When filling a job opening, employers are often looking for someone qualified and knowledgeable for the role, someone coworkers could tolerate, if not outright enjoy working with — and someone who actually wants to be in the position.
Often, to find out if a candidate fits that last qualification, recruiters ask the worst possible question:
“Why do you want this job?”
For newly-transitioning veterans, the obvious answer is “I’m getting out of the military and I still need money to live.” But that’s not really what they’re asking. Instead, they are hunting for someone who isn’t just looking for the job as a stopgap measure between military service and figuring out what they want to do with their lives — they are looking for someone who actually wants the gig for other reasons.
There’s plenty of reasons this is a terrible and ineffective interview question. And it comes in many forms, such as:
- What interests you about this company?
- Why are you interested in this position?
- Why do you want to join us?
- Please give details about why you are applying.
And the candidate is likely thinking of the following answers:
- You’re within walking distance of my house
Of course, that’s not what the candidate says in the interview. And that least us to the first reason this is a bad question: the hiring manager has no way of knowing if the answer the candidate provides is true or false. All it does is prove whether or not the applicant researched the company the night before — which they definitely should have.
Read: 5 Things You Must Do Before a Job Interview
No matter what the candidate says, the answer will most likely be totally fabricated, which brings us to another reason the question is terrible: the applicant has no idea what working for the employer is like, so they can’t possibly actually know why they want the job beyond the paycheck. Applicants might research what the employer does, their reputation and comparable jobs in the industry, but a first-time employee will know little beyond that. So no matter what the applicant says, the answer may not mean much.
So why do employers ask veterans this question? Word got around that 43% of veterans leave their first civilian job within the first year and 80% leave before the end of their second year. Those who leave jobs like that say there’s a lack of opportunity for career advancement and personal development. But no matter what the reason, employers are still left looking to fill that same job again.
What an employer is really looking for is someone who has a stake in either their job, the company (maybe both) right from the start. For most companies hiring for entry-level or just above entry-level positions, this will be like looking for a unicorn. A company like Microsoft doesn’t need to ask why you want a job with Microsoft, you want that brand on your resume and you want the experience that comes with it.
So how exactly should someone answer the question when it comes up? This is where research comes into play.
Try to spin the answer to favor you, saying something like the company pays more than other companies with similar jobs in the industry. Talk about how exciting the work could be in general terms, even if you’re unsure of the particulars at the time.
But the best way to answer comes from being truthful — about real goals, that is.
In an ideal situation, a candidate is interested in a position with a specific company and can say exactly why that company interests them. But if that was always the case, no one would have read this far waiting for the right answer.
The right answer is one that talks about what’s unique about the job and the company and how your personal strengths fit the challenges of the job. Then, tie the role and the company into a greater vision of a career path and lay that out for the interviewer, preferably in five year increments.
Any answer to this question is suspect, but with this answer we can show we did the research and came prepared as well as signal an intention to stick around for more than just a short time.
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