How to Answer ‘Why Do You Want to Work Here?’ in an Interview

It’s not about what the employer wants to hear.
Brian Nordli
August 26, 2021
Updated: August 30, 2021
Brian Nordli
August 26, 2021
Updated: August 30, 2021

Kiara Melendez used to hate when interviewers asked her, “Why do you want to work here?” 

Melendez why do you want to work here
Kiara Melendez, Cresta AI

After all, she couldn’t tell them the truth — that she had graduated college and needed a job to pay back her student loans. So, she told them what she thought they wanted to hear, a superficial response to a superficial question.

But that all changed during her most recent job hunt.

Melendez recently graduated from the sales bootcamp SV Academy with hopes of working as a sales development representative (SDR) in tech. As she applied for jobs, she started asking herself: Why did she really want to work for that company? And more importantly, what did she want out of her work experience?

“I didn’t want to go through this entire interview process and land a job that I’m not happy with,” Melendez said. “I really had to answer that question for myself rather than for them.”

How to Answer ‘Why Do You Want to Work Here?’

  • Personal connection: Find one thing about the company, role or hiring manager that you can relate to and explain why that interests you.
  • Experience: Describe what skills and experiences you’ll be able to bring to the role and the company.
  • Opportunity: Explain what you hope to gain from the job and how the company fits with your values.
  • Enthusiasm: Don’t be afraid to let your natural enthusiasm for the role come out. Companies want to hire someone who is excited to work for them.

While “Why do you want to work here?” belongs in the hall of fame of generic interview questions right next to Tell me about yourself and Where do you see yourself in five years? it still plays a critical role in the hiring process.

“I really had to answer that question for myself rather than for them.”

Likio why do you want to work here
Kehau Likio, SV Academy

Hiring managers and recruiters ask it because they want to know that the candidate has done their research on the role and is excited to work for the company, said Kehau Likio, a program delivery manager at SV Academy who specializes in interviews and job placement. It may seem superficial, but she’s seen otherwise strong candidates lose out on jobs because they had a lackluster response.

The secret isn’t to answer the question for the manager, it’s to answer it for yourself, Likio said. Taking that approach helped Melendez change the tenor of her interviews from rigid Q&As to free-flowing conversations. But more importantly, it played a pivotal role in her job search.

Read OnHow to Write a ‘Thank You’ Email After an Interview

 

What Are They Really Asking?

Melendez isn’t the only one to have complicated feelings toward “Why do you want to work here?”

Greggs why do you want to work here
Keirsten Greggs, TRAP Recruiter

As a talent acquisition consultant and career coach, Keirsten Greggs understands why companies ask it. She also gets why candidates hate it.

“I don’t like the question,” said Greggs, who’s the founder of TRAP Recruiter, a career coaching and talent acquisition firm. “It’s a lazy question. I’m not trying to be mean, I know that it’s still being asked, but I just think there are different ways to ask it.”

Still, candidates need to have an answer prepared, as the question is bound to appear at all stages of the interview process, Greggs said. To do that, it can be helpful to understand what the employer is really asking.

“We want to hear that you know about our company, we want to hear that you see yourself here.”

During the phone interview stage, the recruiter uses the question to vet candidates. They want to see that you have enough knowledge and enthusiasm to merit a recommendation to the hiring manager. But what the recruiter is looking for may change based on the company size.

Durago-why-do-you-want-to-work-here
James Durago, Molecula

James Durago has interviewed candidates at both a big-name tech firm (Google) and a smaller startup (Molecula).  

At Molecula, where Durago works as the director of people, he often asks the question to make sure the candidate has thought through what it means to work for a fast-growing startup. Working at a startup can be a grind as the company goes through frequent changes and sets ambitious goals chasing growth, Durago said. He wants to know that the candidate has a driving purpose, such as a personal connection to the mission or a passion for the technology, that will help them get through the tough times.

“It’s a grind as a startup. You can be paid handsomely but there will be times where you’re like … ‘I don’t know if I want to be here. Did I make the right decision?’” Durago said. “It’s in those times that this question helps me identify: Do they have it in themselves to get out of that funk?”      

But at Google, where he worked as a recruiting manager, he wanted to know that they were interested in the job beyond the brand recognition or prestige.

“It’s more like, ‘Is this something that you’ve thought out?’” Durago said.

During the second stage of the interview, a hiring manager will use the question to hear how you’d fit in with the team and company, Greggs said. They want to see how your skills and experience apply to the position, and they want to know what specifically makes you excited to work for them. Enthusiasm may seem like an inconsequential qualifier, but managers often take that as a sign that the employee will be hard-working and dedicated to their role, she added.

That said, Greggs thinks the question “Why do you want to work here? is too open-ended. She suggests reframing it as, “How does your experience relate to the position and company?” Or, “What makes you excited to work here?”

The best responses incorporate a personal reason for applying to the job, an understanding of the company’s mission and product and an explanation of how your skills can boost that mission and product.

“We want to hear that you know about our company, we want to hear that you see yourself here,” Greggs said. “The intention of the question is to bring out enthusiasm. ... Folks who are adept at interviewing have done research on how to answer that question. They’re coming with that enthusiasm and they’re connecting the dots.”

 

Understand Your Why

If there’s a constant between one SV Academy cohort and the next, it’s that most graduates don’t know where they want to work. The bootcamp teaches them the skills, but for most students, the tech industry remains a nebulous concept outside of the big names.

That’s where Likio comes in. She works with graduates to help them navigate the job search and interview process. Her first question for candidates as they start to apply for jobs is why they chose each company.

Most will shrug their shoulders and tell her they need a paycheck and had to start somewhere. But she prods them to dig deeper.

“If you had to ask anyone, [making money is] kind of the only reason why they’re working,” Likio said. “But it’s good to have them think for themselves, ‘What is it about this company that makes me go through the interview process?’ That’s when the real genuine and authentic answers come out.”

She’s found that it’s more effective for candidates to answer this question outside the context of an interview. That way, it’s more about what they want, rather than what they think the interviewer wants to hear. When a candidate figures out their “why,” their response will be more genuine during the interview.

“With every different company that you answer that question for, you learn a little bit more.”

Still, it’s not always clear to applicants why they should want to work for one tech firm over another.

Likio suggests thinking about what industry you want to work in first. If you have a strong preference for working in HR tech or cybersecurity, it’s a lot easier to answer the question. If you don’t, don’t worry, she said. It can be just as helpful to think about what kind of manager you want to work for.

While candidates might think they want to work for a larger company for job stability, managers are a better indicator of the work experience than company size. When you apply for a job, Likio recommends researching the hiring manager’s LinkedIn. Look at what topics they post about, how many people they manage and check out any content they’ve produced to decide if their coaching style is right for you.

Melendez used that approach for her job hunt. While she thought she wanted to work for a large tech company, she discovered that what she really wanted was a manager who would mentor her and help advance her new career. She ended up finding that in a manager at a smaller company.

Sometimes it just takes time to find your “why,” Likio said. It’s helpful to think of every interview as a learning opportunity. The more exposure you have to companies and the more you ask yourself “why?” the clearer the answer will become.

“With every different company that you answer that question for, you learn a little bit more,” she said. “I always say that interviews are all practice. That sucks for [candidates] because it means they have to do a bunch of interviews, but it also helps a lot because you expose yourself to what different companies can offer.”

 

Do Your Research

Once you identify what you’re looking for in a job, it’s time to research the company.

It’s not enough to say, “I love your product,” or, “I love your coaching style,” Likio said. You need to be able to explain what it is about their product or coaching style that you love.

“It’s just trying to gather as much context as possible so you can ask yourself, ‘Do I see myself working here?’” she explained. “And taking it a step further, ‘Can I see myself being successful here?’ and ‘Can I speak to the things they want me to speak to?’”

The good news is, it doesn’t take too much research to come up with an answer. Start with the company website to familiarize yourself with the product and mission. From there, Greggs suggests reading a few recent news articles about the company and looking up the hiring manager.

“It’s just trying to gather as much context as possible so you can ask yourself, ‘Do I see myself working here?’”

Look for specifics that resonate with you. It could be that the company donates to a nonprofit that you value or the fact that the manager loves reading to cats and you also read to your cat, Greggs said. The key is to make a genuine personal connection to the role or manager.

“It only takes one tidbit,” she added.

It can also help to read anything about the company that’s relevant to your role. For SaaS sales, Likio suggests looking up the product on G2 Crowd and reading case studies. Those insights will help you understand the competitive landscape and speak more confidently about the product.

Finally, don’t shy away from reaching out to anyone in your network who works for the hiring company, Likio added. They can tell you what it’s like at the company and give you insight into how you’d fit in.

She knows it can be an intimidating process, but as long as you let your contact know that you’ve researched the company on your own, they’ll be more than likely to help you.

 

Examples of Good Answers

A good answer to the “Why do you want to work here?” question can set the tone for the rest of your interview. It’s an opportunity to highlight your experience, show you’ve done your research about the company and convey enthusiasm for the role.

Durago and Debra Wheatman, who is a career coach and president of the career services firm Careers Done Write, walk through different ways to answer the question.

 

Highlight Your Passion for the Tech

I’m a user of the product and I really believe in the fact that [insert product] is going to change the game for a lot of folks. I understand the issues you’re trying to solve, and I believe I can help because I have intimate knowledge of the product. And here’s why ...

If you’re familiar with the product or have followed the company closely, don’t be afraid to let that passion show. The key is to think through what problems they’re solving and how you can add value to it in your role.  

At Molecula, Durago recalled two recent engineer hires who had previously worked on the company’s open source product Pelosa. When he asked them why they wanted to work at Molecula, they pointed to their familiarity with Pelosa and experience tackling the same problems the company is focused on solving. Their responses assuaged any concerns about their interest in the role and ability to do the job, Durago said.

 

Draw a Personal Connection With the Company Mission

When I look at my life and the decisions I've made personally and professionally, the one underlying theme is [insert theme]. You can see that in [personal example X]  and [personal example Y]. The company's mission is [insert mission]. Heres why thats in line with my beliefs and why Im excited to work here.

Answering “Why do you want to work here?” is a great opportunity to work in your own personal story and share a little bit about yourself with the recruiter. This type of response starts with a personal mission statement and specific examples to back it up. It’s then followed up with how those experiences tie in with your interest in the company, Durago said.

Durago used this response during his interview with Molecula, drawing a connection between the company’s mission to make AI more accessible and his desire to help others. He pointed to his experience signing up for the U.S. Army, the factors that led him to work at Google and tied it up with this line:

The way Molecula is solving AI accessibility is very much in line with a lot of beliefs that I have about the world and society and people as a whole. That’s in line with why I ended up enlisting in the Army, why I chose to go to Google and why I’m excited to be here.

It’s best to save this approach for when you have a personal connection to the company’s mission. If you do, the framework is a great way to convey enthusiasm about the role and show that you’ve thought through what it would be like to work at the company, he added.

 

Emphasize What Attracted You to the Role

Wehatman why do you want to work here
Debra Wheatman, Careers Done Write

I view this as an opportunity to add value [insert what attracted you to the company] and I believe that my skills support this through [share one or two examples of your experience here].

If you’ve done your research, then you should have a good sense of what the company stands for and the work you’ll be doing. With this response, find one thing that drew you to the role — whether that’s the company’s mission, the job description or product — and share how you can add value to it. 

This approach is also a great way to highlight one or two of your accomplishments and convey enthusiasm for the role, Wheatman said. Just make sure to keep your examples short and to the point.

 

Connect With the Company Culture

I’m interested in the company based on [insert what you researched about the culture]. I believe I can play a role in solving the issues of the company and add value to the [insert aspect of company culture here]. Here’s why.

Recruiters are always looking for candidates who will fit in with the company culture and surpass expectations, Wheatman said. While you might not have a full picture of what that culture will be like until you visit the office or meet with managers, you can pick up on hints in the job description, company website and blog posts. 

Highlighting an aspect of the culture and how you plan to add to it is a great way to convey that you have the drive and ability to succeed at that company. It shows that “you want to learn and you want to contribute, and youll do whatever it takes to surpass expectations,” Wheatman said.

 

Avoid These Mistakes

A bad response to the question “Why do you want to work here?” won’t make or break your interview, but it still influences the hiring manager’s decision. Talking about the paycheck or the need for a job are the most common faux pas. But candidates can also slip up with how they frame the response.   

If you do feel like your answer fell short of what you intended, don’t fret. Most companies understand mistakes do happen and that a candidate might have just had an off-response, Durago said. Following up after the interview to clarify your response can often be just as impactful as if you aced it the first time. 

With that said, here are some mistakes to avoid.

 

Don’t Try to Be a Savior

I looked at your website and I think that I can solve your problems. This is how I did it at my past company and these are all the results I accomplished. If I were to join your company, here’s how I’d solve your problems and all the returns that I could make for you. That’s why you should hire me.

While it’s important to share your accomplishments, this type of response falls into the trap of introducing too many “I” statements. Hiring managers want to know you can work on a team, Durago said. He considers it a personality red flag when a candidate assumes they know the company’s problems and positions themself as the only one who can solve them. 

“You can come in with an opinion, but we are a team and we want to collaborate with people,” Durago said. “Humility and being humble are values of the company.”

Instead, Durago suggests emphasizing collaboration and focusing on how your skills apply to the job description. If you’ve identified a problem the company is facing, share that it’s an assumption and how you’d work with a team to solve it.

 

Don’t Waste the Recruiter’s Time

I’m interested in the job because you reached out to me and I want to know what else you have going on. 

Recruiters might reach out to you on LinkedIn and invite you to apply for a role with their company. While you may just take the interview just to learn more about the opportunity, you still have to take the time to do some research, Durago said. Find at least one reason you might be interested in the company. Otherwise, there’s no point in even taking the interview.

“I want to make sure that not only am I not wasting your time, but I’m also not wasting my time in the conversation,” Durago said.

 

Don’t Treat the Company Like a Stepping Stone

I’m really looking to grow quickly and this company would make a great stepping stone in my career.

Ambition can be a good thing, but no company wants to hire someone who is already plotting their exit. Hiring someone is expensive, so a manager will only want to invest in a candidate who has a genuine interest in the position, Wheatman said. If you have bigger plans for your career, focus instead on the growth you want to achieve and how the company will help you accomplish that goal.

Read On7 Questions to Ask a Future Employer

 

Acing the Question — and the Interview

When Melendez started her job hunt, she thought she knew what she wanted in a job.

Then she received a job offer from a large corporation, and something didn’t feel right. The more she had asked herself, “Why do you want to work here?” the more she realized the job wasn’t a fit.

She had assumed she wanted a large company to match the stability she had in her healthcare career, but what she really wanted was a company she could grow with personally and professionally. This realization came to a head during her interview with Cresta AI’s VP of sales.

“There’s just a shift to authenticity, and then they open up and feel comfortable talking to you like a friend.”

Melendez had researched the hiring manager and saw that he had led other startups to exits, which meant he had experience building successful startups. Her direct manager also had experience structuring teams, which meant she would have clear-cut responsibilities working for him. Both made her confident Cresta AI was right for her, but the direct manager’s social media posts about taking courses and learning new methodologies clinched it. Constant learning was also something she cared about.

“His outlook on the world around constant learning was something that stood out to me,” Melendez said. “So I felt connected with him on a personal level.”

When it came time for Melendez to answer “Why do you want to work here” during her interview (always the second question companies ask, she added), she was ready for it. She shared her desire to change careers and her personal connection to the role and managers. Her answer shifted the tone of the conversation.

“After answering that question, I noticed a shift in the tone,” Melendez said. “There’s just a shift to authenticity, and then they open up and feel comfortable talking to you like a friend.”

By the end, she not only had a job offer but a commitment from the VP of sales to help her find a job if she didn’t accept this one. Needless to say, Melendez had found the right job for her.

“That meant the world to me,” she said. “Yeah, it’s an interview, and you’re trying to get this job, but I had this person say back to me, ‘I would like to support your future endeavors.’ That was incredible.”

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