Interview Questions I Hate – Part I

So, why do you want to work here?

If you’ve worked a day in your life, chances are you’ve been asked this question during an interview.  And, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ve said something about how much you love the company, it’s your dream job, you’re looking to really make your mark somewhere, or some other hackneyed tripe that you hope sounds good to the person asking the question.

I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing people for my teams over the years, and I can tell you that your likely first instinct is right: the question is just about as worthless as anything you could be asked in an interview. Everyone answers it the same way–with vacuous gusto–and every interviewer happily ticks of a box as if you’ve passed some magical “qualified to work here” test. But it’s crap and almost all of us know it.

I’ve personally never used this question in any of my interviews, but I always get asked this when I’m interviewed. I hate to say it, but I really lose respect for folks when they use this question in an interview. I understand the ostensible goal is to get to the heart of why this candidate picked your job posting to respond to, why they jumped through the hoops to get the interview, etc., but the fact is that in most cases it’s because you have a job opening and pay in actual dollars and not Monopoly bills.

If you’re looking to get closer to what I assume the goal of this question is, you can change it up a bit and ask questions like: “What about our company intrigues you?” or “How do you see yourself contributing to the company?” or something along those lines. At the end of the day, you’re looking to get beyond the point where you’re getting the same rote answer from every candidate.

People have different motivations for applying to positions.  Often they’re looking to move on because they don’t see any additional opportunities where they’re at, they’re in a negative work environment, or they’ve just topped out as far as the contribution and value they feel they can bring to the company they’re currently at.  Other times it’s out of desperation: they’ve just lost their job or feel they’re about to, they need more money for a variety of reasons, etc.

Motivation is important, and I do understand the need to determine the motivation of the person sitting in front of you. However, I’ve always found it better to have a conversation with the person rather than asking the same questions they get everywhere else.  Just talk to them a bit, get to know where they’re at in their career and what they’re looking to do.

Oh yeah, and don’t ask any of those questions like “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if he was on a train going 50mph in 0-gravity, upside down?”  That moves you from hackneyed to hack job.  Just saying.