The worst job interview answer?

Tough hiring manager shares the worst job interview answer ever

Peter Harris|

I was talking with a senior director who maintains quite a large and diverse team, so she hires a lot of people. Because I think that the most useful career advice and insights come from the people who actually make the hiring decisions, I asked her for what she thinks job candidates often get right and wrong.

(I’m not naming the hiring manager directly, because we were having this conversation socially, and I haven’t been able to get in touch with her to get her permission to be quoted. I know that she’s a “tough” interviewer, but I’m not sure that she would consider herself as such.)

“The worst, the most common mistake I see again and again, is that candidates think the job interview is all about them. They’ll talk about what they’ve done and what they want to do – without making it specifically relevant to me and my needs. As if that’s interesting. This isn’t social, I’m not your buddy or your counsellor. Tell me how you can make my life easier. Period.”

She said that one question she always asks people in her interviews is “Why should I hire you?”

This is an open invitation for candidates to explain their key qualifications, demonstrate how passionate they are about the job, and to showcase what sets them apart from other potential job seekers.

Apparently many people don’t take that invitation. Veronica told me that the worst answer she ever gets is one that she hears all the time, especially from younger or entry-level candidates. Too many people answer with some variation of, “because I need the job.”

The thing is, need is not a qualification. If you’ve applied for the job, and gone in for the interview, the employer already knows that you need – or at least want – the job. The point of the interview is to determine if you are the right person to have it.

Also, if you say that you ‘need the job,’ that could imply that simply need to get a job – any job will do. This can be a major turn-off for employers. They are looking for someone excited about working for them particularly, who is a good career fit with the role they’re offering. That’s who is going to stick around, work hard and be motivated.

Similarly many resumes start with a few sentences describing what the candidate is looking for. “Seeking a position with growth potential for an organization that provides career-development training, nurtures future leaders from within, and respects work / life balance.” Those are great, but they’re about what you want – not what you can offer.

If you get the direct ‘why should I hire you’ question, consider it a gift. Take the opportunity to recap your most impressive qualifications – tailored to be specifically relevant to the needs of the employer and the job.

Summarize your past accomplishments as indicators of how you can excel on the job, and how what you’ve done for previous employers indicates what you can do for the job at hand.

Employers want to know why they should hire you, and it won’t be because of anything you need or want. It’s about what you can do for them.


Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter


Category: Job interviews, Student
  • David Gay

    A variation of the “why should I hire you?” question is one I really hate: “why do you feel you are the best candidate for the position?”. That right there is an impossible question to answer. I cannot guarantee that I’m the best person for the position, not unless someone at that company would be so kind to give me the list of interviewees for me to study so I can make an informed answer.

    Then again, interviewing has changed a great deal from my younger years. It used to be about expanding on what was on the resume (duties and qualifications), which made sense. Now it’s a sell yourself buffet worthy of reality TV shows, and from my own experience does not guarantee you will get the right fit for the position.

  • Simon Cohen

    “They’ll talk about what they’ve done and what they want to do – without making it specifically relevant to me and my needs. As if that’s interesting.” – Actually, it *is* interesting. As someone who has interviewed many prospective candidates, I genuinely believe that if you’ve done your pre-screening effectively, you already know that the person in front of you has the skill to do the job (after all, why bring them in if they don’t?).

    So the interview is all about getting to know the person – not the skills. What kind of person are they? What can you get them to reveal about themselves through carefully thought-out questions? As they’re talking, try and gauge your personal reaction to them – do you like them? Because if you don’t, there’s a good chance your team won’t either.

    Netflix has a hiring policy: No brilliant jerks. It’s an amazingly simple and effective concept. But you’ll never know if you’re dealing with a brilliant jerk if you don’t let them move beyond questions that are designed to test how well the person can meet your needs. You don’t just need a skill-set. You need someone who will make your team stronger, in every way.

    • Larry M

      Amen Simon. Some interviewers have their head up their butt and focus on stuff they can confirm without the candidate even present. The face to face opportunity is to get to know the candidate and judge whether they have the right demeanor to make the most of their skills in your organization.

    • Linda

      I agree completely. There’s a saying, some things can be taught, while some things cannot. Qualifications can be earned, skills can be developed, but personality, attitude, work ethic, all of that is a lot less malleable.

  • tokoloshiman

    generally today human potential is unrecognized. if you have not done the job before there is no way you are going to be given a chance. people ( hirers) tend to forget how innovative people can be and how adaption to a new job is not that difficult.

  • Kelly Bowers

    Simon, I totally agree. But, do they actually pre-screen themselves, or do they have someone else in the office do it? One interviewer two weeks ago, seemed to not have even read my resume and was unaware of my past experience.
    Although I felt we got along very well, I did not get the job (not yet anyways).

    • Simon Cohen

      I know, ridiculous isn’t it? When I started working for my last employer, back in 2000, they had a fully staffed HR team who did a fantastic job pre-screening. They read my resume, called me on the phone and asked me some very specific skills and experience questions. It was only after this call that I was asked in for an in-person interview.

      15 years later, that HR department was gone and hiring managers like myself were forced to fend for ourselves. I had to create the job description, post it on websites and job boards that I thought would reach the right candidates, sift through the hundreds of replies I received, and then finally book the interviews.

      It was painful. But I hired great people because I diligently undertook the process that HR should have done. It’s amazing to me how many companies pay lip-service to “hiring and developing the best people” and then completely fail to ensure that their HR practices deliver on this goal.

      • fan cee

        Since the H.R. Department already has your skills list from your resume, what most up to date companys hold are behavioral interviews. The questions then are related to how you will or have reacted in certain situations.
        This is the best way to find out if the prospective employee has the ethics and decision making skills that the company hiring is looking for. The three basic questions that need to be answered in an interview are: A.-Will they fit in with the existing employees. B.- Will they show up and do the job. C.-Will they make the company money.

  • Kelly Bowers

    I agree with Simon. It should be more about refining your search and finding someone who fits your team, like a missing puzzle piece (not found on a resume).

  • Richard

    “Why should I hire you?”, this question is being used too loosely that most hirers or hiring manager forgot about the reason of hiring the new candidate! It’s not about whether the hiring manager hires you or not, it is the organization need in hiring the right candidate not just on the skill sets, experiences, knowledge but also the personality and character. Whether this right candidate fits into a leader (leadership role) or a team player (if in the team) or even a leader who is a strong team player too. That should be part of the major requirements that should be taken into strong consideration. As most of you mentioned that, skills and knowledge can be gained through studying, classroom training and self taught but personality, character and soft skills are hard to come by. This is just my personal views!

  • MRG

    I think you forgot something crucial…NEVER start a sentence with because…it’s the second sentence in your speil, wouldn’t that not be something you shouldn’t say?

    • Simon Cohen

      That’s a pretty old rule, which we were taught in grade 4. We were also taught not to start a sentence with “but.” But you know what? Things change :-)

    • sonneteer

      We were taught not to start sentences (in about grades 4 or 5) with ‘because’ because, at that stage, we would be writing answers to questions on the board — and our responses would often be incomplete sentences. For example,

      Why did Chrisopher Columbus travel to the New World?
      Because he was looking for a new route to China.

      See? Not a full sentence.

      However, an inverted sentence (learned in grade 6) was completely acceptable.

      Because Christopher Columbus was looking for a new route to China, he sailed east and inadvertently discovered the New World.

      (Actually, he didn’t, but I’m recollecting the history that we were being taught at the time.)

  • smscamp

    I just want to share this job I found on the Govt of Canada’s website – Public service commission

    Re, “In alignment with CSC’s Employment Equity Action Plan and Hiring Targets, please note that the initial selection of candidates for assessment will be limited to members of the following designated groups: Aboriginal, Visible Minorities, Persons with Disabilities”.

    Ironically, the position of Administrative Services Assistant
    is a fancy term for a female dominated Secretarial type position, where Males should be considered as included on the list, but thanks to politically correct gender stereotyping, Men are labelled “Advantaged” regardless of the situation and excluded from position they are could be considered “Marginalized” or “Disadvantaged” and are definitely in a minority in being employed in jobs like this

    Given this is one of the few federal govt jobs that will allow a unilingual person to apply as way too many bilingual designated positions are a result of only wanting to hire their own linguistic bilingual kind, this position is very desirable.

    Feel free to copy and let others know of such PC gender stereotyping gender discrimination against others who are could considered “disadvantaged”, part of a minority employed group, thus eligible for employment equity, but still excluded by such PC gender stereotyping that is applicable in every situation whether in reality, does not apply in many situations

    Administrative Services Assistant

    Organization Name: Correctional Service of Canada – National Headquarters
    Location: Ottawa (Ontario)
    Classification: CR – 04
    Salary: $45,189 to $48,777
    Closing Date: June 21, 2014 – 23:59, Pacific Time Useful Information
    Reference Number: PEN14J-010162-000006
    Selection Process Number: 2014-PEN-EA-NHQ-88082
    Vacancies: Number to be determined
    Employment Tenure:You must ensure that you select at least one employment type when submitting your application: Employment Tenure

    Web site: For further information on the department, please visit Correctional Service of Canada

    Process Intent

    The intent of this process is to establish a pool of qualified candidates that will be used to fill temporary and/or permanent positions at the Correctional Service of Canada National Headquarters in Ottawa, ON.

    In alignment with CSC’s Employment Equity Action Plan and Hiring Targets, please note that the initial selection of candidates for assessment will be limited to members of the following designated groups: Aboriginal, Visible Minorities, Persons with Disabilities.

    Should an insufficient number of candidates be identified, the remainder of the candidates within the area of selection will be assessed.

    Who Can Apply

    Useful Information

    Achieving a representative workforce has been identified as an organizational need in the merit criteria and shall be applied in this selection process. Consequently, only applicants who have indicated in their application that they are a member of one or more of the designated groups will be considered.

    You must meet BOTH of the following criteria:

    Open to: Members of the following Employment Equity groups: Aboriginal persons, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, women

    Persons residing or employed in Ottawa (ON) and within a 135 kilometer radius of Ottawa (ON), within Canadian territory, extending to, amongst others, Kingston (ON), Pembroke (ON), Maniwaki (QC), Rigaud (QC).

    Various language requirements
    English Essential
    Bilingual Imperative – Level BBB/BBB
    Bilingual Imperative – Level CBC/CBC
    Bilingual Imperative – Level CCC/CCC


    Useful Information

    A secondary school diploma or successful completion of a provincially/territorially approved secondary school equivalency test, or an acceptable combination of education, training and/or experience.


    Experience in providing administrative support services in an office environment.

    Experience in providing service to clients.

    Experience in the use of various software programs such as: Excel, Microsoft Word, Outlook, PowerPoint.

    Asset Qualifications

  • Emily Brewes

    I agree that if you’ve gotten as far as an interview, it should be about screening for fit. In my experience, many – not all, but many – jobs are not nearly as complicated as they’re made out to be, and most require the same set of about a dozen transferable skills. All things being equal, you need someone who fits best with your existing team, not someone who’s best at jumping through hoops in an interview.

  • Alfie

    Simon, I agree with your view. It is spot on. These days, interviewers are self-made ‘demi-gods’; providing a right answer to their interview questions can be likened to an athlete doing a 10,000 kilometer marathon in 2 hours. Instead of focusing more on objectivity to evaluate candidates’ answers, 9 out of 10 they end up being subjectively biased with their expctations of your response to their question. In the end, perhaps one can say that the right candiadate usually loose out.