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
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