I don’t even like asking this question in a mock interview, so I don’t know how hiring managers stomach it in a real one. But, apparently they do—in fact, turns out it’s one of the 31 most common interview questions.
The good news is, despite how demanding and weirdly petulant the question is, it’s actually a really great opportunity to sum up why you’re a good fit for the position. It allows you to talk about your skills, your fit with the culture, and everything in between. What more could you ask for in an interview?
So, how exactly do you cover your bases for such an open question? Here are three strategies.
1. The Intersection
One way to attack this interview question is to intersect what’s in it for the hiring manager and what’s in it for you. Basically, you want to get across that he or she will get a enthusiastic employee who has the exact right skill set for the position and that you’ll get to—and therefore look forward to and be motivated to—do something meaningful, build your skills, and work toward the next step of your career.
The key here is to not forget that second part: talking about yourself. Too many people make the mistake of only listing the benefits for the employer. Going into what’s in it for you will give insight into why you’ll stay driven—a trait all interviewers are looking for.
2. The Company Expert
Some interviewers will spell it out and others won’t, but you should know that the full question is always, “Why should I hire you over everyone else?” If you feel you’ve already spelled out your skills and experience multiple times, perhaps a better approach for you is to show what you have to offer that others don’t. Assuming you’re competing against other similarly qualified candidates, a good thing to highlight at this point is your dedication to the role.
To do that, show deep knowledge of the business and an understanding for how you might fit in. This, of course, requires a good bit of company research (here’s a great guide to get you started), so you can talk about the uniqueness, the history, the future, and your own personal investment.
Diving into your knowledge of the company serves a few purposes. You show your excitement for the position, you come off as an insider who might be easier to train than other candidates, and you demonstrate how you handle something you’re invested in.
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3. The Problem Solver
Frequently, hiring managers post positions because they have a problem that needs to be solved. Get straight to the point with your response and outline, ideally in detail, how you can offer immediate relief for the company’s pain point.
Like in a “Pain Letter,” don’t spend all your time talking about the past—focus your efforts on the future, and explain how you can make the interviewer’s life easier by addressing his most imminent issue. This shows you’re forward-thinking, already a team player, and ready to hit the ground running.
Next time you’re faced with this interview question, try one of these strategies to stand out above your competition. If nothing else, you’ll be memorable for how polished and unruffled you were. That alone might make you special.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author