Sit down for any job interview and one of the first questions you’re likely to be asked is, “Why are you interested in this position?”
If you think that’s a softball question, to some extent you’re right. For most interviewers, it’s a way of easing into the conversation that hopefully won’t feel too high pressure. But depending on what you say, your answer can also trigger concerns for the interviewer — sometimes serious ones. So you shouldn’t just wing your answer. You should think it through ahead of time and make sure you’re conveying what you want to say. Here’s how to answer this question well.
1. Your answer must reflect an accurate understanding of the job.
When I ask candidates why they’re interested in the job, I’m not generally expecting a particularly riveting answer. Mostly candidates respond with something about why they connect to the work, and often those answers sound more or less the same. But sometimes someone says something that makes me think, “Huh. Do they fully understand what this job is?” When that happens, it’s usually because the person has talked about how excited they are to do X, when X is only a tiny portion of the job, or not likely to be part of it at all.
Not every job description is easy to parse, especially as an outsider, but you want to make sure you read it thoroughly enough (and close enough to the time of your interview) that you won’t make any major missteps in referencing it.
2. You need to actually sound interested in doing the work.
If your interviewer asks why you’re interested in the job, it’s important that you actually sound interested. That might be obvious, but a surprising number of candidates, particularly for lower-level roles, end up sounding like they’re most interested in getting a job, as opposed to doing this job. And frankly, that might be true! If you need a paycheck, you might not be feeling terribly choosy about where it comes from. But keep in mind that your interviewer is looking for someone who’s enthusiastic about this particular role, because they’re more likely to be engaged and invested in the work.
Building on that …
3. Make sure you sound interested in the job, not just the company.
If the thing that interests you most about the job is the company you’d be working for … figure out a different answer. Your interviewer wants to hear why you’re interested in this specific position, because if you’re hired most of your day-to-day will be about fulfilling the responsibilities of that role, not the broader company.
This is especially important if the employer is glamorous or exciting in some way. If it is, they inevitably get a lot of applicants who are excited about the idea of working there without thinking through the realities of the job itself.
Employers appreciate when people are excited about the company, but they generally want to hire people who are invested in and enthusiastic about the job they’ll actually be doing. And if the company does have an especially cool reputation, you will come across better if you don’t gush or seem starstruck.
One important caveat: If you’re applying to work at a mission-driven nonprofit, make sure you touch on the organization’s mission. That shouldn’t be your whole answer, but nonprofits want to know that candidates have a commitment to their goals.
4. Connect your answer to your career trajectory.
Typically, a good answer to “why does this job interest you?” will not only explain what appeals to you about the job, but also explain how it fits in with your career path. That’s especially true if the job is very different from roles you’ve had in the past, in a new field, or a sideways or downward move.
This doesn’t need to be a lengthy explanation (and, in fact, it shouldn’t be) — just a sentence or two to give the interviewer some context. For example: “I went into library work because I love organizing information and connecting people with the resources they need, and I’m excited about the prospect of doing that in a corporate environment.”
5. Don’t make it sound like you see the job mainly as a step to something else.
While you do want to explain how the job fits with your overall career path, you don’t want to sound as if it’s just a stepping stone on your way to something else. It might be — that’s how careers work, after all — but your interviewer wants to make sure that you’ll be satisfied doing this job for at least the next couple of years. If you sound like you’ll be itching to move on quickly, that’s a negative.
6. What if you’re really not that interested in the job?
Sometimes this question can feel hard to answer because the reality is that you’re really not very interested in the job, but you need a paycheck. But if you want to increase your chances of being hired, you need to at least act interested in the job. Otherwise, there’s not much incentive for your interviewer to hire you over a candidate who seems more engaged with the work.
So: Is there anything about the job that appeals to you? Why might you prefer to have this job as opposed to any of the others out there? Does it use skills you’ve spent time building? If the work is relatively rote, can you connect to a sense of satisfaction at being part of a larger whole? If it’s customer service, can you talk about the fulfillment of helping people get problems resolved or ensuring that they have a good experience? Try to imagine someone who really does love the job and what they might be responding to about it, and think about whether any of that resonates with you.
If you genuinely can’t find anything about the job that interests you, you might be better off applying elsewhere. But often, if you think about it, you’ll be able to come up with something reasonably credible and sincere. Keep in mind, you don’t need to profess eternal love for copying or filing. It’s fine if your interest in a particular job is about a quieter satisfaction.
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.