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How to answer “Why should we hire you?” and other questions

Connecting your professional super powers to employers' desired business outcomes to get more high-quality job offers

You’re ready to make a change, so you throw your hat in the ring for a few opportunities that look interesting. You quickly get a couple of calls to set up interviews, talk to a couple of hiring managers, and…you don’t hear back.

This is frustrating because the company wouldn’t interview you if you didn’t look like a reasonable candidate on paper or if you didn’t come with a recommendation from your professional network.

So your resume and recommendations are strong enough to get interviews, but then the opportunities just sort of dry up.

What’s going on?

This is almost always a sign that the you need better positioning.

“What is positioning?”

Positioning is how you describe yourself as the hero this company needs, turning your skillset and experience into superpowers by matching them with the outcomes the business wants.

Let’s start with an example you may have experienced: Your sink is clogged and that’s a big problem because you have friends coming over for dinner later on.

You’ve tried all the normal tricks to get it unclogged, but it’s really clogged and you can’t seem to make any progress. It’s time to call a plumber.

You want to get the best plumber for the best price, so you call two plumbers and have them come out to take a look at your clogged sink and tell you if they can fix it.

The first plumber

The first plumber looks at the sink and you ask, “Can you fix it?” He says, “I think so. I have an opening tomorrow afternoon, and I can come by and take a shot at fixing it then.”

Ok, so that’s not really ideal. He can probably fix the clogged sink, but you have to wait until tomorrow—after your friends come over for dinner—before you can find out for sure.

Maybe the second plumber can do better.

The second plumber

The second plumber looks at your clogged sink. “Can you fix it?” He says, “Definitely. With these pipes and the city water, the problem is usually just that the p-trap is plugged up, and there might be some gunk in the pipes beyond the p-trap. I fix this sort of thing all the time. I have everything I need on the truck and I can fix it right now if you want me to go ahead and get started.”

The second plumber is clearly the better option—you prefer to work with him if possible—so let’s talk about how you might think about pricing in this case.

How would you think about the cost of each plumber?

For the first plumber, you might think something like, “What’s the lowest price I can pay this plumber to fix my sink?” For the second plumber, you’re probably thinking something like, “How much can I afford to have this plumber fix my sink today?”

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one: The second plumber has you thinking about the most you can afford to pay to have your sink unclogged today; the first plumber has you wondering how cheap it would be if you wait until tomorrow.

You’re mentally prepared to pay a lot more for the second plumber than for the first plumber.

Why?

Because the second plumber used positioning like a pro.

A before and after example

Here’s a more concrete example where you are the one trying to get hired.

Let’s say you’ve applied for a job as a software developer and you’re being interviewed by someone on the team you might work with.

Suddenly, you’re asked a common interview question that scares most people:

“Why should we hire you?”

You’re definitely qualified for the job, but this question catches you off guard, so you freeze up and say something like this:

“I’m a software developer.”

Maybe you elaborate a bit and mention the school you went to or the programming languages you’re familiar with. But in the end, your answer doesn’t really tell the interviewer anything new or compelling.

You’re not alone—that’s what most people would say! They might use more words, but their answer boils down to “I read the job description and I think I can do that job.”

Here’s what your answer might sound like when you leveraging strong positioning to stand out as the candidate for the job:

“You’re transitioning your application to Ruby on Rails, and I’ve been using Ruby on Rails for production client projects for two years. I can save your team a lot of time because I can start writing production code right away.”

Well, hello there! That’s a compelling answer that will impress your interviewer and significantly increase your chances of getting another interview and ultimately getting a high-quality job offer. And there’s a straightforward process you can follow to consistently give strong answers like the second one.

Learning about the job and company

In a nutshell, positioning is how you show a company that you’re the person they need for a specific job.

But how do you do that? How did the Software Developer know the company was transitioning their application to Ruby on Rails?

Research!

Basic research you should do for each opportunity

You’ll start with basic research and careful preparation for your interviews. Your goal is to learn enough about the company and job you’re pursuing so that you understand exactly what they need. Once you have that information, will tell them why you are exactly what they need.

Here’s a short list of things you should look for as you discover exactly what the company needs:

  • Company name
  • Company size
  • Mission statement
  • Company goals
  • Company challenges/struggles
  • Company website and jobs page (a link to the specific job listing would be great, plus a link to their generic jobs page)
  • What types of other jobs are they trying to fill right now? How many of each type?
  • A summary of what your know about the company from blog posts, news, experience with their products, etc.
  • Are they growing? How quickly?

Knowing that information before you go into an interview will help you be prepared to talk about the specific company and job you’re considering. And, more importantly, you’ll be able to tell a more detailed story about how their company will be better if you’re a part of it.

Where to find that information

So where do you start? There are two main places where you’ll find pretty much everything you need: their company website, and Google.

This doesn’t need to be complicated—you’re simply doing the work that others won’t do. Here are the types of information you’re looking for:

  • Company website—You’re particularly interested in their “Careers” or “Jobs” page, their home page, their About page.
  • News and articles about them—Are other people talking about this company? What are they saying?
  • Blogs—If they have a corporate blog, read a few entries to see what they’re talking about right now; if there are other blogs written about the company, see what others are saying about the company.
  • Financial statements—If the company is publicly traded, then they’re required to file 10-Q (quarterly) and 10-K (annual) financial statements. You don’t have to read the entire thing, but the first page is usually pretty enlightening.

In general, bigger companies will have more information available than smaller companies. That’s ok. For now, all you’re doing is building a list of data sources you can use.

Using your research to answer interview questions

Last time, you got a short list of things to look for as you discover exactly what the company needs. Most of the information is publicly available, and some companies will have more information than others. But that’s ok because you just need basic information to get through the first interview or two.

How can you help them achieve their goals and address their pain points?

This is the key question you want to answer before your interviews. When you can tell the hiring manager how you’ll help the company or team achieve its goals and address its challenges, they will want to hire you.

Remember, they’re interviewing you because they need to fill an open position. That position is open because the company has needs or challenges that the person who does that job will help address. So when you tell them that you’ll help them address those needs and challenges, and you tell them how you’ll do it, you’re saying, “I am the candidate you opened this job for.”

Why would they look anywhere else?

Here’s the formula:

  1. Identify needs and challenges the company or team has.
  2. Identify specific ways you can help them address those needs and challenges.
  3. Answer interview questions by telling them how you’ll help them address their needs and challenges.

Let’s go back to the very beginning. The question we’re considering is:

“Why should we hire you?”

Most people are intimidated by this question because it’s so vague and open-ended. Usually, they’ll say something like, “Because I’m a software developer.”

But that’s not good enough.

This is a softball question, the perfect setup for you to tell them how you’ll help them meet one of their goals or resolve a challenge they’re having! Take advantage of it!

If you’ve done your research before the interview, then the first thing you’ll do when confronted with this question is think, “What is their most urgent need or challenge?” It will probably be pretty obvious since you’ve spent time reading about their company, but it’s ok to just pick something from your list if there isn’t any particular outstanding one.

Now that you’ve identified their most urgent need, ask yourself, “How can I help them address that need?” You’ve already been thinking about this before the interview, so it’s a slam dunk.

Then you put them together into a nice, short answer that tells them how you’ll help them address their most urgent need with your skillset and experience.

Remember our plumber examples from earlier in the series? You asked them both the same question:

“Can you fix it?”

This is basically the same question as, “Why should I hire you?”

Before we revisit their answers, what are the most urgent needs you might have in that moment?

  • Fix the sink so you can use it.
  • Fix it quickly since you have company coming over.

Here are their answers:

Plumber 1: “I think so. I have an opening tomorrow afternoon, and I can come by and take a shot at fixing it then.”

Plumber 2: “Definitely. With these pipes and the city water, the problem is usually just that the p-trap is plugged up, and there might be some gunk in the pipes beyond the p-trap. I fix this sort of thing all the time. I have everything I need on the truck and I can fix it right now if you want me to go ahead and get started.”

Plumber 1 doesn’t address either of your urgent needs. He says he’ll take a shot at fixing it, and he can’t even try until tomorrow.

Plumber 2 nails them both! He tells you exactly why he’s confident he can fix it and offers to start working immediately.

But what about the price? Why isn’t that on the list? Because it doesn’t matter too much. Your two most important needs are fix it and now. Even if Plumber 2 is a bit more expensive, you’re probably willing to pay more to have this problem fixed right now.

This is also true when companies hire people. They have a range they’re able to pay to fill the position, and they’re more inclined to pay at the higher end of that range if they find the right candidate. You want to be that candidate.

Another look at our Software Developer example from earlier

Before we wrap up, let’s jump back to the software developer example we saw in the first part of the series. Now that you know how to use positioning to answer interview questions, see if you can spot the need and how the developer describes the solution when asked “Why should we hire you?”

“You’re transitioning your application to Ruby on Rails, and I’ve been using Ruby on Rails for production client projects for two years. I can save your team a lot of time because I can start writing production code right away.”

Do you see it now? The most urgent need this developer identified was a big transition to a new technology. The developer could directly help address that need because he had a few years’ experience with that specific technology.

All he had to do was tell the interviewer how he could help meet that need.

That’s an excellent use of positioning to answer a tricky interview question.

Case Study

I think the best way to give you a sense of how to turn the research you’ve done into a strong positioning statement is to show you how to do that.

Michael volunteered to be a case study for this process as he considered a Backend Engineer position at SimplyCredit. I sent the basic research outline to him and asked that he do the research and send back what he found. Then Eric Normand and I talked about the position and how Michael could use his research to stand out in his upcoming interviews.


Here’s Michael’s research for a company called Simply Credit:

Company name: SimplyCredit

Company website: https://www.simplycreditinc.com/

Company Careers page: https://www.simplycreditinc.com/careers

[The job posting isn’t online anymore, but it was for a backend engineer with functional programming experience.]

Mission statement:

Our mission is to redefine consumer lending to be fair and transparent. We believe in doing right by the consumer, and by everyone who works with us. We’re looking for exceptional individuals who take pride in their work and thrive in collaborative environments. Join our dedicated, experienced and ambitious team as we tackle this mission in a meaningful and lasting way.

Goals and pain points

  • Architect the backend to allow for sophisticated deployment of machine learning algorithms and data science
  • Design and build the data warehousing infrastructure
  • Define key workflow infrastructure including automated testing, continuous integration, and continuous deployments

Early stage company (founded 2015) in need of engineers to build out their platform. Handling customer personal financial information, so security is important. By their words, their engineering culture and direction is not fully defined.

Who are their customers?

Consumers looking to consolidate credit into a single solution while maintaining their existing credit cards.

How big are they? 1–10 people

Where are they located? San Francisco (Open to Remote)

Other job openings: None

Blog posts and news articles

SimplyCredit Raises $1.5M and Launches Platform for Paying Off Cardholder Balances

Recent financials (if public)

Raised $1.5 million in Sept 2015.

Ways I can help the company right now…

  • Experience integrating data science into existing applications.
  • Familiarity with different automated testing and continuous integration approaches, including building out automation at two different companies.
  • Familiarity with security concerns of software (worked on software for scanning vulnerabilities and checking PCI compliance).
  • Experience across the stack, so able to work in the frontend when needed.
  • Experience building and refactoring REST APIs.

Without doing this research, it would be difficult for Michael to stand out in his interviews as anything other than an experienced software developer. But look at the answer I improvsed for “Why should we hire you?” using Michael’s research:

“I’ve got 15 years of technical experience. I can see that your company is laser-focused on the product right now. You’re looking at all technical things. You’re only hiring for this engineering position. I can see you just raised a round. It feels like you’re trying to build a superior product to help consumers and protect consumers. I’m interested in helping you with that mission and I want to help you build a really solid product.”

That’s a lot more compelling than “I’m a software developer and you need one of those!”

Use this process for every new opportunity

Let’s go back to our Positioning definition from the beginning of this series:

Positioning is how you describe yourself as the hero this company needs, turning your skillset and experience into superpowers by matching them with the outcomes the business wants.

For each opportunity you pursue, do the research described above, and consider the company’s goals and challenges. Then think about how you can use your skillset and experience to help the company address those goals and challenges.

Do that for every opportunity and you’ll stand out from other candidates and get more high-quality job offers.