The One Interview Question You Need to be Able to Answer

There’s plenty of information out there on how to write an engaging covering letter. And of course there are some great articles to help you craft the perfect CV. And rest assured there are literally millions of posts to help you prepare for a job interview. Go on … just Google the phrase “preparing for a job interview” and see for yourself.

The only problem (and I hesitate to use the word ‘problem’ since I have personally contributed to dozens of those online posts!) is that the majority of ‘interview preparation’ articles focus either on how to mentally prepare for an interview, what to wear, or how to prepare for and respond to various behavioural based or competency based interview questions.

I have personally interviewed thousands of candidates over the years. Often they would nail the “Tell me about a situation where …” or “Could you give me an example of a time when …” type questions. But then when I would ask them “What specifically attracted you to apply for this role?” or “Why do you really want to work for … ?”, the candidate would crash and burn.


Quite simply because they’d ‘rehearsed’ their generic responses perfectly, but completely floundered when it came to relating their experience, attributes or competencies to a unique role within a specific organisation that they supposedly really wanted to work for.

Why do you want this job?

The most important word to focus on here is “this”.

The question isn’t “Why are you looking for a new role?” or “What are you looking for in your next job?”. It’s clearly asking you why you want this specific opportunity. And unless you have thought about it carefully, no matter what you say, your response is going to sound generic.

If you were looking to rent an apartment and you spoke to a property manager who asked “why this particular apartment?” hopefully you wouldn’t just say “because I need to find a new apartment”. The suburb, street, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, weekly rent, amount of storage space, whether or not there’s parking etc would all hopefully factor in to your response.

If your response is plain or vanilla in any way, then it will either make you appear desperate and willing to grab at anything, or (perhaps even worse) that you don’t really care about the next step in your career and that you’re simply going through the motions or simply fishing for what’s out there.

If you’re sitting in front of a recruitment consultant

I completely understand that the advertisements written by recruitment consultants will usually not include the name of the organisation they’re representing (and trust me there’s a very good reason for this); Or that more often than not the ads may not necessarily include enough detail about the potential opportunity or the actual organisation.

However this doesn’t mean that you can’t still tailor your response around the information you do have available in front of you.

Even if you don’t know the name of the organisation, before you meet with a recruiter, go through the advertisement carefully and look at the key criteria that might be listed.  What specific experience is required? What are the responsibilities listed in the role that resonated most with you?

If you can relate your experience and attributes to those listed as desirable in the job ad, then your response will be tailored to the question around why you want this job.

If you’re sitting in front of a potential new employer

However if you have applied to a position that was advertised directly by an organisation, then there will usually be a lot more detail about the business (not to mention the company name!) included in the job ad and available at your finger tips.

So if you have been invited in for an interview directly with a hiring manager, HR representative, or perhaps even the business owner, then there is absolutely no excuse for you not to have thoroughly investigated the organisation and the role. You then need to be able to relate your response to what you have learned about the business either from their website or other research you’ve been able to carry out.

Perhaps you’ve read about the company’s training and development program; or their community / sustainability initiatives in some articles on their press pages. Or maybe it’s just that you could really relate to some of the posts on the company blog.

Whatever made you apply to that specific opportunity is what you must clearly articulate in your response.

As always … preparation is key

Here’s a hint: Ask yourself why you really want THIS job before you go along to any job interview. If you find yourself waffling on with some generic response that you could really just ‘copy and paste’ in any interview situation, then quite frankly you probably shouldn’t be going along to the interview since you have clearly put in no effort in terms of interview preparation.

So whether it’s looking at your skills and previous experience and connecting it to specific criteria in a job ad, or whether it’s looking through a company’s website, you must be able to distinguish why you want this job,  as opposed to the broader question around why you are looking for a new opportunity.

Paul Slezak is a cofounder of RecruitLoop and author of “21 things to do to get a new job NOW!” 

Image: Thomas Hawk, via Flickr