THE BLOG
08/31/2016 06:02 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2017

The Insanely Simple Interview Question You're Getting Wrong

We continue to see strong growth in the American job market. And experts say that only 2 percent of applicants land an interview -- up against those numbers, making a strong impression is all the more important.

The lead-up to an important job interview can certainly cause a few sleepless nights. Do you prepare for both the obvious and outlandish questions the hiring manager might ask? Do you study the company's website for clues on how to get those answers "right"? Or do you scrap it all and focus on getting a good night's rest?

All of that interview preparation is fruitless if you cannot answer this one fundamental question: Why do you want to work here?

This seemingly simple question should be easy to answer. But you would be surprised how often it flusters job candidates. Some rush to explain what they have to offer the company, turning the focus back on themselves. Others sputter out flattery, in hopes of deflecting the question. 

The best candidates do not hesitate when asked why they want to join the team. Because they are driven by clear goals, they can articulate how the company aligns with those goals. 

But others respond in stunted sentences, succumbing to momentary shock before struggling through their answer. It becomes clear that they have never really thought about it. And in the process, those candidates unwittingly reveal more than they intended. 

The "wrong" answer can expose to employers:

Lack of direction
A vague answer about "seeking opportunities" quickly reveals a candidate who does not want to work at your specific company -- instead, they desperately want to work at any company that will hire them. But employers are not likely to be enthused about a candidate who has few goals, save for finding a job. The right candidate is ready for a challenge and upbeat about the opportunity specific to the company where they are interviewing. 

Unchecked ego
Some candidates immediately fly into an oratory reverie about their own unparalleled intellect. They have no problem describing their qualifications and past success. But in the process they unwittingly expose an unchecked ego. Their answer reveals a "me-first" attitude, which is a big turn-off to employers looking for mature team players. 

Professional grudges
Probably the worst response to this question is the candidate who hears the question, then pivots and launches into a 10-minute tirade about the shortcomings of their former employer. Rather than convey excitement for the opportunity in front of them, they run through everything that went wrong at their last job. This response shows a lack of self-control and professionalism.

On the surface, the question appears to solely focus on the job candidate. But it actually gauges how well candidates understand the company's vision and values -- and how their skills dovetail with the two.

Successful candidates approach this question with confidence, demonstrating that they have researched the company and understand its vision and values. They point out how their skills, experience, and track record will support their prospective employer's goals. And the best ones are able to do so with brevity and humility. 

So before you prepare for your next interview, think about this question and what you will say. Whether it comes up or not, your answer will help you discover your motivation -- and whether you are interviewing for the right reasons. 

What are the most revealing interview questions you have encountered?