(By Lily Zhang)
“Have you ever gone on a date with someone who wouldn’t stop talking about his or her ex? Well, turns out this happens during job interviews, too. Don’t be that person who can’t shut up about why you need to leave your old job, stat. Even if the reason you’re job searching is directly related to your previous position, focus on the future. Bring up the skills you’ve developed for sure, but no need to dive into the history of how you acquired them“.
Hiring managers don’t always say what’s on their minds, and sometimes this results in a less effective interviewing experience for you, the job candidate. But, regardless of how good or bad your interviewer is, you’ll very likely still get this question: “Why are you interested in this position?”
The reason for that is because your answer says a lot about all of the most important things the interviewer will be evaluating: your skills, your cultural fit, and your interest. In other words, this is definitely not a question you want to screw up. Here are four common mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. You Never Talk About the Company
I recently had a conversation with a recruiter, and she shared this great tidbit with me about what she considers to be the kiss of death for interviews. When people answer, “Why are you interested in this position?” with something about being passionate about programming, writing, or some other skill with no mention at all about the actual company, it’s immediately a red flag. Think about it this way: You can bring your skills anywhere. The trick is explaining why you want to use them for this particular company.
2. You Only Say What’s in it for You
This mistake is particularly common because, well, this is what the question is asking for, isn’t it? Maybe this job would give you the chance to learn a lot about marketing, or it’s an opportunity to grow your quantitative analysis skills—that’s great, but it’s not what your interviewer really wants to hear. At the moment, the hiring manager isn’t the most invested in what’s in it for you; he or she wants to know what’s in it for the company. The solution? Align your interests and say something about your enthusiasm for using your skills to contribute to the company’s greater goal.
3. You Bring Up Points That Aren’t Relevant
In the heat of the moment, it can be really tempting to reveal that the office is actually quite close to your daughter’s school or how the company’s flexible hours policy would make it easier to carpool with your roommate, but don’t give in. These are nice perks, but (hopefully) they’re not the only reason why this position is exciting for you. Plus, you’ll be giving up an opportunity to share the more relevant ones.
4. You Answer the Wrong Question
Have you ever gone on a date with someone who wouldn’t stop talking about his or her ex? Well, turns out this happens during job interviews, too. Don’t be that person who can’t shut up about why you need to leave your old job, stat. Even if the reason you’re job searching is directly related to your previous position, focus on the future. Bring up the skills you’ve developed for sure, but no need to dive into the history of how you acquired them.
This seemly innocuous question is a surprisingly tricky one, especially if you try to answer it without first thinking about your audience. Read this to learn more about how to answer this question strategically. Then, get your story straight, and remember who you’re talking to. It’s just one question, but it can completely shape the way an interviewer views your candidacy.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.
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