When you’re preparing for an interview, there are a few questions that you absolutely must know how to answer—not just because they’re common, but because they’ll help you figure out the big picture points you want to leave with the interviewer. Think, “Tell me about yourself,” “Why are you interested in this position?” “What on your resume prepares you for this position?” and “Why do you want to work for this company?”
Since you can’t really talk about your skills, “Why this company?” might be the trickiest. So, how do you approach this super-common interview question without leaning on your resume and without sounding like every other candidate who goes on about how excited he or she is to work for a company that “values transparency” and has a “great company culture?”
To help you get started, here are four angles to consider.
1. Acknowledge the Company’s Uniqueness
The key to answering this question well is being specific. If you can give the same answer to another company, then you’re clearly not being detailed enough. In other words, your answer should be unique to each place you interview with—no general statements about “working with talented people” or “global impact.”
If you want to go the culture route, talk about the precise aspects of it that you like. Don’t just touch on how driven everyone seems; instead, mention how you thrive in an environment that focuses on goals and that the team’s tradition of setting weekly goals instead of annual goals is appealing. Or, if you like how the company shakes things up every once in a while, go a step further and talk about the company-wide hack day. This is the perfect chance to show off that you actually did some research.
2. Go Back to the Beginning
Showing that you know a lot about the company is always impressive, but sometimes it’s not always possible. If finding out more about the place turns out to be more challenging than expected, try telling the story of how you first heard about it. Don’t get too long-winded, of course. Your goal is here is to show that you were aware of and interested in the company before you even had the opportunity to apply.
One way to do this is to share the evolution of the company you’re applying for. Talk about how you’ve watched it grow, change, and adapt with interest. Being able to comment insightfully about a brand’s history is certainly a good way to show that your interest in it didn’t develop overnight.
3. Think Ahead
Besides diving into the history, also consider thinking ahead a little bit. Being able to talk about what areas of the company you think have opportunities for growth and showing your excitement about contributing to that growth is an excellent way to approach this question.
This forward thinking shows that not only are you invested enough to think thoughtfully about the future of the company, you have some ideas about how to continue driving its continued success. It’s a great way of illustrating your knowledge and commitment in a way that goes beyond what you can find doing research online. You’ve actually thought about the future of the company critically and want to play a role in it.
4. Offer a Personal Touch
If all else fails, you can always count on this working: Get personal. It can be hard to talk about what makes a company special as an outsider, but one thing you can count on being unique is the people. Maybe you have a friend who works at the company. You can talk about how impressed you are with what her experience has been like—just remember to be specific.
And even if you don’t have an internal contact, simply being invited to the interview means you’ve interacted with some employees. Talk about a personal interaction with the people of the company and how they’ve made you feel welcomed or how you’re excited to see such enthusiasm in the team members you’ve spoken with so far. If all else fails, always bring it back to the people.
There’s no 100% right way to answer this question, so get creative in how you want to illustrate your interest in the company. As long as you don’t start going into a string of platitudes, you’ll be fine.
About The Author
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.