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How to answer: Why do you want to work for us?

We tackle another classic this week. Being genuine – and understanding the question – is key.

This is another one of those wholly overused interview questions that still get thrown around time and again by employers who are hoping to trip the odd candidate up. When faced with this, it’s tempting to be flippant. A legitimate – but wrong – answer would be “I need to pay the rent.” This isn’t going to do you any favours.

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Although overused, it is a fair question. In today’s congested labour market employers have a lot of choice when it comes to team-playing, scientifically and technologically gifted, dedicated, competitive candidates. So you need to show that you have the drive and determination to do well, and demonstrate that you’re not just the best fit – you also want it more than anyone else.

So, there are two things you need to show to answer this question well. Put simply, you need to say what your potential employer will get out of you, and what you’re hoping to get out of them. We’ll cover both.

 

What they’re getting from you

You should have – throughout the rest of the interview – shown that you’re capable, qualified and willing to do the job they’re offering. Your science has to be good, and you’ll have to be an enthusiastic team player. This isn’t really what the question is about, though; they’re asking why you want to work for them, not why they should hire you.

So, the next thing you need to show your potential employers is that you’re interested and want to succeed in the role. You can’t just say “I want to do the job” – you need to actually, genuinely, care. The work you’re expecting to do has to matter to you. Think back to what made you apply for the job when you first saw it. And if you find yourself struggling, then perhaps the role isn’t right for you in the first place.

Whilst you should use this question to highlight the organisation’s strengths and demonstrate you’ve done all the right research, you need to make sure you don’t gush. Listing off the organisation’s various achievements straight from their website will come across as impassionate research. Be balanced and careful – find whatever you genuinely found interesting about them and talk about that.

 

What you’re hoping to get from them

Personal development is becoming more and more important to employers. Showcasing that you’ve thought about what this role will bring to you (other than the aforementioned rent instalments) will demonstrate to employers that this isn’t another job for you – it’s an opportunity to advance your career.

In terms of specifics, there should be a lot a new job will bring you. If you’re hoping to move into academia, you’re likely looking to improve your scientific skill set, publication record, and list of collaborators. In industry – because of the huge variety of different positions available – it becomes more complex. Whatever the position, you should be thinking about what new skills you want to pick up, and the knowledge you’re hoping to gain about the area your employer works in.

 

How to answer

With all of that in mind, here’s a biomedical-style example:

This looks to be an exciting role in a company that does science I’m genuinely interested in. Your launch last year of [medicine] was particularly interesting for me because, as you know, my degree was in the same area and I used fairly similar science for my thesis. More generally, I think the work that you guys do is important as a whole. You’re active in third world countries, which I think a lot of companies in your position avoid because of the risk involved. I want to be a part of that.

As well as that, I’m sure it will be an exciting challenge to get to grips with the more industrial, business-facing side of science. I want to learn more about how making medicine works from a corporate standpoint, and about the regulatory and financial hurdles that come up regularly. Overall, I want to keep gaining knowledge whilst I’m working, and I’m certain this role will help me do just that.

 

Overall, this question is a great opportunity to demonstrate how you’re a good choice for the role – not just because you have the skills to do well, but because you genuinely care about the work. Show how you care about them, and why they should care about you.

 

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Comments

  1. Ufuk Kirik said:

    I think this question is not only overused but also overrated.

    Trying to gauge a candidate’s enthusiasm or interest for the position in such a way only leads to the same boilerplate answers with slight modifications, like the template given in the article. Company after company, position after position, interview after interview, same tale… Welcome to Clichéville!

    During my grad studies I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit, been to about a dozen conferences both national and international, and I have to say once you catch people off the record, in a less formal setting, nobody is that enthusiastic about their job. Thus I feel questions like this one serve to promote a pleasant facade more than reveal any deep-lying truth about the candidate.

    When I interviewed for positions recently, more often than not I was thoughtful about the project, the salary, the potential issues that may happen with respect to a potential relocation… Overall whether it is the right move for me or not.. I happen to be an analytical person, which makes me evaluate everything I hear and see at the interview. This particular question, to which I need to show how much I care about the company/group in question, trips me over because I feel I need to pretend to be more certain, more excited than I am. I often feel that questions like this one reward people that have (or pretend to have) a bit of a “happy-go-lucky” personality.

    All in all, if I am not competent enough for a job; fine, I’ll try to improve my profile. But if I get eliminated because I don’t want to pretend to be more excited or optimistic than I am… That’s neither fair nor pleasant. I think any genuine enthusiasm about the job will essentially reveal when you talk about the subject matter. People generally like to talk about stuff they are interested in, things they have done and feel proud about.

    In fact, one cannot be expected to know how motivating or rewarding a particular position will be in advance. It depends on personal chemistry with the team members, leadership/administration style, how the project develops (which is especially important in biomedical research). I know so many people who started their projects with seemingly endless enthusiasm, only to end up in a gloomy resentment a year or two down the road. I wonder maybe the initial enthusiasm isn’t a very good measure of how things will turn out later on?

    Sorry for the long rant, but I really feel someone needs to speak up about the flipside of questions like these.