talent who’ll grow with the business.
Once you’ve researched the company, think about how the job description matches your skill set, ambitions and what you genuinely like most about the business. For example, if you’re keen to work for the company because of its CSR programme and you’re applying for a role in HR that needs excellent communication skills, you could explain that you share the company’s ethos and were really impressed with their programme.
You could then go on to say that you’re keen to use your previous experience in CSR and your communication and interpersonal skills to develop the programme and inspire your colleagues to get involved in volunteering and giving back to the community - something that demonstrates both your understanding of the company and the role, and shows that you have the right skills and character for both.
The big why: be prepared for this question.
What should you avoid?
In today’s highly competitive job market, most people have, at one point or another, applied for a role for a very simple reason - because they really needed a job. Whether it’s motivated by salary (needing one or needing more), disliking your current job or - for fresh graduates - desperately wanting to break into a certain industry (or the working world), needing a job is a very real reason for applying for one.
What you shouldn’t do, however, is mention this during an interview. It makes you look like you don’t care about the specific role or company (as long as you get paid). Furthermore, it doesn’t highlight any of the skills, passion or enthusiasm you could bring to the role or how you could benefit the company, which is exactly what they’re interviewing you to find out.
Another no-go response is to be too vague or give an answer so general that it could apply to any company or similar role. Interviewers want to hear precise answers that convince them that you’ve done your research and are really passionate about the job and company you’re applying for. Even if you are really keen, giving a one one-size-fits-all answer will do the opposite, and is unlikely to get you the job.
Effective sample answers
Human Rights Lawyer
“I’ve followed the firm for a number of years and have been consistently impressed with your human rights work. Having specialised in human rights law at my previous firm, I’m keen to make the transition to a firm that has human rights and public law at its heart, as opposed to as a small part of what they do.
Having seen that the role requires a candidate with solid experience working with organisations and corporate businesses as well as individuals, I feel my successful track record working with NGOs and multinationals gives me the experience required to really excel. I’m excited by the prospect of developing my skill-set and experience in a firm with ideals and aspirations close to my own.”
Marketing Assistant at an ethical footwear start-up
“I studied fashion and marketing at university and wrote my dissertation on the use of ethically sourced materials in fashion. I feel it is one of the least tapped, but most important, directions fashion can take and I believe that we share the same ethos and ideals.
For me, it’s really important to believe in the products I’m marketing. Having bought a pair of your shoes six months ago I’ve been incredibly impressed with how they combine style, comfort and ecologically sourced materials - it’s a product line I’d be really excited to use my skills to promote and market to a wider audience.
I also undertook work experience at a start-up you have links with - Sole Sister - and heard only great things about the working culture and structure at your company. I am keen to work within an environment that values everyone’s ideas and promotes creativity, but also where I can learn from the team I work with and develop with them, and I believe this company and role would be the perfect mix of the two.”
“For the past ten years I’ve been working with young adults and youths affected by gang violence. Many of thee people have mentioned the positive effect your charity has had on their lives, and I’ve witnessed first-hand some of the good work you’ve done with some of the most troubled youths I’ve worked with.
When I saw the ad for a youth worker within your organisation, I realised that my connections within the community, and my existing contacts and experience, could really be of benefit. In my current role, I organised a series of vocational courses which were really well received and actually won an award for educational innovation in the borough.
I know you’re keen to create a similar programme focussing on female development in the community, and I think my skills and experience could really be of use.”
Other tricky interview questions
Now you know how to prepare for and answer “Why do you want to work for us?”, take a look at these other tricky interview questions: