There are really only two essential job interview questions. Together, they determine how successful you’ll be in this role. But they are often treated by candidates – and some interviewers – as pro forma questions: asked to check a box, and answerable by some generic, fluffy response.
But if you answer them with something sincere and thoughtful, it will be a game changer.
The two questions are Why do you want this job? And Why should we hire you? Both address the question of fit at the cellular level. Here’s how to think about your answer.
First, what doesn’t work. As a career coach, I’ve often written about doing your research on a company. It’s an important part of interview prep, and it helps you understand what the company is trying to accomplish and how it sees itself. That’s of course, on a macro level; it doesn’t really tell you anything about how the hiring manager is thinking about the job she’s trying to fill.
JetBlue’s mission statement may be “To inspire humanity — both in the air and on the ground,” but the accounting manager you’re interviewing with only cares about the accuracy of this month’s closeout. Discussing how you plan to inspire humanity won’t impress her. At all.
So don’t spend much time trying to show how you connect with the mission statement or the company values. They’re great, but at a micro level, they’re not what will get you a job offer.
The second thing that doesn’t work is taking about how your skills line up with the job description. (I’ll pause here while you clutch your pearls and take a soothing gulp of chamomile tea.)
Your skills are important, of course, and they’re the easiest way to sort candidates into interview / don’t interview groupings. But your skills are only an indicator that you CAN do the job, not that you’ll want to do it and be good at it.
Even experience, (which is simply the solution to the formula: skills over time plus practice), will at best be a stand in for your true fit. Skills and experience prove that you’ve done the job before, not that you want to continue doing the job. That’s a function of motivation.
So back to the question: why do you want this job? Your answer should be about your motivation and how it relates to the role you’re interviewing for.
Intrinsic Motivation is how you get satisfaction from the work itself without expecting any external rewards — praise, money, a promotion, prestige, or recognition — in return. If you’ve never spent time thinking about why you get up to go to work every day, it’s an exercise that’s long overdue. What made you choose this career in the first place – or made you stick with it after your first experience?
If your answer is a variation of “because I’m good at it,” take a deeper look at why you’re good at it. Do you love solving tough problems? Do you enjoy helping people have a better life? Do you feel good about connecting people to something they will find useful? Do you crave finding the right answer or creating order from chaos? Do you want to make the world a better / cleaner / happier place?
Your intrinsic motivation is what keeps you connected to your job and gives you satisfaction and pride. It’s sometimes the backstop on a rough day: “at least I know I…”
Being able to articulate your intrinsic motivation will help a manager make decisions about how well you’ll fit, how long you’re likely to stay, and how to manage you and keep you interested in the work. Bonus points if you have a great origin story to go with your motivation. “My dad ran his own business, and I grew up thinking about how to make things run smoother (so he could come home earlier and spend more time with us.)” “I’ve always wanted to be a writer; figuring out how to help someone understand complex ideas is what gets me up and excited to go to work every day.”
The manager knows things you don’t yet know about the job. If you went into your field to solve tough problems, you might not be a good fit for a job that’s about filing routine paperwork on time. If you’re motivated by being part of a close-knit team, you won’t like working in the field on your own most of the time.
Talking about intrinsic motivation in your interview helps you bring authenticity to the conversation. It also helps answer the question “why should I hire you?” The answer is the same: when you’re able to connect your job to your best and most authentic self, you’ll be inspired to stay and do your best work.