Filling out job applications can be time-consuming and, often, daunting. Employers ask a ton of questions about your experience, educational background and skills to make sure you're the right fit for the position. And then there's the "Why are you applying for this position?" question that really sets some candidates apart from the rest.
With this question, and similar queries like, “Why do you want this job?,” “Why are you interested in this position?” or the more aggressive, “Why should we hire you?” interviewers want to see if you’ve done your research. Do you know enough about this specific job and this specific company to speak to how it fits into your career plan? If you’re hired, will you be motivated to perform well? Candidates who are applying for the position because they have bills to pay and just need a job — any job — aren't going to be as appealing as a candidate who also believes in the mission of the company, appreciates the company's work, knows how their skills will be beneficial to the company or has another company- or job-specific reason for applying.
Of course, many candidates will share that they're fans of the company and its work, and their skills will prove valuable to the position. So how do you set yourself apart and formulate an answer that'll catch employers' attention?
Your answer should always depend on the specific position and company you’re applying to. Here’s how to put together a unique answer that’ll stand out from the crowd.
Even if you really need a job for the money, there must be some reason you chose this job posting over all the others on the job board. Would the job allow you to use certain skills you’ve gained in your current role? Are you a longtime fan of the company? Would you get to work on a project that you’re passionate about? There may be more than one reason you applied, but pick one that’s central to the work you’d be doing or the employer itself to build your answer around (rather than a nice-to-have perk like their pet-friendly offices). For example, you might begin with something like:
“What first caught my eye about this role was how I’d be responsible for not only analyzing data but also using that data to tell a story about your users.”
“I’ve been using your software ever since I was a college freshman in need of a way to keep all my coursework organized.”
“I’ve always wanted to work for a company that’s doing its part to fight climate change and the way ZZY Co helps other companies reduce their carbon footprint caught my eye.”
Once you’ve given your initial reason for applying, take it a step further by adding some specific details about what drew you to the position that shows you’ve done your research. Read through the job description and check out the company’s website, social media presence, news mentions, and Fairygodboss and/or Muse profiles (if they have them). Pick out a few aspects that really excite you and work them into your answer to emphasize that you really care about the role.
“The way you allow customers to truly customize their own packages so they’re only paying for what they need is super appealing to me as a salesperson and I think speaks to a company that cares about user experience as much as profit.”
“You have products for a wider range of skin tones than any beauty brand I’ve ever seen — either as a professional or a customer — and that dedication to inclusivity really sets you apart in the industry.”
Here’s where you show the company what you can do for them. Select one to three of your key skills and/or experiences and talk about how they can help you do the job you’re applying for and/or add to the team or company you’d be joining.
“I was part of the accounting team at KiKCo when they filed for IPO. I saw all of the work that went into putting together the necessary financial disclosures and filing the necessary forms and paperwork and was responsible for tracking everything as a junior member of the team. I saw that the company founder mentioned eyeing an IPO this year — and I would love to help coordinate that.”
“Before I was in marketing, I was in business development, so I’m very familiar with the types of questions customers first ask when they’re considering buying a healthcare product and I’d love to help integrate these answers into your future marketing campaigns.”
Finish off strong by telling your interviewer how this job makes sense as the next step in your career.
“As an HR manager, my favorite task was always putting together learning and development programs for employees but it was only one among several priorities. I’m so excited that this job would give me the opportunity to be part of a dedicated L and D team, so that I wouldn’t have to split my focus and I would be able to learn directly from a team of people who have really honed their expertise in this important aspect of HR.”
“Though I love being in the classroom, I know I could have an impact on even more students as a curriculum designer. After 20 years teaching children to read, I’m ready to share all the tricks I’ve learned with teachers across the state.”
Here are some things to avoid with this interview question.
Making it all about you. While you should talk about what you’d get from the role and how it fits into your career trajectory, interviewers are most interested in what you’d bring to their company.
Being disingenuous. Don’t make up a story about how this would be your dream job if you can’t back that up by connecting it to your past experiences.
Saying, “So I can pay rent,” or making any similar joke. Hopefully no one is under the illusion that you’d do this job for free! Use this time to make your case rather than repeat a joke the hiring manager’s probably heard before.
Focusing on why you’re leaving your current job. This question isn’t about what you dislike about where you work now — so don’t spend your time venting about how you’ve got to get out of your current workplace or how your current boss micromanages your every breath.
Here are some sample answers depending on the type of job you're applying for.
What initially drew me to this position was that while the marketing assistant role is more general, I’d have a chance to work with several strong marketing specialists and gain experience in areas from social media to ecommerce. I saw your recent ‘New Office Spaces’ campaign on social media and thought the way you showcased how your product helps remote and in-office workers was super clever. I’m excited to build on my previous experience as a social media intern for my school’s recruiting department, where I shot similar videos showcasing different dorm setups on campus, to help support future campaigns like that one. I can definitely bring the tricks I learned about appealing to Gen Z buyers. I’m also excited to get to learn more about email marketing and newsletters — I did some freelance writing work for online lifestyle sites like X.com and Y.org during my undergrad — so I’d love to use those writing skills with email and newsletter copy.
“Lime Co’s reputation is certainly a factor. I would be proud to work for a company responsible for achievements like the LimePhone and LimeTab. In fact, I worked at one of your retail locations in high school and have really appreciated your intuitive designs ever since. In college, I even did a senior project analyzing your designs! After spending five years as a front-end engineer, and three as a UX designer, I’ve learned a lot about not just what’s possible to achieve with design, but how much work goes into executing it. So in this role as liaison between the design and engineering teams, I’d be able to speak to both groups of people and understand the expectations and pressures on both sides in a way that helps everyone work together more effectively and happily!”
“I recently saw an article on Hotels.net about your company’s new ‘go the extra mile for every customer’ policy where every guest gets the VIP treatment. I'm impressed by the company's efforts and would be proud to be a part of that work. My experience in customer satisfaction at BigHotels would be fitting for a customer experience manager at a hotel with exactly this kind of strategy. It’s the mantra I’ve always operated under during my time in the hospitality industry. For example, I once stayed late to coordinate the delivery of a child’s stuffed rabbit from one of BigHotels’ other locations to our hotel, and was able to have it waiting for the guest in her hotel room on the second day of her trip. Or if a guest mentions food allergies, I always call ahead to any restaurant where we make a reservation for them to make sure they’re ready to accommodate — and these small acts almost always create repeat customers. I’d love to be able to do these sorts of things on a larger scale as the manager of a customer experience team.”
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at HerReport.org. She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.
Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.