I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t!), so I took the LSATs, went to law school and became an attorney. I quickly realized I would have been a great lawyer if it wasn’t for all that darned fine print!
We enter the job market for many reasons. On one end of the spectrum, we may have risen to the top, achieved all we could hope for, and there is no longer an avenue for promotion and no opportunity for new challenges. On the other end of the spectrum, we were fired for poor performance (or worse). In between, there are a plethora of reasons: downsizing, more money, shorter commute, bad boss, being “stuck,” relocation (perhaps your spouse took a job in another city), health issues, etc. Inevitably, one question will be asked: Why do you want this job?
YOUR ANSWER MUST REFLECT AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE ROLE.
Regardless of the “why,” at the very least, you must be familiar with the job description before you can accurately answer this question. (The job description should be well thought out, as I discussed in a previous article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-do-you-attract-top-talent-start-thoughtful-job/). As a legal and compliance recruiter for the financial services industry, I always counsel my candidates to read job descriptions thoroughly and compose a list of questions to ask at the interview. I also suggest doing research on the company to become familiar with who they are, what they do, their culture, and any negatives. Go to their website, read employee reviews. If there are negatives, and you still want to work there, at least you will be armed with knowledge. You may even have an opportunity to discuss the negatives with your interviewer, who may be able to shed some light on the situation.
SHOW REAL ENTHUSIASM IN DOING THE WORK
As mentioned above, we seek work for many reasons. Perhaps this is your dream job, or maybe you are desperate for work and will accept just about anything. No matter. You will never be offered the job if you don’t sound interested. Not just interested in general, but interested in THIS PARTICULAR ROLE. Even in positions that might seem fungible, such as fast food work, day labor and data entry, interviewers seek candidates who appear interested, competent, and even enthusiastic. You may have recently been let go, and you are depressed and despondent. You don’t care what the job is, you need to pay the rent, period. Once again, no matter. WARNING: CLICHE ALERT! Turn that frown upside down. As the Brits say, “Stiff upper lip.” You MUST give the interviewer reasons why you should be considered.
BE INTERESTED IN THE JOB, NOT JUST THE COMPANY
Some firms have a certain (earned or not) mystique, a glamor. Goldman Sachs, Amazon, Conde Nast, for example. The interviewer has one goal: to find a qualified candidate to fill a specific role within the company. Be that qualified candidate. They do not want to hear “I have always dreamed about working here.” They know their company’s reputation. What they do want to hear is “I have always been passionate about raising pot-bellied pigs, and I would be a perfect fit for this role.” Explain how your experiences and qualifications make you the ideal candidate. Remember, this is a job interview, not a love-fest. Companies are not seeking fans. They assume that, once onboard, you will generally speak well of the firm and be an “ambassador.” They have a very specific role to fill and they are seeking the “needle in the haystack,” the candidate with the most appropriate skill-set.
CONNECT YOUR ANSWER TO A CAREER TRAJECTORY
You have gained an understanding of the job description. You are able to convey interest in performing the duties of the particular position, and that this role is perfect for you, regardless of which company is offering it. The next step is to convey how perfectly it fits into your career path. Bring your career to life for the interviewer; explain where you came from, where you hope to go, and how this particular role fits into your big picture. Company research will give you good “intel” on the possibilities for job advancement. If you are applying to a small firm, there may not be a lot of room for growth. In this situation, you may want to highlight issues like job stability as opposed to growth, short commute time, and loyalty over excitement. If you are interviewing at a larger company, with many levels (Associate, Analyst, AVP, VP, SVP, D, MD, ED, you get the point), you would take a different approach, emphasizing how you see your (hopefully) future place in the firm, and where and how you will rise through the ranks.
BUT DON’T COME ACROSS AS OPPORTUNISTIC
While it’s a good thing to display a sense of drive and ambition, make sure to avoid making it all about YOU. If it appears that you are merely seeking this job as a stepping-stone to another, more lucrative opportunity, you may be stabbing yourself in the back. Nobody wants to hire a candidate who acts and sounds like they will jump ship at the first attractive new offer.
ASK NOT WHAT MY COUNTRY CAN DO FOR ME, BUT WHAT I CAN DO FOR MY COUNTRY
President Kennedy was no slouch. He understood that we could accomplish much more if we, as Pink Floyd eloquently said “all pull together as a team.” Frame the conversation in terms of what you can bring to the company, not what the company can do for you. As mentioned above, it is not wise to come across as opportunistic.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS, JUST FAKE IT!
If you are at the other end of that aforementioned spectrum; maybe you were fired or have been out of work for far too long, and you simply need a job, any job, then you have some extra work to do, especially in the acting department. If the only job available is waiting tables at the local Chili’s (a job you haven’t done since college days decades ago), and it’s either go back to being a waiter or being evicted, it’s a Hobbesian choice (take it or leave it). Since, presumably, waiting tables is better than becoming homeless, it’s time to take that Chili’s interview. You walk into the restaurant, take a seat at the bar while you wait for the 22-year-old manager to arrive. Your heart sinks to your feet as you wait (I know, I’ve been there myself). You have no choice but to buck up and do what you must in order to get that job. But how? By putting the best possible spin on the situation. First, you might think to yourself “Hey, this could be an interesting opportunity. Leave your stress at the door at the end of your shift. Meet new, young people who just might give you a “youth injection.” Whatever it takes. Here it comes: “Why do you want this job?” Well, the truth is, I’ve been out of work for some time due to (insert reason here) and (1) “I used to be a waiter, and I really loved it, so I thought I’d come back to the service industry,” or (2) “I’ve never been a waiter and I thought it would be a really interesting and different way to earn a living.” Or, (3) just make something up, but whatever it is, give it all you got. You know you don’t WANT the job, but you need it, so why waste your time applying for it if you sabotage yourself in the process? It might even turn out to be a positive experience!
SO GOOD LUCK!
I hope I’ve laid out some constructive advice on how to best approach the interview process, no matter what your situation. Whether you are at the apex or the nadir of your career, CLICHE ALERT: put your best foot forward and charge ahead. When life gives you lemons (which, by the way, I think are wonderful by themselves; have you ever had the organic Meyers? My neighbor has a tree with lemons the size of grapefruits), make lemonade!
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David L. Reitman, Esq.