Yes! Your resume and application shone and you’ve been invited to interview. Now it’s time to prepare, especially for those tough, open-ended questions. One that is sure to be asked: “Why should we hire you?”
How to Answer ‘Why Should We Hire You?’
Tips for Answering ‘Why Should We Hire You?’
“The way a person answers this question tells me so much about what they want to accomplish,” said Rinat Hadas, chief of staff at JumpCrew, a Nashville, Tennessee-based outsourcer of sales and marketing talent, who said she has hired 100 people in 100 days. Answers also display a candidate’s confidence and their ability to show how their skills are a great fit for the role, she added.
“One of the greatest things I’ve learned is how important the art of storytelling is,” Hadas said. “I personally always felt more confident walking into an interview with my story of how all of my skills and experiences have prepared me to excel in the role in front of me, and I love seeing that story come out of candidates who I interview, too.”
Hiring managers listen for the ease and speed of the answer, the excitement and eagerness of the response and the candidate’s cognitive and verbal skills, said Kurt Motamedi, professor of strategy and leadership at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, Malibu, California. They’ll also keep an ear open for red flags, among them defensiveness and sidestepping, unchecked raw opinions, overt extroversion or introversion, sidestepping questions and not admitting lack of knowledge, he said.
Interviewers ask this question for a good reason: “It’s a powerful question that reveals to what extent the candidate has knowledge about the company’s vision, mission, goals and values; products and services; internal dynamics; the position and the job; and needed skills and competencies,” Motamedi said.
Prepare for the Question
Successful job seekers research their work histories and skill sets, as well as the needs of the company they’re interviewing with, to answer this question. “They want to know what’s relevant about your background for them, for their company, and for the role specifically,” said Ian Douglas, senior developer advocate at Postman, a San Francisco, California-based API developer.
Douglas interviewed with about 20 companies over three months before landing the job at Postman. The question, posed as “why should we hire you,” “why do you want this job” or some other variation, was asked of him at every single interview.
To tailor answers for each interview, Douglas dove into the job description and researched the company’s goals, directions and its history. “A lot of that was trying to see where I’d fit in immediately, 90 days in, a year in and maybe two or three years in,” he said. “How do I see myself being effective in that role?” He formed answers based on how his skill set was applicable to the job, and why he was the best candidate.
“Preparing shows you actually really care about the role, you care about the company and you care about the interview.”
For example, to land his role at Postman, Douglas leveraged his history of teaching API design using Postman’s desktop application. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to blend my development background, plus my love of teaching, with a product I really enjoy using,” he said. He was also transparent in the interview about what he wanted to learn in 2022, and how that desire to learn would make him effective in the role.
“Preparing shows you actually really care about the role, you care about the company and you care about the interview,” Douglas said. A carefully prepared answer specific to the company and the role “really sets a great first impression,” he said.
Benjamin Argyle-Ross, newly hired marketing manager at SaaS project-management, database- and team- collaboration platform Zenkit, researched both the role and the company before interviewing. His research included Zenkit’s ongoing projects, previous accomplishments, social media presence, and the company’s market niche. “I could better understand what I could bring to the role and where I would fit in the team if I knew where I was applying for work,” Argyle-Ross said.
Prepare for the Question
For his answer, he reflected on how previous experiences would benefit Zenkit and how the company’s vision aligns with his personal goals. Without the interviewer having mentioned it, Argyle-Ross referenced a project and explained his ideas for developing the project, should he be hired. “This, combined with my ability to ask questions about both the role and the company, enabled me to strengthen my response and really impress my interviewer as I demonstrated initiative and began to lead the interview,” he said.
It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. “Interviewers want to hear that you’re confident in your answer and that it doesn’t sound like you’re searching for what to tell them,” Douglas said. Lots of confidence comes from preparation and rehearsing, he said.
Recognize, too, the fine line between confidence and boasting. “There’s a difference between being proud of the work you’ve done and arrogantly bragging about what you’ve done, that you’re the smartest person in the room,” Douglas said. No one wants to hire arrogant people because nobody wants to work with arrogant people, he said. A relaxed tone of voice and a calm recitation of accomplishments, more so than brashness and braggy adjectives, can communicate your skill sets.
She did, however, have experience with PKI, plus years of sales and training experience, during which she learned how to establish relationships with and advocate for key clients. She also learned the importance of a single sign-on, and brought all that to the OneLogin interview. “It’s how I sold myself for the role,” said Slinger, who’s based in Atlanta, Georgia.
OneLogin asked Slinger to do a presentation, on a topic of her choice, to a group of seven men. Her theme? Startup disruptors in the makeup industry. The exercise helped the panel determine how Slinger would fare in presenting quarterly business reviews with customers; she aced it.
Slinger has landed every job she’s interviewed for. That track record puts her in a good place to offer advice. “Don’t use cookie-cutter answers, like you’re the perfect person, or you’re really passionate about your work,” she said. “Don’t fake it or give the answer you think they want to hear,” She emphasized the need to prepare, including taking a couple of hours before the interview to “know what you’re walking into,” she said.
Searching for a job straight out of tech bootcamp Coding Dojo, Tia Fouroohi encountered “why should we hire you?” nine times out of ten. “At first, I only wanted to highlight the better parts of me. ... ‘I’m hardworking, dedicated,’” said Fouroohi, who transitioned into tech after losing her job as a bartender during the pandemic.
Searching for a way to stand out among applicants, Fouroohi decided on a vulnerable approach. “I started highlighting the things I could work on, the things that make me more human,” she said. She emphasized how new she was to tech and how much she didn’t know, but was willing to learn. “I found it better to be brutally honest,” said Fouroohi.
“I found it better to be brutally honest.”
In response to her answer, interviewers often stopped writing, looked up, and nodded their heads. One even acknowledged that it was a rare answer to the tough question. “It made the interview process so much easier,” said Fouroohi. “It gives the recruiter a chance to connect with you.”
She’d offer similar advice to tech professionals preparing for job interviews: “Find ways to make your undesirable aspects desirable to someone,” she said, and forget about sounding less than perfect. “Employees don’t want to hire a robot. They want to hire a person.” She joined Pathloom, a San Ramon, California-based trip planner, as a software developer last March.
Know What You Want
Ariel Tam, front-end full-stack software engineer at Textio, a Seattle-based augmented writing startup, felt under-mentored at her previous job; she wanted her next workplace to have a strong mentoring culture. “It’s important to know what you want when you come into the interview,” Tam said. “That will give you a lot of drive and a north-pointing compass of where you want to go next.”
While preparing for interviews, she decided that rather than describe herself as “smart” or “hardworking,” she’d share experiences that demonstrated those qualities. During the Textio interview, she talked about successful projects at her last firm, as well as her enthusiasm for front-end engineering. Tam also kept a journal during her job search. Writing about the interviews provided therapy at the end of a long day, and also gives her a record to review should she embark on another search.
What’s the Next Big Interview Question?
- A popular question job-seeking students from City Colleges of Chicago are hearing these days is “are you a team player,” said Meredith Murphy, director of career planning and placement. Employers seem to be steering away from traditional interview questions, perhaps because so much advice exists on how to answer them, she said.
- Popular interview questions focus on how job seekers work on teams, with other people, and how much direction they need on projects. The trend toward remote and hybrid work might be prompting this line of questioning, Murphy said. “A lot of people are meeting teams only online, so how do you relate to people when you don’t actually see them in the office setting?” she said.
- Another line of questioning that might stem from remote working: “One of the keywords employers are looking for is adaptability,” and that means cognitive adaptability as well as with one’s time. “Employers want to see how things look from the lens of a younger person who’s new to the job market,” Murphy said.
At Textio, the entire interview, not just one question, helps hiring managers discern why they should hire a candidate. In addition to a fit for the tech skills needed, they’re also looking for a collaboration fit “around taking suggestions well, being open to new ideas, and not being defensive,” said David Davidson, engineering manager and Tam’s hiring manager.
Tam showed not just an openness to growth, but an eagerness to embrace it, Davidson said. “She had a really nice solution to the take-home problem; it showed the polish and quality we hope to see in senior candidates,” he said. Tam could also “speak crisply about the decisions she made to arrive at the solution,” he said. In the end, while interviewers never asked Tam “why should we hire you,” she answered it with her work experience, technical skills, and soft skills. “We care a lot about a growth mindset,” he said.
Tout Transferable Skills
Right up until the pandemic, Beau Minder, who’s in his mid 20s, worked as a hairstylist, specializing in the coloring method called balayage. During lockdowns, he had an epiphany: He wasn’t happy with hairstyling. “It just wasn’t scratching the itch for me professionally,” said Minder, who went to college planning to be a photographer. While interning for Ghostworks, a Los Angeles-based tech communications firm, Minder thought that tech might offer a welcome career change.
Research led him to Flockjay, a 10-week bootcamp for tech sales. Bingo. Minder realized a lot of soft skills he used in the hairstyling businesses, for instance interacting with people, identifying pain points, and finding solutions, would transfer nicely to sales. He registered for the bootcamp, completed it in late March, and began the job hunt.
Talk about your strengths
To be ready for questions like “why should we hire you,” Minder distilled tech sales job listings down to several key traits and skills likely to arise during interviews, then matched them with skills from past experiences. Thanks to the close contact with clients during his hairstyling days, for instance, “I have a really strong ability to connect with people and communicate with people,” Minder said. “I could emphasize how these different experiences intersect in a way that is unique to me and my history, and make me an ideal candidate,” Minder said.
For instance, interviewers might have seen candidates with retail experience, maybe even a few former stylists and probably a bootcamp graduate or two, but probably not any one with all three. “I just had to convince the interviewer that these gave me the perfect skill set for a sales role,” Minder said.
Keep Your Core Values in Mind
“‘Why should we hire you?’ is one of the easiest questions to ask, yet one of the hardest to answer,” said Martin Welker, CEO at Zenkit. The answer gives candidates the opportunity not only to shine, but to demonstrate why they’re the perfect fit for the role, not just a good fit, Welker said. “It’s also a great way for an interviewer to see what a candidate will bring to the job, such as new and innovative ideas, mindset and work ethic,” he said.
In addition to researching the role and company, Welker urged job candidates to consider their own values. “What do you hold dear? What do you hope to achieve in life? What do you want to be doing in five years?” he said. Then ask yourself the big question: Does this role assist me in achieving this? “Candidates are often so focused on landing a job that they fail to reflect on why they want it in the first place,” he said.
How Not to Answer ‘Why Should We Hire You?’
For Welker, the biggest red flag is when job seekers don’t know why he should hire them. “I sometimes feel that they expect to be hired because they applied for the job and attended the interview,” he said. Candidates also sometimes start listing general qualities, such as “hard worker,” “good communicator” and “fast learner,” but fail to connect with the role itself. Not preparing dashes the opportunity to shine — even worse, it can make a candidate appear more like a liability than an asset, Welker said.
Hiring Managers Want Honesty
Don’t Brag or Be Arrogant
A candidate once told Randy Rivera that there was no chance Rivera would ever regret hiring them. “It struck me,” said Rivera, executive director at FinTEx, a Chicago nonprofit that helps fintech companies grow, and chief engagement officer at Quointec, the tech subsidiary at law firm Actuate Law. “The brash comment immediately put me off,” he said.
Rivera followed up by asking the candidate if he knew anyone who would disagree, and the candidate responded with a long list of who would and why. “In short, the response was, ‘here’s a reason everyone’s wrong, but I am right,’” he said.
Hiring managers, Rivera said, want to hire people who can do their jobs with minimal excuses and drama. “Don’t put on a performance,” he said. “Focus on the positive aspects of your experience, be honest about what you are working on and do not over-promise or over explain.” Rivera said that interviewers can tell if a candidate is lying or deliberately leaving out information, so honesty and owning your truths are the best policies. “Anything else injects doubt,” he said.
Avoid Financial Talk
However you phrase it, “I need the money” is also not an appropriate answer. “While the reality is you need the job to support yourself, employers will not appreciate hearing that you want to be hired for the compensation,” said Courtney Ebben, manager of career and counseling services at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wisconsin.
Ebben counsels students to avoid a long list of positive qualities; without supporting evidence, such a list is meaningless. “Examples allow the employer to know your past work and feel confident in hiring you,” she said.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
While it’s not good to brag, it’s also not advisable to undersell yourself. “In my experience, candidates are overly critical of themselves or undershare,” Ebben said. Instead of tilting to one extreme or the other, “accurately and concisely describe your strengths and experience to help the employer make a good hiring decision,” Ebben said. She echoes a phrase that appeared in nearly every interview for this story: “This is an important opportunity to shine.”