When employers ask, “Why did you apply for this position?” or “Why are you interested in this position?” It might seem obvious to the job seeker. Of course, the job seeker applied to the position because they need an income. But that’s not what the employer is looking for nor asking. This standard first interview question initiates the conversation between the candidate and the hiring manager and can guide the interview’s remainder.
What questions to look for
Variations of this interview question that can get asked on a phone interview, Zoom interview, or face-to-face job interview include:
- “Why are you applying for this job?”
- “Why are you interested in this position?”
- “What interests you about this position?”
- “”Why are you interested in this job?”
Tip: Don’t confuse this with other common job interview questions. Like, “Why do you want to work here?” or “Why do you want to work at this company?” They will ask this question similarly to the questions mentioned above.
Jared Brox describes, “passionate employees are engaged employees. They believe in the work they do and that they have a vested interest in the success of their company.” As Jared alludes, passion is precisely the reason why this interview question gets prompted to candidates.
Why do employers try to gauge the passions of their employees before hiring them?
It comes down to employee turnover or “churn.” In human resources, turnover is the act of replacing an employee with a new employee. And hiring managers and human resources teams often measure employee turnover rates or employee turnover ratio. Anja Zojceska of TalentLyft describes employee turnover as “a measurement of how many employees are leaving a company.”
Anja Zojceska goes on to explain this problematic issue for employers, “A high employee turnover rate is an expensive problem. When employees leave, a company has to replace them with new hires. Replacing employees costs a lot of money. According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research, direct replacement costs can reach as high as 50%-60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs associated with turnover ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary.”
This problem is precisely why the hiring manager or recruiter asks this interview question, to prevent employee turnover.
“Why Are You Interested In This Position?”
When the hiring manager asks this question, it’s about gauging interest and passion. Interest and passion help prevent employee turnover rate within the company. If an employee has a high degree of passion for their work, it’s far less likely that they will become frustrated. And feel the need to resign.
Suppose the interviewer hears a calculated answer from the job candidate. In that case, they can feel more comfortable and confident knowing that the candidate and potential employee has intention with their work. And with the employment opportunity. Also, the reason should be sufficient to show long-term commitment to the business. Rather than learning a skill quickly and moving onto a new job opportunity. Resulting in more employee turnover.
Suppose a job candidate hears this interview question. The candidate should think of the keyword’s passion and relevance.
How to Answer “Why Did You Apply for This Position?”
To answer this interview question correctly, the candidate must have two pieces of relevant information to compare and contrast. The first piece of information is career aspirations. The second piece of data is the job description or work culture (or company culture). Tip: Make sure to speak to what you see on the job description.
The first step in answering this interview question is determining our career aspirations as a candidate. The goal of the aspirations is to have a career path in mind that the candidate will share with the potential employer.
For example, knowing that the employee has career goals and aspirations can become an executive-level manager one day. The purpose of becoming an executive-level manager is not what’s going to get shared with the hiring manager.
Take time to consider how this job will align with those career aspirations and the career path. Write down one to three bullet points that describe career goals that are 5-years or more from the current date. The bottom line, make it seem like the job is more important than a paycheck. And consider how this opportunity will help your next job.
The next step in answering this question and structuring the right answer is to determine what the job will provide the candidate. Provide along the way of a career path. Look through the company website, LinkedIn, and other brand assets to determine what opportunities are available within the company.
Review the job description or job advertisement to get a sense of the job title and role to expose the future employee. Use that information to assist in structuring a contrast and comparative. In this way, an answer can be structured that would benefit the candidate and the employer.
For example, presuming the employee wants to become a CTO. And the position is a software engineering management position. Here is what the answer might look like.
“One day, I’d love to become a CTO. I’ve worked with several CTOs that have become mentors to me. And I would love to become more like them. To do that, I have to start small. And gaining experience in a software engineering management position will expose me to communication, coordination, and goals. All that I have not yet been held accountable for in the past. I feel ready for that.”
Another example, presuming the employee wants to run their own business someday. And the position is a retail position. Here is what the answer might look like.
Run their own business example
“A substantial career aspiration for me is to develop a brand with a healthy amount of customer loyalty. And do so by executing what I see this company doing. That includes great customer service and knowledge of products. Or customized and tailored ways of addressing the customer problem. And building a long-lasting relationship with the customer through high-quality services. And while it’s an aspiration to become a manager or maybe one day have my own business. I see a long road ahead where I need to gain proper knowledge, experience, skills, and expertise in the field. This position will expose me to some of those skills and the proper knowledge to start my career path. I’m able to use my knowledge of the products and services to provide an optimal customer experience. And then, in return, learn more about how to operationalize and commercialize a business of this kind.”
Another way to think about this step is to consider what the particular position will allow the candidate to gain. Allowing them to gain work experience, soft skills, hard skills (like a specific technical skill), or other intangible assets.
Putting it all together
To structure a great answer to this question, it’s about finding the employer and the employee’s aligned opportunity. The employer will ask qualifying questions to help them gain further insight. Insight into what value they will receive if they choose to provide a job offer.
But to get that step, the candidate must display conscious reasoning for why they are applying for the position. The reason needs to consist of career aspirations, an opportunity to develop skills or experience in the job opportunity. And a shared understanding between the employer and employee.
Once the candidate has demonstrated their reason for applying to the position, it is optional, but encouraged to ask the interviewer a question. A great question like, “Do you feel like this job opportunity aligns well with those career objectives?”
The question won’t distract from the remainder of the interview. And can encourage a more informal discussion between interviewer and interviewee.
A job candidate should answer the interview question under 90-seconds to keep the hiring manager or recruiter engaged. To achieve this, the job applicant should perform a “mock interview” with a friend or family member. It will help to recite the interview answer more effectively.
Good and Bad Example Answer
Here is an example of a wrong answer and a good answer to this question to put the method to use.
Wrong answer: “This is my dream job. I noticed this came up on my job alerts. And I noticed how much compensation the position was providing. I have a family at home, three young children, and a wife. And I have to say, it’s costly to have kids these days. This position is going to provide me the opportunity to give my family a new life. And that’s something that I can’t pass up.”
This is an example of answering this common interview question the wrong way. It focuses on employee benefits and compensation rather than an exchange of value between the employer and employee. Job seekers should avoid speaking about company or employee benefits (healthcare, free food, or other benefits) when answering this question.
Strong or good answer
Strong answer: “I’ve had the opportunity to get mentored by several medical professionals in my career. A hospital administrator who was very passionate about patient care. She worked closely with the nurses to provide optimal care guidelines for us to follow. I learned so much working with that hospital administrator. One day, I hope to begin to advance myself toward a management position. A position that allows me to mentor others as she did for me. To get to that point in my career, there are skills and abilities that I need to develop. The only way to do that is by getting exposed to them and making mistakes but learn from them. This job opportunity provides me the chance to use my current knowledge and skills while gaining some managerial experience.”
Tip: Explaining how an interview answer got “arrived at” is a great way to show the level of thought put behind each interview answer. Also, it can assist the interviewer or the hiring manager with more clearly comprehending the answer. And since it provides the “background” on how the interviewee arrived at the response. Be sure the explanation doesn’t push the interview answer past a 90-second response.
There is no “perfect answer” to this interview question since a candidate can’t predict what the hiring manager is seeking from an ideal candidate. But the example above displays a more robust way to position the candidate for the opportunity and answer the job interview question appropriately.
Example Answers to “Why Did You Apply For This Position?”
Below are sample answers to the interview question, “Why did you apply for this position?” and “Why are you interested in this position?”
1. Sample answer using previous experience
Sample answer: “If you take a look at my previous experience. You can see that I’ve had a long history of working within the software engineering industry. And I’ve been an individual contributor for several years. I was working closely with CTO’s and other Vice Presidents. I’ve received a healthy amount of mentorship. And I feel ready to move onto the next steps in my career. One day, I would like to become a CTO myself and mentor other software engineers who have the same passion for the industry. To get there, I believe it’s going to be crucial that I learn to manage software engineers using the mentorship I’ve received. And apply my skills. I noticed this job during my job search, as it has the opportunity to work with a small engineering team. And that seems like a great fit for me and my skills.”
2. Sample answer using previous experience
Sample answer: “I’ve spent many years as a Product Designer. I was working closely with companies like Apple, Netflix, and Facebook. I’ve learned a significant amount while working with these great companies. But unfortunately, with my current job, there is a lack of upward mobility. Mobility would provide me the opportunity to be in a managerial position. And this is something that I desire to do with my career. This position appeals to me because it has several opportunities to work closely with other designers, marketers, and managers. And seems like a good fit for my skills.”
3. Sample answer based on previous job
Sample answer: “I was thrilled with my previous job. I was exposed to multiple departments, the marketing department, the sales department, and more. But I started to feel as though I’ve learned all that I could from the job. And I decided I needed to get exposed to a new industry. I want to join an industry where I have more passion for the mission and the problems getting solved. I noticed this opportunity during my job search and decided to apply. This job opportunity would allow me to use my skill sets while applying them to a new industry. Allowing me to make a career transition more smoothly.”
4. Sample answer based on being exposed to new skills
Sample answer: “This position is one that will expose me to retail experience that will be pivotal in my career. When I think of this company, I think of providing a world-class customer experience. And high-quality product with short and minimal wait times for customers. When I enter the retail location, I’m always taken care of quickly. And addressed as a customer almost immediately. This tells me the coordination and high caliber of training each employee receives. Training that is something I will be able to benefit from in my career.”
5. Sample answer when building a brand
Sample answer: “When I see how many customers are loyal to this brand on social media, it’s inspiring to me. The brand is clearly resonant with multiple people across the country. Multiple lives and stories. Building a brand like that is very difficult to do. And if I can be exposed to maintaining a brand of that caliber. Then maybe one day, I can learn how to develop a brand of my own. At the same time, I don’t have those aspirations in the near-term. I want to start my own business one day. And this experience can be beneficial in me learning how to establish trust with customers and provide them a service they’re happy with.”
6. Sample answer based on training
Sample answer: “When I visit one of the store locations, I notice a great deal of teamwork amongst the associates and the employees. I notice that each person coordinates with the other colleague efficiently and with ease. This tells me that the work environment provides value to other associates. Working together, team building, and ensuring that effort pays off for the customer. I want to be around others who are passionate about the same things I am, including the store’s products. Assisting customers seems like tapping into passions, rather than “doing a duty,” I’d really like to be around others who are like myself.”
7. Sample answer based on products and services
Sample answer: “I have always had a passion for the products offered here. For me, I’ve been a customer for several years. And I’ve admired the work environment, customer experience, and the end product. If I can be around products that inspire me, this would be a true gift. I can learn great cash handling skills, retail skills, and customer service skills. At the same time, I can use my knowledge of the products and services to my advantage. And provide the customer with a wonderful experience. I feel this is a great exchange of value between me, the employee, and the employer.”
8. Sample answer based on career aspirations
Sample answer: “A substantial career aspiration for me is to develop a brand with a healthy amount of customer loyalty. And do so by executing what I see this company doing. That includes great customer service and knowledge of products. Or customized and tailored ways of addressing the customer problem. And building a long-lasting relationship with the customer through high-quality services. And while it’s an aspiration to become a manager or maybe one day have my own business. I see a long road ahead where I need to gain proper knowledge, experience, skills, and expertise in the field. This position will expose me to some of those skills and the proper knowledge to start my career path. I’m able to use my knowledge of the products and services to provide an optimal customer experience. And then, in return, learn more about how to operationalize and commercialize a business of this kind.”
9. Sample answer based on new department exposure
Sample answer: “Currently, I’m a software engineer at [XYZ Company], but I’m not exposed to the marketing department or sales departments objectives. For me, this is a significant loss in gaining upward mobility in my career without seeing where my work gets applied. Or trying to connect with stakeholders about how my work needs to be utilized. I’m not able to fully develop software that can assist my teammates. This position sounds like a key part of it is having a multidisciplinary experience and communicating with teammates across multiple disciplines. This will be a value for me. And I will be able to apply my senior engineering skills to the company and hopefully achieve great results together.”
Sample Answer for Customer Service
Sample answer: I’ve had customer service issues that I’ve addressed with this company in the past. I’ve always experienced something wonderful from the team. At the same time, other customer service issues I’ve had at other companies were not optimal for a customer experience. It’s clear the training, teamwork, and collaboration are world-class here. That’s why I want to work here.
Sample Answer for Software Engineering
Sample answer: I’m interested in this position because it appears like the engineers will have to work closely with other business disciplines. In my prior job, I wasn’t exposed to other disciplines and departments. This didn’t let me understand how my work was being utilized, which could have allowed me to advance the software or engineering efforts. Being exposed to other departments will force me to write better software. And communicate effectively, delivering results for the teams in a more direct fashion.
Common questions from job seekers.
What part of the interview process is this question asked most frequently?
Most commonly, this question is asked as a qualifying question during the phone interview. When the employer decides to invite the candidate to a face-to-face interview (or the “second interview”). The employer should understand the candidate’s underlying passions and reason for applying to the position.
Is this a behavioral question?
No. A behavioral interview question starts with “Tell me about a time.” And presents the opportunity to share a structured story that helps employers predict future work performance. The interview question “Why did you apply for this job?” is more closely related to an icebreaker question, where it initiates a conversation.
What should I do if my interview answer isn’t clear?
When answering the interview question, if it feels as though the hiring manager doesn’t clearly understand the reason for applying to the position. Then start over. It’s okay to say, “You know what, this doesn’t sound like I’m communicating this clearly; let me start over, is that okay?” The hiring manager will accommodate this request and appreciate that the candidate is listening to themselves communicate and desiring to start over.
What if the question is, “Why are you interested in this company?”
That’s a variation of this question. And while the structure should be the same, the response should contain details of the work culture, products, services, and history of the company. Or the company’s objectives. And then how those objectives will serve the candidate well in their career. Remember, this is not the same question as “Why are you interested in this position?” Because the keyword is position and company. The interviewer is asking about a different set of requirements from the candidate. If this question is asked, only speak about why the company is unique, not what the position can provide in career path development.
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