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?”
For a lot of interviewers, this is a softball, a way to ease you into the interview. But that doesn’t mean you should wing it. Sometimes candidates respond in a way that triggers concerns for their interviewer, like that you’re not terribly interested or that you’ve completely misunderstood the nature of the role. So while the question might sound straightforward, it has the potential to derail you if you don’t think your answer through ahead of time. Here’s how to nail it.
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 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 from the outside, but you want to make sure you read it thoroughly (and close enough to the time of your interview) so that you won’t make any major missteps when referencing it.
You need to sound sincerely interested in doing the work.
If your interviewer asks why you’re interested in the job, it’s important that you sound interested when responding. That might strike you as obvious, but some candidates — often for lower-level positions — give answers that sound like the only thing about the job that appeals to them is the paycheck. Obviously, sometimes that’s really the case; if you need income and don’t have a ton of options, you might not prefer this particular position over others. But to do well in the interview, you need to look past that perspective and think about where your interviewer is coming from: They want to hire someone who’s enthused about about this specific job because that makes it a lot more likely that they’ll be engaged, attentive, and invested in the work (as well as show up regularly and stick around). Most interviewers don’t want to hire someone who sounds as if they’ll be a lot of work to motivate, especially when they have other strong candidates who are more enthusiastic.
You don’t need to pretend that data entry is your lifelong dream job (unless it really is!), but you do need to sound interested enough that your interviewer isn’t left worrying you’ll mentally check out after your first month.
Make sure you sound interested in the job, not just the company.
If the thing you’re most attracted to 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 prestigious. If it is, they inevitably get a lot of applicants who are excited about the idea of working there but haven’t thought through the realities of the job. (For example, if you’re hired to do admin work, will you be frustrated when you’re spending most of your time on clerical tasks rather than being in the strategy meetings where the work you’re most drawn to is getting done?)
Employers appreciate when people are passionate about the company, but they generally want to hire people who are invested in and enthusiastic about the actual work they’ll be doing. And if the company does have an especially cool reputation, you will come across as a better fit 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 entirety of your answer, but nonprofits want to know that candidates are committed to their goals.
Connect your answer to your career trajectory.
Typically, a good answer to “Why does this job interest you?” will explain not only what appeals to you about the job but also how it fits within your career path. That’s vital if the role is very different from ones you’ve had in the past, in a new field, or a lateral or downward move.
This doesn’t need to be a lengthy explanation (in fact, it shouldn’t be) — just a sentence or two to give the interviewer 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.”
Don’t make it sound like you primarily see the job as a stepping stone to something else.
Sometimes the main appeal of a job is that it would position you well for the next step up. But when you talk to your interviewer, you shouldn’t sound as if that’s the main draw for you. In reality, it might be, but good interviewers want to know that you’ll be reasonably happy doing this specific job for at least a couple of years. If you come off as if you’re only focused on where the job can take you next, they’ll worry that you’ll be bored or dissatisfied and therefore less engaged in the work they need you doing and that you will probably move on sooner than other candidates.
What if you’re really not that interested in the job?
Sometimes this question is hard to answer because the reality is you’re not very interested in the job, but you do need a paycheck. Still, 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 another 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, say, any of the others out there? Would it give you an opportunity to use skills you’ve spent time building? If the work is relatively rote, can you tap into a sense of satisfaction at being part of a larger whole? If it’s customer service, can you talk about the fulfillment found in helping solve people’s problems or ensuring they have a good experience? Try to imagine someone who really does love the job and what about it they might be responding to, then consider whether any of “their” reasons resonate with you.
If you genuinely can’t find anything about the job that could engage you, you might be better off not applying. Usually, though, if you think about it, you can come up with something credible and (convincingly) sincere.