Cruising around the Internet, I came across one of my favorite job search topics: The open-ended question. At first glance, it seems harmless enough. If you're sitting across from an employer, they obviously liked your resume enough to invite you in for an interview. So a question like, "Why should we hire you?" should be a slam-dunk, right?
Photo credit: yngrich
However, open-ended questions can turn a friendly interview into an interrogation. Or at least it can feel that way. Some interviewees might be tempted to retort, "What do you mean, 'Why should I hire you?' Isn't that what we've been discussing?" Suddenly, that friendly interview vibe you had going is gone and you feel like maybe you're not a shoo-in for that dream position after all.
What happened? You've already addressed the basics: your classes, your experience, your strengths, your weaknesses, what you know about the company, what you know about the industry. What else can you say?
The catch is, every one who interviewed for the position answered those same questions&mdash:and probably answered them pretty well and in much the same way as you have. So these open-ended questions are where you can separate yourself from the competition, for better or worse. "Why should I hire you?" is more than just small talk. It is your chance to perform.
What You Bring to the Table
Ultimately the interview is your chance to explain what you can bring to the company, and how you will be a valuable, productive employee. That's what the interviewer wants to hear. But it's a fine line. You want to sing your own praises, but the answer to the open-ended question should not just be about you. It should reflect back to the company and how you can help them. They're offering you a salary, benefits, training, and a start to your professional career. What are you offering them?
Open-ended questions are not a trap and should not be treated as such. If you let your answer drift off course, you'll end up getting snagged. "Why should we hire you?" isn't an open invitation to provide an endless description of your potential benefits to the organization. Or, worse yet, a rambling, incoherent monologue that clearly shows you're unprepared and, most unfortunately, easily rattled.
In your interview preparation, you should always expect open-ended questions, and do plenty of practice. The best way to stay on course, naturally, is practice. Would you go into a class presentation cold? Of course not. And neither should you be winging the answer to these this all-important questions.
And know this: No matter how it's packaged, the question is going to come. "Why should I hire you?" "Tell me about yourself." "What separates you from the other candidates?" They're leaving the specifics to you, so that means you've got to deliver about a 90-second audio billboard about your experience, education, and professionalism that ties directly into the job you're after. While practicing, focus on your strengths and make your pitch conversational. Discuss what makes you an ideal candidate for the position and give plenty of concrete examples based on past experiences to support your points:
- "I am diligent to the point of being a perfectionist. For example, during my internship my supervisor commented..."
- "I'm always willing to go the extra mile. For my senior year team project..."
- "I think my leadership skills put me above the rest. As fraternity president, I led a fundraising effort..."
Think about your answers and polish them. Make them natural. The more you talk them through—to your career counselor, professor, friend, mentor, the mirror—the smoother, and less rehearsed, they will sound.
This Is Your Sales Pitch
Reiterate—without regurgitating word by word—why your experience puts you a step ahead of everyone else being interviewed. Explain how what you did in and out of the classroom makes you a more well rounded candidate. Describe the way your poise and presence will make you a valued member of the team.
When faced with "Why should I hire you?" remember that there are as many "right" answers as there are applicants. Your answer should be as unique as you are. It should reflect your style and personality. Without hyperbole or distortion, you should shape your response to fit the job and company.
It's your story. Make it the best it can be. And never get caught off guard when someone asks, "Why should I hire you?"