"Why do you want to work for us?" - Interview Question (Demystified)

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Introduction

Thanks to Jack Domleo (@jackdomleo7) for asking the question on twitter

which triggered a long set of discussions and debates on twitter which made me consolidate all of the discussions into this article and more.

In this article, I'm sharing my thoughts as an engineering manager, what I'm looking for as a response to the above question.

Disclaimer

Before we get into the details, I want to state that I have an overall experience in the software industry of around 16+ years working in Service, Product, and Start-up industries.

The second point is that by no means, I'm in support of or against asking the above-mentioned question in an interview.

The opinions expressed in this article are to clarify what I would want to know from the candidate when I ask the question 'Why do you want to work for us?' and also provide resources to any candidate looking to research a company.

What I am looking for when I ask the question?

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As an engineering manager, I'm looking for the following things when I ask the question:

  1. How much time did the candidate spend on researching the company?
  2. How much time did the candidate spend to understand the roles and responsibilities listed in the job description?
  3. Does the candidate understand how his/her skills will add value to build the products for the company?
  4. How much time did the candidate spend on general research beyond what his technical skills can showcase?

Let us look at each of them in detail.

Researching the Company

With the advent of the internet, it's no secret that anyone can find a multitude of information ranging from when the company was founded to what was the last destination the CEO had vacationed.

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A couple of sources that'll be helpful for research:

  • Company's website - What are their product offerings are? What are their mission, vision, and values? Where do they have offices located? Any news/press related information?
  • LinkedIn - It finds out from your current contacts who had previously worked or are currently working in the company. This information is 'GOLD' since you can directly reach out to them to get to know the internal workings of the company. Other than that, they also publish information about the company.
  • Glassdoor - Contains reviews and ratings about the company and it can be filtered by role, ratings, average salary, etc.
  • Crunchbase - If you are planning to join a start-up, then you MUST research the company on Crunchbase. It provides comprehensive information about the company such as founded date, investors, rounds of funding, the last funding date and amount, stage of start-up (Seed, Series A, B or C...), etc.
  • AlternativeTo - If you have an idea about the product you'll be working on, it'll be good to research this site. This is a unique website that provides information on alternate products that exist to the ones that the company offers. Most often, the companies building the alternate products are the direct competitors.

Job Description

While the job description published for a role contains many lists of requirements, it might be overwhelming. The trick is to focus and talk about how your strengths that match with the job description can add value to the company.

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For example, If you are applying for a company that makes software for the Insurance industry and if you happen to have prior experience working in the Insurance domain, it is important to highlight the following:

  • While technology might be your primary interest, how your knowledge of the insurance domain will sufficiently help you to ramp up on the domain understanding.
  • Since you already have the familiarity of the domain, you'll be able to build more efficient solutions.

X-Factor

Today for every developer position, there are 1000s of resumes that are being sent for the position and the hiring panel has to scan through each of them, shortlist and finally schedule them for an interview.

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Having made it so far, what can really tip your candidature in the favor of hire is the ability to showcase that you have something to offer that the company cannot resist saying no to.

Research and the ability to showcase what you understand about the company's products, what was the latest news release, etc. showcase to the interviewer that you have put in the time to go beyond applying for 'a' job.

While doing research, often you'll encounter a few questions that will be good to present at the end of the discussion when the interviewer asks, 'Are there any questions for me?'

Outliers

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A couple of points that were worth mentioning from the twitter discussions:

  1. As a complete newbie to the industry, I don't know how to navigate through the amount of information available on the internet.

    • This is often the most common cause. I would start off with what my skills can offer and look for what matches with the company. If there's no fitment with skills, then look for the commonality in terms of values, vision, etc.
  2. As a newbie, when I look at the job description, it contains a long list of skills and often I feel I'm not good enough.

    • This is definitely one of the things the industry must acknowledge and take necessary steps to course correct itself.
    • My recommendation would be to look at how your skills can add value to the company & focus on your strengths. As for things you don't know, you can always say that you are a fast learner and you'll be able to pick it up on the job.
  3. Should I be worried, if I don't answer this question well?

    • One of the candidates answered, 'Joining this organization would reduce my commute time a lot'. As you would have guessed, the candidate did not make it. While it might be a correct answer, it's not the one the company is looking for.
    • This question focuses more on the behavioral aspect of the candidature. If you aren't very confident after the extensive research you've done on the company, a simple alternative answer could be something like "My friends who are working/ have worked in this organization have/had recommended me to interview for the position, due to your outstanding work culture."

Closing Thoughts

As an engineering manager, I will certainly not make a hire/no hire decision solely based on this question.

However, if the candidate has done the required research and is able to articulate the findings in an efficient manner, it will tip the scales in the candidate's favor to be hired.

Personally, I've been surprised a few times when a candidate mentions a specific feature or a product that has been published on the company's website and how the candidate was interested to be part of joining the team that builds such exciting products.

In such cases, I do make it a point to highlight it in my hiring feedback and will emphasise on the value the candidate is likely to offer to the company. In my opinion, it does makes the candidate stand out amongst others.

This is my first article non-technology related article. It'll be interesting to find out what other engineering managers think of this question and whether they find any value to add this to their interviewing process.

Do let me know your feedback and thank you for reading this article.

Comments (4)

Chris Bongers's photo

So are you then pro or anti this question?

I agree with Jack and think it's a silly question. Why don't we change it into:

What do you know about us? (valid, they want to know what I researched ~ see your article comments) How would you make our company better? (what can i provide to the company, or would change)

Show +1 replies
Chris Bongers's photo

Skay 100%, Sorry might have came across as an attack, just sick like everyone else how broken the interview branche is.

But yes, thank you so much these will prepare you for a tough interview.

Skay's photo

Daily Dev Tips No harm done. 😊 To be honest, I've been on both sides of the table and I've been equally furious when I had encountered questions like these when I had just started out.

In fact, there were much more vicious attacks on the twitter thread and honestly it's just folks are reacting out due to bitter experiences which I can totally relate to.

I will try my best in my humble way to make things better rather than just complain about the system, since I'm essentially a part of the system.

And changing a system as a whole takes time and there are several things that need to click to enable that to happen. Until then, hoping I can inspire and bring awareness to as many folks as possible. The change is just a by-product of awareness.