by Miriam Salpeter
"Why should we hire you?" It's the underlying question inherent in every interview inquiry. Even if interviewers don't ask this exact question it's what they want to know. Your job is to supply appropriate answers. You'll need to describe reasons using concrete examples illustrating how and why you are a good fit for the organization.
Answering the question well requires two things: knowing what you offer and understanding what the organization wants; these elements are equally important.
What You Offer
Why are you a good fit for the job? If you don't know your skills it will be difficult to land an opportunity. It's imperative to understand what you have to offer when applying for positions. I tell my clients to post the question "Why should we hire you?" on their bathroom mirror refrigerator or anyplace they will see it during the day. I instruct them to answer out loud keeping different companies in mind each time. This type of rehearsal will help you hone in on what you have to offer.
What do you enjoy most about your job? It's likely those aspects correlate with your strengths and may help identify reasons to hire you. For example do you enjoy spending a lot of time negotiating preventing problems (or solving them) or interacting with people from various backgrounds? Are you a writer whose best time is quietly typing alone at the computer? Or is presenting in front of large groups your favorite thing? Make a list of what you would consider your best strengths.
If it's difficult choosing your best skills consider asking for help and doing some self-referential research. Dig out old performance reviews read what people have written about you in LinkedIn recommendations and ask your friends or colleagues about your strengths.
Identify what is unique or special about you. How have you gone above and beyond the call of duty? What did you accomplish that no one else managed to do? Did you volunteer to tackle a problem and solve it? Give yourself credit -- ideally your past work will provide a strong supportive platform for your next job.
Don't underestimate the value of looking at yourself your skills and your accomplishments and outlining the key points you will want to share with a prospective employer.
What the Organization Wants
While the focus of "Why should we hire you?" is on "you" the interviewee it's important to remember the answer isn't all about you. The most successful interview responses focus on the hiring manager's needs. Framing replies that demonstrate you understand their problems -- or "pain points" makes a big difference when competing with many other qualified candidates.
What are the skills to focus on when you apply for jobs? It's usually not very difficult to identify what employers are looking for; their 2000-word in-depth job descriptions don't leave much to the imagination. Many firms post videos and manage Facebook sites and Twitter feeds touting their organizations and why you might want to work there. Skip these resources at your own peril -- they are telling you exactly what you need to know to be a strong candidate.
To prepare to successfully interview -- frame your answer to "Why should we hire you?" to suit the employer's needs. Print and highlight the job description looking for the top three or four most important details. Do they include terms such as "cross-functional team" "team work" and "team player" several times? If your answer to "Why should we hire you?" (asked directly or as an underlying question) does not mention and focus on your abilities as they relate to teams you are probably out of luck.
Does the company's YouTube channel have a series of videos outlining its commitment to customer service? You'll want to include details about your interest in client relations as part of the reason the employer should hire you. If an organization emphasizes a topic it's likely management will appreciate your letting them know why (and how) you are a good fit. Think of an interview as an opportunity to build a bridge between what the company wants and what you offer -- and to figuratively lay a red carpet across the bridge encouraging the employer to walk across!
Final Thoughts: What if There's a Disconnect? You Know You Need to Emphasize a Skill or Accomplishment that's not a Strong Suit?
The job requires leadership skills for example. You know the interviewer will want to discuss it but it's one of your weak points. What should you say?
Give examples of non-work related leadership stories if your work history isn't very leadership focused. Maybe you led a volunteer team and raised a lot of money for example. It does help to be able to work in information about how you demonstrated leadership at work. To address this topic break down the definition of "leadership" and identify some matches between what you've exhibited on the job and what the job requires.
For example a leader:
- Takes responsibility for his or her actions
- Can think on his or her feet and make decisions
- Can convince others of a viewpoint or plan -- and inspire them to cooperate
- Sees the bigger picture and makes suggestions to avoid obstacles
When the interviewer asks why the organization should hire you include a leadership-focused reply such as "I know this job requires strong leadership experience. The best leaders think ahead make good decisions and skillfully convince others to cooperate." Then tell a story illustrating a time when you used those three skills.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Miriam Salpeter is owner and founder of Keppie Careers a coaching and consulting firm helping job seekers and entrepreneurs leverage social media and other tools to achieve their goals. Major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal The New York Times and others have quoted her advice. In addition to her own blog Miriam writes for U.S. News & World Report's "On Careers" column. Her book Social Networking for Career Success is available via Amazon and other booksellers.