how to answer “why are you interested in this job?”

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’re thinking that’s a softball question, you’re right to some extent. For most interviewers, it’s a way of easing into the conversation that hopefully won’t be too high-pressure. But depending on what you say, your answer to this 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 it’s conveying what you want. 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.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

{ 180 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    I think #6 is a particularly key point. I hire for mostly entry level positions and when I ask this question I’m often taken aback by some of the answers (“Ummm…I saw it online” or “I finished school now I need a job.”) While I of course hear lots of thoughtful responses, I do find this question throws more candidates than I’d have originally guessed. And I’m also not looking for a riveting response—just something that shows the candidate understands what this position is and why they are attracted to it or think they’d do well at it.

    1. Rainy days*

      Yes. Same. I always intend this as a softball and it surprises me how many people can’t answer it adequately. I get a lot of answers that are incredibly generic (along the lines of “I’m studied engineering and this is an engineering job”) that show zero awareness of the specifics of the company or the role.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        In interviewing for a widget position recently, I got, “Well, everyone in my family is either a thingamabob designer or a widget tester, and I tried thingamabob designing and it wasn’t for me.”. Like these are the only two career paths available?

      2. Life is Good*

        Yep. I once sat in on an interview with a former (sucky) employee and she said “I just need a job to bring home a paycheck.” Former boss just lapped it up and offered her the job on the spot without first asking my opinion or interviewing the other candidates we had lined up. I’m sure it had to do with how super cute she was. I got to cancel all the other interviews and manage that piece of work for two years until she moved to greener pastures. I had zero real management authority. What an f’n nightmare that job was!

      3. Former Hotel Worker*

        For me personally, (entry level), I struggle with those questions because I can’t always tell from the job description what the specifics of the role are. I’ll check that the criteria line up roughly with what limited experience I have, and that there are no glaring requirements in terms of qualifications or skill set that I am obviously lacking, but then beyond that… I really don’t know. There are words that get used in employment contexts that I don’t really understand (coordinator, facilitator, officer, assistant – what do these actually mean and what’s the difference?). I ask people in my network and am told “oh I don’t really know what an x facilitator does, I work in y.” I once got turned down for a call centre job because I used term x to describe work I wanted to do when “we really want somebody interested in y”. It was only when I asked them to explain what the difference was that I realised y was what I had MEANT all along. To somebody outside the industry, trying to look inside with limited resources and understanding, sometimes a fuzzy concept is all we have to go on. Job descriptions might read very precisely to somebody already working them, but out of context a lot of them are very vague, blurry watercolours dressed up in fancy jargon.

        I have, over recent years, started to ask interviewers for a description of what the regular duties of a job would entail. Whether this is a good idea or not remains to be seen, but it at least gives me the chance to learn more about the role in a realistic context.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      The only time I was ever taken aback by an interview answer was in a similar situation. I was interviewing an intern candidate and asked her why she wanted to work for our team at our large, brand-name company. Her answer was, “I want to know what it’s like to work in an office.” I was kind of stunned by that. We got a lot of, “I’m exploring different parts of the business,” and that never fazed me, because that’s a good answer for an internship.

      1. Another Intern Story*

        OldJob had a panel of 3 people, including myself, interviewing for an intern. We asked one guy why he wanted an internship in This Specific Aspect of Large Thing. He told us the reason he wanted an internship in general. Something along the lines of “growing my skills, prepare me for the future, etc.”

        We didn’t hire him because we thought someone else was a better fit.

    3. OhBehave*

      Yes! “I need a job!” delivered with a ‘duh idiot’ undertone. This tends to shorten an interview.

    4. Washed Out Data Analyst*

      TBF…I think this is one of those white collar culture things that is not obvious to people who aren’t exposed to it. When you apply for service, retail, and I imagine manual labor jobs (though I don’t have experience is this realm), “I need/want a job” is usually good enough. (Some retail businesses might look for brand loyalty and care about you being the right look/style, but not all.) For technical positions, as long as you can do the job, that’s good enough. The whole “I love the organizational culture/mission” is very white collar.

  2. Tigoskah*

    Wow, what perfect timing! I’m preparing to move and am planning on doing some research/exploration for a career change once I do, but I know I’ll need a job to pay expenses in the meantime. But this means I’m doing a lot of #6 – applying to roles I’m not really interested in, and trying to poke at the job listing to find the things about them I would connect with and enjoy. Having these specific questions as a starting place is a great resource, so thank you!

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      I think the key there is to recalibrate what you read into the term “interested”.

      For one thing, interested doesn’t mean passionate. If you apply to a job, you were probably interested. You saw that job on a list of other openings and you applied to that one. What made you do that? Even if it’s “needed a job and met the qualifications for this one”, you can turn that into a reasonable interviewese answer.

      For another thing, drill into what made you apply for McJob A over McJob B? What made you want to try your hand as a barista rather than going to a temp agency? Even if you’re not obsessed with making the perfect latte, something about it spoke to you over bagging groceries or walking dogs.

      1. Tigoskah*

        That’s a really good reframing, I appreciate it! I do tend to have a bit of an “all or nothing” mentality (which I’m working on changing!) so keeping in mind that there’s a reason I chose to apply to A over B would help shed light on why the job was interesting to me in the first place.

  3. Seifer*

    I remember when I first started interviewing for jobs, this question would make me twitch. I’m interested in this job because it will pay me money, and money can be exchanged for goods and services. I wasn’t about to wax poetic about how I would love to build on my skills by becoming a cashier or something.

    As I got older and interviewed for jobs that weren’t… cashier at Target, it made more sense, but I always felt that it was dumb to ask when I was a sixteen year old wanting to make money so she could afford gas and band t-shirts. I was interested in the job because money. Please don’t make me lie through my teeth about how I think I’d be a great fit for stocking shelves because of my awesome organizational skills.

    1. dealing with dragons*

      same reason I’m bad at objectives on resumes! I’m glad the powers that be decided it was dumb. “I would like to exchange my time and skillset for money”

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is exactly why I hate objectives on resumes! I assume that, if you’re sending in your resume, your objective is to see if the position is something you’d be willing to come in and do for appropriate compensation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a resume objective that added something to a resume, and certainly a large number that detracted from it.

      2. PJs of Steven Tyler*

        Ha! See, I use those to weed out folks who are batch-emailing resumes. I reviewed a resume once for a staff accountant where the prospective employee said he was looking for a position that would help him continue his good work in the PR industry. File 13!

    2. Heidi*

      Looking back, I think that those teenage cashiering jobs were really valuable in learning how to work with people and deal with a variety of retail consumer personalities. Then again, “I want to have my eyes opened to how wretched human beings can be when they think you’re not important” doesn’t seem like good answer to why I’m interested in the job.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I have to agree with this. I work in a professional service industry, and a lot of my supervisors prefer people with retail or food service experience because even the difficult people we sometimes have to work with are way better than the general public — if you can deal with the general public, we’re going to be a cakewalk for you.

      2. JediSquirrel*

        In all honesty, if I interviewed a teenager or college student for a retail job and they responded that way to this question, I’d probably hire them on the spot. I like the cut of their jib.

    3. Nanani*

      Agree, this sounds like a thing that became normal and gets applied to jobs where it isn’t really logical.
      Even the spin of “why THIS job and not a similar one at a competitor” often doesn’t work, when the real reason is “McDonalds is on my bus route and Burger King isn’t”

      1. emeraldstargazer*

        Yes! I agree with all the points here. I was just thinking about how #3 in the article often gets turned into “Why this company instead of a competitor?”, as Nanani mentioned. When I interviewed for the job that I currently have, I was somewhat interrogated on that. I answered by saying this company’s mission statement resonated with me more than others and that I am most familiar with the work of this company (all true), but my interviewer wasn’t satisfied and kept digging for what else differentiates this company from others. (Now that I’ve been in the industry a few years, I can honestly say there isn’t much for big differences other than location.) And the real reason I wasn’t interested in competitor job offers was location – I wasn’t looking to relocate, and this company is local for me. I ended up saying so (but I probably shouldn’t have) and she wasn’t impressed by that, either. (But I got the job.) I was shaking in my boots! It’s so hard to know if you should be honest when the answers get down to pure logistics…

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I’ve done this one by saying something like, “I believe in living where you work, and working where you live. I love living here, and am committed to staying.”

      2. Semprini!*

        Yeah, when I was a teen trying to get someone – anyone! – to hire me for my first job, the answer to why McDonalds and not Burger King was either “because McDonalds is hiring” or “I applied to Burger King too.”

      3. Jaydee*

        But why *isn’t* that a good enough reason? Reliable transportation is important, and that answer shows you’re thinking about how you’ll get to and from work. If you’ve otherwise got the necessary skills to do the job, I’d hire someone who says “it’s on my bus route” over someone who waxes poetic about the fries or ice cream cones or whatever.

      4. techRando*

        “I hear you abuse your employees less and have a union” isn’t a great selling point.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          “I admire the more collegial relationship between management and the team.”

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I won’t lie, it still makes me twitch a bit in a lot of situations, since I do a lot of hiring for mostly entry-level positions. Why do you want to do customer service “here” instead of “over there” is so irrelevant to me, I can see from a resume why you applied here most of the time. I only ask it when someone is clearly not in the same track job wise. So it pops up in the “I see you’ve done all tech support before, what interests you in this job, since it’s different than your previous positions.” [which still, lots of times the real answer is “Because I need money and want a job, dude.” but you know, still at least there may be an interesting twist.

      What I use this for a lot is also to see if people are actually aware of WTF theyr’e applying for…if I had a dollar for every “Shop Assistant” position I posted and got responses thinking I was hiring a GD machinist or mechanic, I’d be driving a nicer car.

    5. Emily K*

      Even with a cashier job, there’s likely still some jobs you weren’t applying to and some reason that you chose to apply for a cashier position instead of doing landscaping or academic tutoring or overnight warehouse stocking. Your reason for looking for a job is that you need money, but you still had some criteria you were using to sort jobs into two piles – jobs you’ll apply to and jobs you won’t. The answer for a job like that doesn’t have to be, “I love cashiering so much!” but could be something like, “I’d prefer a job where I work independently but with regular human interaction, I like the flexibility of shift work, and Target is close enough to my house that the commute would be easy.” Or, “My last few jobs have been in cashiering so I’m experienced and comfortable with the work.”

      This is one of those questions where I think there’s often a disconnect between what candidates think employers want to hear and the actual reason the question is being asked. There’s a similar issue with, “Why are you leaving your current job/why did you leave your last job?” Truly, a good interviewer wants an honest answer to those questions. It’s true that you’d get marked down for saying, “My last boss was an asshole and I want an employee discount here,” but that doesn’t mean you have to swing the opposite direction and be insincere or lie about workplace realities. You just have to have an answer that is both honest and shows a minimum amount of tact/self-awareness.

      1. Seifer*

        Oh man, at sixteen I did not have that kind of tact or self-awareness. I basically told them that I had a helicopter mom that only approved this place to work (because my best friend worked there) otherwise I’d have to work at one of the family businesses in order to make money and I really didn’t want to be watched by Tiger Mom 2.0. I had to work at family business under Tiger Mom 2.0.

      2. Jennifer*

        At 16, you are just looking to make money to pay for the things you want to do. It could be any of those things. Cashiering, dog walking, babysitting, landscaping. A lot of teens when I was growing up applied at a lot of places and accepted whoever called them back first.

        1. Emily K*

          Interesting. When I was a teenager, most of my friends were only interested in indoor work, but a few were only interested in outdoor work. Some needed to work within walking distance of school because they didn’t have a car, parents worked, and transit was non-existent in the suburbs. Some were adamant about wanting a job with tips or one that would pave the way to it, so they only applied in bars and restaurants. Others pursued seasonal work like summer camp counselor or lifeguard because they only wanted to work a few months a year instead of year-round. We definitely had preferences in where we turned in applications despite no experience or skills to speak of!

      3. Elitist Semicolon*

        I agree with you on the disconnect between interviewer/candidate expectations. So much of job hunting is about reframing a negative sentiment – or even something blandly neutral – as something positive, but applicants often take that to mean they have to be over the moon with praise. “I enjoy shopping here and thought it would be a good place to work” could demonstrate interest, even if what you really mean is, “I don’t hate shopping at Target as much as I hate shopping other places and at least your cashier smiled at me the time I made a dumb joke about buying toilet paper.”

    6. Mrs_helm*

      That’s why I like AAMs advice on how to answer it. Not “why I want a job”, but why this one *as compared to another*. I think if you’re hiring for this type of position, that is a good way to frame the question.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I typically use something along the lines of “what appealed to you about this position in particular?”. It’s more specific and it also tells me who read the job description and who did not.

    7. Parcae*

      Same. I can answer this question *now*, because I have a good understanding of what I’m good at and the work I like to do, but my very early jobs? Pfft.

      My truthful answer to the Target cashier question would have been, “Uh, I’m looking for a job that’s inside and doesn’t involve food prep or childcare. Also, your store is within biking distance.” I can’t remember what I actually said, but Target did not hire me. Alas. It really was top of my list.

      1. Seifer*

        Exaaaaaactly. At sixteen I did not yet know that you were not supposed to tell the full truth.

        I didn’t get hired at Target either, since my truthful answer was, “well my best friend works here and this is the only job my mom would let me apply to because there would be someone to watch me.” Ah, youth.

    8. Wendy Darling*

      I had a really hard time with that question when I was in the middle of a year-long stretch of unemployment. The actual answer to “Why do you want this job?” was “I require money to exchange for food and housing and it seems like working for you will not make me long for death daily”. I applied to some jobs I was actually excited about, but most of what I applied to was jobs that paid enough for me to pay the rent and seemed like I could probably put up with them for at least 2 years.

      One of those “I can probably tolerate this for long enough for it to not look sketchy” jobs is my current job and I actually like it a lot most of the time, so not being super psyched at the interview stage doesn’t necessarily mean much!

      1. EinJungerLudendorff*

        It also probably helps that you don’t have a year of unemployment and financial worrying dragging you down :)

    9. MissDisplaced*

      Ha! I couldn’t even get hired at Target some years ago because I was unemployed for over a year, unemployment ran out, and I was desperate for any work! I guess they didn’t like that.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        A lot of major retailers won’t hire people who have advanced education, that can also be an issue because they’re in that “you’re just going to leave us” headspace. Blah! Had this happen to all my friends after they graduated and couldn’t find jobs because of the recession.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I have a MA so I actually get that for even professional jobs sometimes. No matter what I say some people are convinced that I’m going to leave and finish my PhD. I’m happy to share all the really excellent reasons I left, and I’ve been in industry for years and actually vastly prefer it, and also at least in my field you don’t just pause your PhD for years and pick up where you left off later. But some people are just stuck on it.

  4. GG*

    My issue with this question is that all of the jobs I’ve had over the years have basically been the same job, just at different companies. (I do bookkeeping at the small business level.) So when considering this question I have a really hard time shutting up the part of my brain that says, “Uh, because that’s what I do?”

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      But why not say that? When I was interviewing for the job I have now as a proposal writer and content manager, I was asked this question, and I told them that based on the job posting, I applied because it appeared that the responsibilities they indicated for the position were things I was already doing in my current job as a proposal manager. I then said that I wanted to do more of the content creation and management as well (I did a little bit of that as a PM, but not a lot), and there was no opportunity for me to do that in my current role because we already had a content specialist who did those things.

      If you can find even one thing in the job ad that’s different from what you currently do, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to say, “Because this is what I do, plus I want to get more experience in X” if that’s the truth.

      1. GG*

        When I interviewed at my current job, I actually did that. I can’t remember my exact words and I know I managed to say it much more eloquently, but I said something along the lines of how at a large company there’s so much to do that the various bookkeeping tasks are divided up, and people wind up doing the same thing all the time. Whereas I much prefer that at a small company there’s a wider variety of tasks to work on, which for me is what keeps it interesting. But that’s still a far cry from my knee-jerk far-too-blunt, “That’s what I do.”

        Hopefully next time I’m searching there will be some sort of “room to grow” aspect to whatever jobs I wind up applying for.

      2. Emily K*

        Exactly this! Your reason for choosing a job doesn’t have to be complicated or unique to you. It can be as simple and routine as, “This job is a natural fit for my previous work experience,” or “I like the work I do and this job would be the logical next step up for me to take on more responsibility, which is what I’m interested in doing.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I find it the easiest thing to answer in interviews and I’m similar to you, small business accounting along with other-stuff. The thing is they want to hear that I’m well versed in manufacturing/construction materials and therefore I’m capable and ready to learn their setup without much of a struggle. Or that I’m used to their size of business in general, since it’s a world apart from people who are only versed in large scale AP or AR kind of setups.

      Also, if I swing on into a real estate office and try to keep their books, they’re the same size but it’s a different world. That really does matter based on what kind of business and that you have the background for it, small-business bookkeeping is a huge pool to be swimming in and not all small businesses are created equally records wise. So it does really give someone the chance to elaborate on why they want to do the books for their company.

    3. pleaset*

      The question they are asking why this job in this place. Not why this job generically.

      1. Close Bracket*

        That doesn’t change the answer much. “I’m applying as a bookkeeper at this small business bc small business bookkeeping is what I do.”

        1. GG*

          Exactly. And throw in a dash of “You’re within my commute radius” and “You’re hiring”.

    4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      In a situation where it pretty much is “same job, different company”, I think it makes sense to briefly touch on what you like about your chosen field and then focus on why you think the company you’re interviewing with specifically would be a particularly good place to do that kind of work.

  5. CouldntPickAUsername*

    God I hate the BS mating dance that are job interviews. I wish I could just be honest sometimes. “cause I need to eat and you’re giving me money in exchange for skills I possess, and as long as you don’t sing cats in my ear every day at 3 I’ll work here at that rate”

    1. QueryingtheMassesforHelp*

      Same. I would love to be able to say “because you can’t be any worse than my current boss”.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s a really limited view of why interviewers care about this. I mean, if you were hiring a nanny for your kid, is that an answer you’d be happy hearing?

      1. Czhorat*

        It also only makes sense for very low-level jobs with high turnover. If you’re lookigg for anything even slightly long-term, the interviewer is going to want you to give them reasons why you and the job are a good fit.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Happy? No. Expected? Yes. I work for money to pay the bills and I expect everyone else does too. I don’t need someone to love my hypothetical kids or love caring for them, I just need to know that kiddo will be cared for properly. There are so many better questions to ask to get that answer.

        1. Observer*

          And, by and large, someone who doesn’t enjoy being around / taking care of kids is NOT going to care for them properly. Same for teachers, by the way.

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              Definitely. But if you asked why someone wanted to nanny your (hypothetical) kids and they said “I need money to pay my rent, I don’t totally hate kids, and I can competently make sure Junior doesn’t run in front of a bus,” would you hire them over the person who said, “I’m considering being a teacher and am looking forward to learning more about working with children”? I mean, if the best thing someone can say about their cred is that your kid will still be alive when you get home from work, is their honesty really going to work in their favor – and, more important, would it work in the kid’s favor?

              1. katherine*

                Yes, actually. I would not want my kids in the care of someone who sees them as a bullet point on, like, their Teach for America application. As a kid I had babysitters who were that type of person, and even as a child I could feel the condescension.

                There’s also an element of classism to this, because the sort of person who would say “I need money to pay my rent” is very likely from a different background than the sort of person who would say “I’m considering being a teacher and am looking forward to working with children.”

        2. goducks*

          When I’m hiring people to care for my kids, liking caring for kids is critical. There’s no way I’d feel safe with my kids with someone who only saw childcare as a means to a paycheck. Yes, that might be the reason that they have a job at all, but I want someone who chooses childcare because they actually like caring for kids. If they merely tolerate it, that’s how abuse, neglect or just really sub-par care happens.
          Would you want to be cared for in the nursing home by someone who just wants a paycheck and is apathetic about caring for you and your peers?

          As a hiring manager, it’s generally understood that we most all work for money to pay for our homes and food and other life needs and desires. But that doesn’t mean that just anybody should just do any job.

          1. Amber Rose*

            But that wasn’t really my point. The point isn’t “does this person love kids” the point is that this person isn’t hoping to work for me specifically because they love kids and have been dreaming all their lives of loving my kids specifically, it’s just that I happen to be paying for that particular skill. If I wasn’t, they wouldn’t care about my kids, which is fair.

            There are better questions to ask.

            1. goducks*

              I think this question is asked 99% of the time with an understanding that “I need a paycheck” is a given. The question is really, “of all the job openings out there, what is it about this one in particular that interested you in applying and coming in for this interview?”
              If the literal best you have is the equivalent of “I need a paycheck, any paycheck, and I don’t have any interest in this job”, then no matter how the question is asked, there’s going to be a problem.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                Exactly. It’s like if I responded to candidate’s asking why we’re hiring for the position and our responding that it’s open because we need someone to do the work and are willing to pay them for it. They are more likely looking for information about turnover and culture to help them assess whether or not they want to work here, and we’re going literal on them. Not helpful on either side.

            2. Jennifer*

              This exactly. You want to hire a nanny that likes kids and is good with them, but asking a potential nanny why they applied to take care of your kids specifically doesn’t make much sense because they don’t know your kids. Your kids, in their mind, aren’t any more special than the kids living next door or across the street. You’re really asking them why they want to be a nanny, not why they applied for THIS job.

        3. post it*

          If you were hiring and you had the choice between two similar candidates, wouldn’t you prefer to work next to someone who was reasonably happy being there? Wouldn’t you rather train someone who would be there a few years rather than someone who would leave in six months?

          Wouldn’t you rather work at a job you liked than one you didn’t? Can you really say you’d put forth exactly the same level of effort?

          Like, yeah, we all have jobs because we need money. And believe me, no one has ever accused me of being super enthusiastic about my job (or anything else for that matter). But for the vast majority of us our level of genuine interest does play a part in how we perform our jobs, what kind of presence we bring to the office, and also our own level of satisfaction. Like anything else job-related it’s not a free and clear thing because at the end of the day we need a paycheck more than we need to be emotionally fulfilled. And most employers would rather fill a position than wait to find the perfect candidate who is also thrilled about it. But in a situation where either side had any choice in the matter, it’s going to be a factor. And not necessarily because an employer demands ultimate devotion, but because it has actual ramifications for the work.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        When we were checking out a daycare provider for our infant, we asked one of the caregivers in the infant room if she liked her job. Now, we didn’t expect her to wax poetic on the joys of changing dirty diapers for very little pay. But we did expect some variation on “I like babies.” Instead, she said “well, I’m still here, so…” That was not an acceptable answer.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yikes. Knowing so many caregivers in my life, this isn’t the natural response any of them have. Even though they’re tired and covered in vomit at the end of some days. Yeah, I wouldn’t have left my child or any one else’s with anyone with that kind of response.

        2. Zuzu*

          You’re of course totally right to trust your instinct but just to give another perspective, I worked the baby room of a daycare and I hated my job but I loved the babies I took care of and I took good care of them. I hated my job because I had an asshole micromanaging boss. I don’t think I would have been able to answer your question satisfactorily (no parents ever asked me) but your baby would still have been in good hands!

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Well, like I said, some version of “I love the babies” would have been a good answer.

      4. Semprini!*

        Although the corollary to that example is expecting a candidate for nanny to your kids to be able to tell you why they want to be a nanny to your kids, as opposed to another family.

        Which they can’t, really. They don’t know you well enough. They’re applying because they’re a nanny and you’re hiring a nanny.

      5. matcha123*

        I’m not a huge kid person, but I know how to treat them well and what makes them feel comfortable and happy. I interviewed at a kindergarten and was hired there. The one part-timer that “loved” kids was one of the most useless people (according to the other staff) because she couldn’t multi-task. Another teacher with a small child in the age range we were teaching to would actively ignore or just plain be mean to the kids.
        The place needed people who were not crazy, and if it were in the US and I was getting paid better…and didn’t have to do things like take kids swimming and camping, I might have stayed longer.
        I don’t know if expressing excitement over a job necessarily translates to being a great coworker and good at a particular job. I can understand why people tend to think that way, but I think it’s a bit narrow.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Most people conducting the interviews don’t like it much either. It actually gives me more stress than an OHSA visit or audit.

    4. smoke tree*

      There are definitely some BS hiring conventions out there (such as pretending that people don’t work for money) but this one seems fairly reasonable to me. It’s basically an opportunity to discuss your expectations of the job and how it fits into your interests/skillset/career plans. I can see how it would be annoying if you’re really just looking for anything to pay the bills, but if you’re in the position to be more selective, it could give you the opportunity to have a conversation with the hiring manager about whether your impression of what the job would be like is in line with the reality.

    5. hbc*

      It might be a BS mating dance, but I assume you wouldn’t be thrilled if the person you were dating was all, “I picked you because I don’t want to be single and you have a pulse.” Maybe it’s honest, but I assume you’d want someone who could name at least one nice thing about you that doesn’t apply to every other person in the restaurant.

    6. AthenaC*

      There’s an old cartoon where the interviewee responds with “I need currency to obtain food and shelter. I am willing to provide services in exchange for currency. I hope to provide services for you so that you will provide me currency.”

      Or some such – I’m probably bungling the delivery but I always thought it was hilariously true.

  6. Delta Delta*

    This reminds me of my little brother. When he was about 15 he started applying for his first jobs. He got an interview at Burger King. The interviewer asked, “why do you want to work at Burger King?” and he said (likely with a straight face, knowing him), “because it’s the home of the Whopper.”

    They never put him on the schedule.

      1. Perpetual Student*

        When interviewing for a waitressing job at a pretty informal spot, I was asked some variation on “What could you bring to the company?” and responded with, ” …. cupcakes?”

        Actually got hired, and stuck with the company for around six years. I don’t recall ever actually bringing in cupcakes, though.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I once applied to a pet-related company with a dog-friendly workplace and put a paragraph in my cover letter about my dog’s really stellar workplace performance and excellent references (I got him while working at another company with a dog-friendly office, where he was very popular).

          They were tickled. I got an interview. I didn’t get the job, but I’m glad I amused them.

    1. Moocowcat*

      That’s a great answer! It shows brand understanding of the product offered. Knowing which burger is sold by a particular fast food restaurant shows that the applicant is aware of their surroundings. Totally would have hired him.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That BK must have been managed by the same kind of weird person like the poster here that said they couldn’t get hired at a local Subway because they had only “deli” experience but no specific Subway experience.

      That’s a completely fine answer for a fast food job. I would have responded with “Because Whoppers are superior to Big Macs” or something similarly humored. Sucks to suuuuuuuuuuck, that BK manager.

    3. Washed Out Data Analyst*

      Wait…what’s wrong with this answer?? Seriously! It shows he knows about, and likes, the brand and the product! I mean, I hope he followed with some more substantive responses, but it’s not a bad way to start! It would have been better than “this is where they sell McNuggets!”

  7. BeeGee*

    I agree to not just highlight the company when discussing your interest in the role, but do you think it’s not a bad idea to tie it in when appropriate? For example, approach it like “I am interested in this role because I can bring my X and Y skills to assess new teapot acquisitions, and with Tea Party Corporation’s well-respected portfolio of teapots, I hope to be associated with and further develop their international brand recognition” instead of “I have always wanted to work with Tea Party Corporation because I have heard they have amazing cucumber sandwich benefits and I love their Supreme Tea Kettles”.

    1. WellRed*

      I think this is perfectly fine. It’s when the candidate clearly only cares about working at Cool Company, without regard to the work or job at hand, that it’s concerning. Think Apple.

      1. pentamom*

        Right. If someone thinks answering phones at Apple is going to be Way More Cool than answering phones at any other reasonably well run company, you’re in for a disappointed phone-answerer. If someone thinks that functioning as part of a team designing the kind of devices Apple is known for is particularly cool, well, that’s what they’re going to be doing — designing cool devices

    2. OrigCassandra*

      When it’s appropriate, sure. We’re asking this question in a search we currently have open, and the best answers have demonstrated awareness of not just mission and vision (though that too), but some of our current Big Projects and even big challenges.

      Again, as Alison said in a slightly different context, you want to be sure to describe the organization in terms that those who already work there will largely agree with — “does this candidate realize who they’re speaking to?” or “did this candidate even look at our website?” are not questions you want your interviewers thinking — but establishing some same-pageness around the organization as well as the job isn’t a bad thing at all.

    3. ThatGirl*

      At my current company, I said honestly that I was interested in the company as a whole, but also highlighted how my experience could be of benefit to the role specifically.

      As opposed to a different job I’d gotten to the second-round interview stage for, where I truly was more interested in the (parent) company than the job itself, and they could probably tell that based on my answers.

  8. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    +1 on Alison’s #1 — I’ve sat on panel interviews for EA and AA positions in public affairs and marketing where the applicant has answered that they’re really looking forward to doing graphic design or they have a background in photography or writing. In most places that’s not the territory of the EA. We have people in those positions and the EA is in charge of operations so that the graphic designers, photographers and writers can do their jobs. We’ve never hired anyone that’s made it clear their interest is to elbow their way into a job we’re not hiring for.

    1. WellRed*

      Ahh yes, the old “should I take an admin position and try to use it as a launching pad to get the job I really want,” method of job searching.

      1. Emily K*

        As a naturally disorganized person for whom staying on top of tasks is a constant challenge and increases exponentially in relation to the number of tasks on my plate, it is really beyond my understanding why anyone thinks admin work is unskilled work perfect for someone with no experience. Data entry and filing is unskilled work. EA/AA should be properly regarded as highly skilled work, even if 5-10% of the time may be spent on unskilled tasks like data entry or filing.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yeeeesssss. I am currently hiring for a new admin, and the reason I love my HR recruiter is because she was like, “so, you’re going to need someone with at least a year of admin experience and strong organizational skills”, right? YES. Yes, I am.

          (I have nothing against entry-level folks, and I hire and train at least a half-dozen of them a year. But I know myself, and for MY admin, I need someone to fill in the gaps in my skillset and that I don’t have to start from zero wtih. A good admin is worth their weight in gold.)

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          it is really beyond my understanding why anyone thinks admin work is unskilled work perfect for someone with no experience

          Because they’ve never done it.

        3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Filing, done well, is actually a set of skills also. Knowing what to file each thing under, how to organize the files, and how to pre-sort and stage large piles of papers so you can file efficiently are all things that not everyone has a grasp of. While it’s reasonable to expect people working in an office to have a basic grasp of alphabetical order, things get misfiled all the time by people who don’t think of filing as “skilled work” and haven’t paid attention to the nuances involved. (For example, Jose Garcia Rodriguez’s file will probably be filed under “Garcia Rodriguez, Jose” but someone who didn’t know about the dual last name practices common in that naming culture will look in the R’s, not find it, and possibly declare the file lost and start a new file rather than also checking the G’s. Also, it takes a certain attention to detail to keep the Martin, Martinez, McMurray, and Morton file cabinet in actual alphabetical order. I’ve worked as a temp sorting out filing backlogs and I have seen some pretty impressive mis-files.)

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            …and don’t get me started on people named things like Jackson Madison, because their files will be split and/or mis-filed unless someone with good attention to detail is doing the filing work.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Same for the guy at work whose name is basically Hamilton George. My friend in human resources thought his file was lost until someone filing in the Hs found him misfiled there. (Poor Hamilton gets called “George” an awful lot, too.)

            2. Michael Valentine*

              This is my life. I apparently have “two first names” and get called by my last name all the time. I always have to tell folks to look under my first name if a file cant be found.

              I’m an admin, and due to everyone getting my own name wrong, I work really hard to never mess up other people’s!

      2. AngstyAdmin*

        Just pass them over to me, I’ll tell them all about how painfully ineffective that approach has proven to be!

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          It really is. If I advise young graphic designers it’s always don’t take admin positions thinking that they’ll move you into a graphic design position when it opens up. They won’t — they’ll hire a graphic designer with a professional graphic design portfolio and graphic design experience. It’s better to take a lower-end graphic design position, like doing ads at the Penny Saver, or running a church newsletter, or creating business cards and door hangers at a small print shop than it is to take an admin position at Fancy Agency.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Well, it would be fantastic if people would hire the admin who is trying to make a career change for entry-level graphic design, photography and writing jobs, but they don’t. It’s soul-numbingly hard to get out of the admin pool even if you have a degree in whatever.

      So don’t be surprised if the admin candidate asks about opportunities for advancement and career development. Some of us would like to work long-term for a company where we’re not pigeonholed for life.

      1. Michael Valentine*

        +1000. I fell into admin work almost 4 years ago. I’m just as credentialed as my non-admin colleagues, but didn’t think it was so bad to start off here (this was after years of being a stay at home mom). My company prides itself on inclusive career growth opportunities; reality has not matched up well with these expectations. There is zero PD for my department, and I have actively tried to change that (memos, research, replies to employee surveys, etc). I have been able to incrementally shed some of my duties in favor of new ones outside of admin work, but what a struggle! In my own case, it’s exacerbated by the fact I am an excellent admin, and despite the idea the work is “low-skilled,” hiring for these positions is incredibly challenging–we’ve had many people not work out because they just can’t handle how difficult it is. (you might ask why I’m still here, but there’s a perk I don’t want to live without right now, so I’m making plans to move, just not yet!)

        All that said, I am involved in hiring new EAs, and my ears perk up when I hear anything about career growth. When a candidate says it, I wonder what HR told them during the screening interview because there are no formal growth paths, and I’m the only one who has moved (partially) into a new role.

  9. Old Geezer*

    I was being recruited once for a manager job in systems development which had been my focus for several years. The recruiter didn’t have much more than generic information about the position.

    When I was asked why I was interested in the job, I said “I don’t know that I am yet. I know my background will enable me to do the work. So tell me. Why do I want to work here?”

    Cocky, I know. But I got the job.

    1. EinJungerLudendorff*

      I would probably preface that with “My recruiter hasn’t told me about the details of the job yet”.
      Otherwise I’d be terrified of looking like I was just blowing off the interviewers questions.

    2. Semprini!*

      That has happened to me every time I’ve worked with a recruiter! Every time, they contacted me proactively, telling me they had this position that I’m a fantastic fit for, gave me only minimal information about the position, and then the interviewers would ask me why I want the job, often with their delivery suggesting that they’re baffled that I’d want the job.

      (I’ve never successfully gotten a job when a recruiter was involved.)

  10. Interplanet Janet*

    Something I’ve used when it’s not a job I’m just dying to do, but I need a paycheck, is to say that for me job satisfaction is tied to feeling like I do it well, and talk a little about why I think I would do it well.

    For example, my husband and I moved to a teeny tiny town for him to go to school, and there wasn’t some great meaningful career-building job out there for me and my skills, so I applied for bookkeeping work, which I had done while I was in college. When they asked why I was interested in the job, I could say that I like bookkeeping because I enjoy concrete work where it’s easy to tell when I’m doing it correctly (reconciliations FTW) and I’m detail-oriented and good at managing data, so I get a lot of satisfaction from taking the chaos of input and creating order in the form of reports and balanced ledgers. Nothing about that says this was going to be The Next! Great! Thing! for me (and indeed it wasn’t), but it was true, and it was positive, and it showed me in a good light.

    1. Dino*

      I’ve used this approach with great results, plus it’s true. If I’m happy and satisfied at work, everything else kind of falls into place.

      1. Kat in VA*

        That’s a good answer for what I do – I’m not an EA because I have a burning desire to manage the lives of adults who are probably quite capable of handling their calendars, their dinners, their events, and their emotions with a little extra effort.

        I do this job because I have a reasonably good skillset to handle it, it pays relatively well, and it’s what I’ve been doing for a long time. I didn’t come out of high school wanting to be an EA; I just kind of fell into the admin roles and moved up from there. I don’t want to be the VP or a deputy director or run the world; I’m happy doing what I do and don’t really feel the need to “stretch” or move up. I’m also nearly 50, which plays into the equation as well.

  11. Kendra*

    #1 is spot on; I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me they want to work in a library because they like books. It’s almost a red flag to me at this point, because it shows such a lack of understanding of what the job actually entails, which is much more about cashiering the copy machine and helping people get into their email accounts than anything to do with reading, at least for the front-line staff. Sure, some people want book recommendations or help finding things, but readers as a group generally look after themselves more than most people (maybe because they’re more likely to be introverts?).

    To be clear, it’s definitely not a BAD thing – I, too, love books! – but they’re only a tiny, tiny part of what my paraprofessional staff do on a day-to-day basis. If I hire someone without adequately explaining that, I often end up feeling like a creep who somehow misled them once reality sets in. And a candidate who actually read the job description (or better yet, talked to my other staff), and came into their interview with realistic expectations, is usually someone I’m very interested in learning more about.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      Saying “I like books” for a library job is about as relevant as applying for a hostess position at Red Robin and saying, “I like burgers.” Cool, that’s not really what this job is about, are you actually able to do what I need you to do?

      1. lizzy*

        another librarian here – that is the best analogy pamela!
        Librarians, like serving or hosting staff at a restaurant, need to know about the books/food. But much of what we do is all the work to make the books people want findable and accessible. We don’t write or read the books at work just like servers and hosts don’t make the food!

      2. smoke tree*

        Or like saying you want to be a professional basketball player because you’re tall. I would imagine that it is a prerequisite, but not enough to stand on its own.

    2. OrigCassandra*

      Word to the wise considering a master’s in LIS: this is also a turnoff in application essays. It’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, but as one who’s read hundreds of apps over the years — it’s always an eyeroll, and you don’t want me rolling my eyes at your app.

    3. Librarygal30*

      Academic librarian here! I think what helped me progress in library job interviews was that I enjoy research, and connecting people to the source they need/want, and in the format that they want it in. There is a fair amount of teaching involved in my very small academic library, and I enjoy showing students how to navigate the databases, so they can find what they need.

    4. TardyTardis*

      On the lower levels, I enjoy discharging books–the weight per days adds up to a free toning program, and you always run across the ‘I didn’t know they had THAT here, mine!’.

  12. merp*

    Ha, I had a situation where my real answer was “because I have to move here and find a job somewhere or I will keep running into my ex at the grocery store.” But yeah, I suppose that wouldn’t go over well.

    My question is more along the lines of where to draw the line with enthusiastic interest. It does feel like some interviewers expect interviewees to just bend over backwards to want to work there which contributes a lot to the uncomfortable power imbalance. When I was younger this felt like a tough line to walk, and I think I’ve only improved by watching other people interview.

    1. Jennifer*

      My honest answer would be the health benefits at my current employer suck and I have a mole that looks weird.

  13. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    How do you answer this question when you are interviewing to move to a new position within your same department? It feels like a delicate line to show interest in the new position without making it seem like you are not a fit for your current position

    1. WellRed*

      Does the new position give you a chance to expand on the skills you’ve built in the old position? Or increase responsibility? Maybe it gives you more client facing contact, which you’d enjoy.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      In that case, I’d focus on how the skills you’ve developed in the current position will give you an edge and learning the new position and how excited you are about that opportunity to continue to grow within the company (if applicable).

      Internal hires are appealing (assuming no performance issues) because you don’t have to start from zero on organizational system and culture.

    3. lizzy*

      I’m really enjoying x in my current role and I am excited about moving to the y part of the new role?

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      “I like what I’m doing, but when I saw this opening, it really appealed to me because of the chance to polish teapots, which I don’t get to do in my current role.”

  14. Sled dog mama*

    This is so timely for me I’m starting to look around because I’m being underpaid at current job (according to market and more importantly compared to male coworkers with same credentials and similar experience). I always ask myself this question before filling out an application and right now I’m struggling to come up with an answer for any position beyond because you say you pay market rate which yeah I can’t walk into an interview if I can’t come up with something better (although part of my struggle is that all the available jobs are in places I don’t want to work)

  15. Amber Rose*

    It’s called “bills.” I have bills to pay, they require money, you are paying money. I will work hard because I need a roof over my head and food to eat.

    Like, I get it. I do get the intent behind the question and the correct way to answer. But if I won the lottery tomorrow, you could have the coolest job in the world available and I’d refuse it because I only work to pay bills. And I’m willing to bet the overwhelming majority of us are the same. The person asking the question is probably the same. So it feels like an inane question.

    I can’t wait until the robots take all the jobs and humanity can finally realize what a huge waste of time capitalism is.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Please don’t talk about the “majority”, since you don’t have the data to back it up. An AMA spot check isn’t enough either, it skews towards people who work to live and don’t live to work because a lot of the people who really work to live aren’t here to talk about it.

      1. Fiddlesticks*

        I’m not sure I understand your post. You say first that AMA skews toward people who work to live, but then you say “because a lot of people who work to live aren’t here to talk about it.” Or did I misunderstand something?

        1. lizzy*

          Assume good intent and a typo.
          I think the intent was to say that people who really live to work are not here to talk about it.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, but as per the many, many articles about how dream jobs are overrated, not too many of us get to do what we love most full time. I can extrapolate from there that if we could, we would.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Would it help to change the how you interpret the question from “Why will this be your dream job?” to “Why do you think you’ll be reasonably satisfied here?”

          As others have said, the need for money is assumed.

          For me, after a point, a paycheck alone isn’t worth a cut to my quality of life (i.e. the gap between a job I actively hate versus passively tolerate). So, this question is more about why do you think this is a job that you’ll stick around in for long enough to make training your worthwhile.

    2. Fiddlesticks*


      If I won the lottery I would contribute large sums and volunteer my time for the causes I feel strongly about, but there is no paid job anywhere I would take, no matter how interesting. Actually, I would feel guilty for taking a paid job when I didn’t need the money and plenty of people are unemployed/underemployed.

      1. JanetM*

        If I won the lottery, I think I would retain my current job because my husband and I both need the health insurance.

        1. Fiddlesticks*

          If I won the lottery, I’m pretty sure I could buy health insurance for my husband and myself (at least until Medicare qualification) without a paid job. But, of course, the situation would vary for every family. If someone is putting multiple kids through college, supporting aged or disabled relatives, etc, even a big lottery win may not go very far, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I was speaking only of my own relatively simple circumstances.

          1. Fiddlesticks*

            And btw, I never buy lottery tickets, so this is all an AMA fantasy thread… but it’s fun for a Monday afternoon. ;)

            If I were actually interested in leaving my current job, it would have to be because I wanted to return to my original field of interest/study (coastal high hazard area planning). With everything we know now about the likely future effects of sea level rise, higher storm tides, increased flooding and coastal erosion, and other results of climate change, we need adequate coastal planning now more than ever. And I hope I could explain this reasonably well. I really do feel passionately about it.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              Hey, your chances of winning the lottery are only slightly improved if you actually buy the tickets!

    3. smoke tree*

      Eh, I don’t know. I don’t think the question is so much “gush about how great this job is to appease our whims” as “make sure the applicant’s impression of the job is an accurate one, and is something they would be reasonably happy to do for a couple of years.” Seems like a reasonable thing to confirm. To me, the real power play is when companies won’t say how much they pay and it’s considered a faux pas to ask before the end of the interview process. What a waste of everyone’s time.

  16. The New Wanderer*

    One of the few times I had to answer this question was for my first post-college job. It happened to be my ultimate dream job at my fantasy employer. I know that’s a loaded phrase but it was literally the job I wanted at the place I wanted since I was a kid. I never thought I’d actually get a chance because I changed college majors and thought it was a lost cause that they would ever have a position for someone with my degree. It seemed like a miracle that I even got an interview.

    So my problem wasn’t finding something I liked about the job, it was finding a way to respond without gushing like a rabid fan and sounding insincere, if not obsessed. I don’t even remember what I said, only that the whole time I was telling myself, “Be cool, just be cool.” (I got the job. It was awesome.)

  17. CM*

    Another angle to this question is that as an employer, I want to know that this person will be able to handle the bad parts of this job too — like if there’s no room for advancement and the person says, “I really want a place where I can grow and move up in the organization,” I would want to clear that up.

    And hiring managers also often have a narrative in their head about the job, like “This job is for someone who is willing to sacrifice money for stability and great benefits,” or “This job is for someone who doesn’t mind a lot of tedium, maybe even enjoys it,” and they want to either hear that you fit that narrative, or understand why you would want to work there anyway.

    I actually think this question is really important and tells me a lot about the candidate, along with the question “what are you looking for in your next position.” Even for those people who are frustrated because they just want to pay the bills, it’s not REALLY true that nothing else matters — all other things being equal, you’d prefer to be in a workplace where you’re respected and valued, where people are reasonable and nice to each other, where they do something that you think is worthwhile, where you’ve heard that other people enjoy working, where you’ll do well at the job because you have the necessary skills — right? Say any of that stuff, or whatever it is that would make you pick this job over a different job that would also pay the bills.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with all of this, but particularly the last paragraph. Employers are pretty clear on the exchange of work for pay dynamic and are also looking for someone who’s valuable, respectful of their peers, and work well with the team/for the customers. It’s the whole purpose of an interview – to see if it’s a good fit that’s not going to make either side miserable.

    2. nnn*

      And hiring managers also often have a narrative in their head about the job, like “This job is for someone who is willing to sacrifice money for stability and great benefits,” or “This job is for someone who doesn’t mind a lot of tedium, maybe even enjoys it,”

      I wonder if it might serve everyone better to put that narrative in the job posting.

  18. Bostonian*

    Ah, I feel #3 so hard. What you should NOT say when asked why you want the job is that you think the culture is like Wolf of Wall Street.

    That being said, a good answer for why you want the position AND why you are drawn to the company should go hand in hand. First and foremost, it should be, “I’m really interested in this position because X”, and then “The reason why I chose to apply here is…” because we know other big players in the industry are hiring for the same position and want to know why you applied HERE.

    Also, giving some insight as to what interests you about the company can provide a glimpse into whether you’re a good fit for the culture. For example, one candidate said that she was impressed with what she saw on our website about the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as volunteering and community giving, which were important to her, too. It had nothing to do with how “flashy” and “cool” we are, and her answer was an indicator that she shared our values.

    All of this to say, it’s not that you CAN’T mention why you’re interested in the company, you just can’t give that as the only reason you applied for the position. When I interview, I usually answer both at the same time when I’m asked either question.

    1. Close Bracket*

      because we know other big players in the industry are hiring for the same position and want to know why you applied HERE.

      Chances are, I applied to them, too, and I’ll go with whoever wants me most.

      1. Liza*

        Yes, I agree. Unless a company is known to be unpleasant to work for or goes against my personal values, I don’t particularly have a preference and would struggle to find any reason to apply for company A over company B.

        For example, I worked for 6 months for non-profit A in a volunteer capacity. I then started paid work for non-profit B who share a contract with A doing similar work in the city in different locations. Since I started this work I learned that B is a better company to work for in terms of how employees are treated, but this is insider knowledge and not something you would find out from the company websites or other research. Until I found this out, I would gladly have applied for the same job with company A (and reduced my commute from 60 minutes to 10 in doing so). It’s only having worked for both that I have any preference at all.

        From an ideological and personal comfort perspective, I do look for equality/diversity commitments and awards associated with supporting disabled people into work but by that same token I don’t always want to out myself as a vulnerable minority in a job interview, and many companies pay lip service to these things without truly acting on those promises, so it’s all pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things. If the job seems relevant to my abilities, is within an hour’s commute, and I haven’t heard any unpleasant horror stories about the company, then I’ll apply.

  19. Jennifer*

    I hate this question. It does get asked a lot so I understand the importance of preparing for it beforehand, but the honest truth is I am interested in it because – I need a job or I’m sick of my current job, I meet the qualifications for this job and thought I should find out more. It throws a lot of applicants because they are applying for multiple jobs more than likely and, unless this is a position at a highly sought after company or in a highly competitive field, there’s nothing special about this particular one.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      So, why did you think you should learn more?

      Also, you listed two good reasons:

      “I’m sick of my current job” ->
      I’m looking for a different culture/new challenges/different environment.

      “I meet the qualifications for this job” ->
      This job will draw on my experience and skills. And I hypothesize most folks enjoy doing what we’re good at.

      1. Close Bracket*

        This job will draw on my experience and skills.

        Isn’t that sort of a given? Ok, sure, some people apply for jobs they have no background in, and then you might ask the question. As a general rule though, I don’t know what you gain from hearing an applicant say they are interested in the job bc they can do it.

        1. Liza*

          I’m often tempted to agree, but maybe we’re jumping to conclusions? Maybe a lot of people DO apply to jobs that are wildly outside of their skill, experience, or interest, and the question is actually more designed to weed those people out rather than drill into the specific motivations of those who DO meet the criteria?

          Don’t get me wrong, I still worry about the question, but I’ve started to relax a lot more. I’ll mention that I’m looking to get into the field, that I have broad experience of an aspect they are looking for, and I usually try and find one other more specific thing as well in the job description that I can mention.

          This was really only over the last couple of years though. My answer in my 20s was mostly just “this place is accessible by bus and I suspect/hope I might be able to do this job without wanting to cry (but am probably wrong because retail and food service suck).”

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I want to send this to my HR recruiters because they will find it hilarious. YES, people who are woefully under-qualified for positions apply for them, and it is helpful to have people say/confirm that they meet the core requirements of the position (or, sometimes, even that they have READ the position description – this is why I like cover letters: it’s very clear from a cover letter who actually read the JD).

          Thankfully, where I work, I don’t even see those people because HR screens them out, but being able to to articulately tie one’s past experience to the current job is very helpful for me personally, particularly for entry-level jobs. I do not expect that entry-level applicants have direct experience with some of the things I need them to do, but I do find that someone who has done similar things (and is able to see they’re similar) has an easier time picking up the new skill with some training.

    2. Close Bracket*

      there’s nothing special about this particular one.

      Pretty much. Same can be said about employers and “why do you want to work here?” Um, you pay money. I need money. If I saw a job that I met the qualifications for at a different company, I would apply there and take which ever offer gave me more PTO.

  20. Rainy days*

    Once I asked someone why they wanted the job and they said, “For the money.” It was jarring but also…refreshingly honest? She was actually highly qualified and we ended up hiring her. I don’t think a middling candidate could get away with it.

    1. Kat in VA*

      It’s the truth for a lot of people though. I’m an EA because it pays the highest out of what I’m suited to do. I work for money, which is the bald, unvarnished, no BS truth. The more money the better. The fact that my skillset can earn me a decent paycheck is ancillary, or even that I’m pretty good at managing people, their schedules, their data, and so forth. It’s not a vocation for me; it’s a job. (I understand for a lot of folks that their job IS their vocation, so I’m not downplaying that.)

      I work because I want to be able to pay for the things that I enjoy when I’m not working. Whether I’m in cybersecurity, finance, healthcare, consulting, contracting, government, or any other thing of work is mostly irrelevant – I work for the check they provide. I like that some people do get money in exchange for working in their passion, but I’m not one of those people. :)

  21. Anonny*

    I had a lot of trouble with this question when on my last job hunt, because the agencies wouldn’t tell me who I was interviewing with or what the details of the job position were until very late in the process – sometimes as late as 24 hours in advance – to make sure I didn’t try and apply directly instead. They’d tell me a general title and if it was part or full time and so on, and a general location, but my honest answer was “because the agency said it fit my criteria and skill set”.

    So if you are hiring through an agency, particularly if you have multiple agencies, it’s worth asking the agencies themselves how much they tell the candidates. Some of them will end up getting stuck because they only found out who you were a few hours ago!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      That’s kind of crappy of the agency – both to the candidate and the employer. Maybe it’d different elsewhere, but, if we get a candidate through an agency, it doesn’t matter if they apply separately, we would still be obligated to the agency. (Now, if we got their resume BEFORE the agency sent it, that’s different, but once an agency presents, we’re stuck with them.) I would also not want to work with an agency that was routinely sending me under-informed candidates – that’s on the agency, not the candidate.

  22. TPS Cover Sheet*

    Well, I usually include in the cover letter ”The JobCentre Plus advised me to apply”, if K am wasting their time. As in UK you are given a Xnum of jobs to apply and there is a computer system assigning you jobs to apply for and you need to apply as there is no excuse for them not to dock your dole if you don’t… back in Finland it was the same as under 25 to get the dole you had to get a 2nd degree education if you already didn’t have one. So you had to bring three refusals so when I applied I was devastated with all these guys I wouldn’t have a chance… the lady came and asked ”ok, so who is here just to get a refusal letter follow me”, and there was half left.

    1. Former Hotel Worker*

      Yup, I’ve often wondered how much additional work is created for recruiters by the dole office policy of forcing people to apply for work that is entirely unsuitable just to meet quotas. I’ve often wondered if I were to end up on benefits how I would handle this, and I admire your approach: a cover letter that is pretty much a coded message reading “I am applying out of obligation to the system, please disregard this letter”. Saves time for everybody involved.

  23. Mimmy*

    Oh man I could’ve used this post today!! Someone reached out to me yesterday regarding a possible internship. When the woman asked me why I was interested in the field that I’m looking to break into, I got a little (okay, a lot) tongue-tied. I must’ve eventually got myself together enough because I’m meeting with her in person next Tuesday. One of these days, I’m going to learn to prepare a script ahead of time!!!

    Anyway…while the question was more about the field rather than the specific internship, could the advice in this article be applicable in networking and informational interview situations?

    1. Mimmy*

      To add context to my question: This would be somewhat of a career change for me; I am not new to the working world.

  24. Theelephantintheroom*

    I’m interested to know more about your concerns with her asking about her job duties. As someone who has tried being helpful when my team is overloaded, I’ve been taken advantage A LOT. I actually just had a convo with my grand-boss about my need to set boundaries (I initiated the conversation to get her advice on doing it diplomatically) because it’s gotten to a point where this thing I helped one person do because she was having personal issues that were temporarily affecting her work is now something her entire department expects me to do for them automatically. And it’s very much not my job. (And now that I’M overwhelmed, they have no interest in helping me.)

    What I’m saying is that maybe she just needs your reassurance that you know her job duties (my manager doesn’t seem to!) and that she’s not doing more than what you’re paying her for.

  25. Theelephantintheroom*

    Ugh. My phone exited out of the one I was trying to respond to. Allison, would you mind just deleting this?

  26. Flare*

    Many years ago I was hiring and asked an applicant this question. She had seemed fairly normal if perhaps a little flighty up to this point, but then she went all dreamy and started looking kind of absently around, and after a moment said she thought she would enjoy all the foliage, which she pronounced/inflected in a manner I have never heard before or since and can’t reproduce in print, somehow both very quirky and very bland at the same time.

    Possibly I should mention this job was indoors, in a basement in which there was a courtyard filled primarily with cement of various shapes, and the job itself did not involve plant life in any way. Paperwork, filing, scanning, no plants.


    1. Close Bracket*

      I’m reading deep, deep sarcasm from a person who wants a paycheck. IOW, ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.

  27. Exhausted Educator is Exhausted*

    I would add that in an education context, I get a bit skeptical when someone’s answer to this question leans too much on “passion.” Passion can burn out.

  28. nnn*

    I grew up constantly being lectured about how hard work is important and everyone has to be willing to do any kind of work and you need to be willing to clean toilets for a living even if you have a PhD and “work sucks, that’s why it’s called work.”

    So it was rather a culture shock to then find myself looking for work in a world where they ask “Why do you want this job?” and the answer “Because it’s a job and I can do it and I need a job” isn’t acceptable.

    I want all those hours I spent being lectured back!

    1. Former Hotel Worker*

      I had this issue for a while too. Not right away – I actually had the opposite problem of being the under-experienced, over-educated valedictorian who was told “follow your dreams! You can do anything! Pursue your passion!” – but then graduated from my postgrad into the recession and realised nobody cared and I was practically unemployable. I compensated by banging the “work ethics” drum very hard and scoffed at the idea that “why I want the job” really mattered because the only thing I had going for me was my desperation for a paycheck and I would work my arse off for that reason alone. I slowly began to realise after several years that my work was, in fact, making me miserable, and that sometimes that magical “work ethic” might not be enough. I do, however, think this line of questioning is used inappropriately in a great number of service type jobs. It also puts people at a disadvantage if they are applying from a place of difficult circumstances and maybe don’t have the luxury of having a feasible career plan or the ability to choose between many different roles or organisations.

  29. Ann Onimous*

    I actually have a somewhat “funny” story, about the “why do you want this job” question.

    So… I was at this interview, whose technical part I felt that I had bombed. On top of that, there had been some serious red flags when it came to their working process. I was feeling so embarrassed, and wishing dearly to be able to just run out in the middle of the interview.

    So finally, the interviewer asks: Why do you want to work here?
    Me (mentally): I DON’T!

    Note that by this time, the interview had been going on for over an hour, and the red flags showed up pretty early in the process. I just didn’t know how to end the discussion any faster.

    Me (out loud): First of all I want to thank you so much for giving me a chance to interview. I apologize for taking up so much of your time, however after talking things through with you, I realize that I am not suited for this position.
    Interviewer (shocked): … but why?
    Me (mentally cursing): Oh I… just do so much better with a more structured working process.
    By this point, I was praying he wouldn’t ask me any follow up questions, because I was running out of polite ideas. The guy just stared at me, stood up, nodded, and literally stormed out of the room.

    Somehow… it felt like I had dodged a huge bullet. All the way home I spent it thanking Alison, and the numerous times she kept repeating that interviewing is a two-way street. Phew!

  30. Darren*

    My go to answer for this has been “I’m not, I’m happy where I am, but a recruitment company contacted me asking if there was a more interesting job and/or that paid more money would I take it, to which my answer was a reluctant yes I probably would, and they setup this meeting with you guys and I’m checking out whether or not those are the case.”

    Then we tend to discuss the role, what I can bring to it, what specific areas might be able to be better than where I am, etc. Surprisingly (to me at least) they’ve been getting generally positive feedback about me from those companies.

  31. Effective Immediately*

    Oh number 3 is so spot-on. I used to work for a very ‘glamorous’ nonprofit, and let me tell you: the number of candidates who came in starry-eyed, expecting to march into legislators’ offices and DEMAND JUSTICE were more than I could count.

    I developed a standard spiel about how everybody does filing; even me. A lot of candidates (especially for more entry-level positions, who tended to be young) were extremely dismayed to find out they would be spending more time entering their events data into a system than they would actively smashing the patriarchy.

  32. Librarian*

    I ask it for the student employee position I hire for at a university library, almost entirely for reason #1. People have bizarrely romanticized and outdated notions of libraries and so I get applicants who looooove books and talk about them incessantly even though the job has nothing to do with books–I intentionally make sure the word “book” does not appear anywhere in the job description. I want to tell those people to go work at a bookstore (though don’t get me wrong, some of them have been great, but that’s because they demonstrated other value). I want some indication that the people have read the job description and know what the job is because turnover costs a lot of money and a lot of my time.

    FWIW, That question in my list starts with a more straightforward “Describe to me your understanding of the job description and responsibilities” and then I ask what interests them most just kind of tacked on to that, perhaps more out of curiosity than anything. I’d honestly rather hear “it’s on campus and I am good at the things you listed that I’m accurately listing back to you” than “I loooooooove books.”

  33. TootsNYC*

    I almost always open an interview by asking, “What do you like about our specialized field?”

    But then, I know that my job opening isn’t that much different from other jobs in the field.

    But it gets them talking about what they like and how they think.

  34. Lily*

    I’m currently applying for another position within my company, moving from IT support to information security. My real answer would be that I am just fed up with the working conditions in my current department and am looking for anything I’m reasonably qualified for that will get me out of this situation. (To be specific: performance standards that are based on quantity and speed of calls vs. actual technical skills and issue resolution, with those standards becoming increasingly impossible to meet due to my physical disability; ridiculous micromanagement and lack of trust for employees; increasing expectations for after hours availability; a team lead who harrasses me about my limitations and pushes back against accommodations; and all of this becoming increasingly detrimental to my health.) How would you answer in this case? (FWIW, these conditions are not characteristic of the company as a whole, just this one dysfunctional department.)

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