“With many highly qualified candidates who have applied for this position, why should we hire you?” How to answer. [TWEET]

No matter how much you expect that question in an interview, it can be a challenging one to answer. On the surface, it sounds like the hiring manager wants you to demonstrate the fit between your skills and the job requirements. However, there is more to this question than meets the eye.

Frankly, I do not like asking that question. In my experience, it has never proven to be a good use of the precious little time I had to spend with a candidate. I think of the candidate pool as a Bell Curve. You have your terrible choices on the far left, superstar choices on the far right, and everyone else in the middle.

The common job interview question of “Why should we hire you?” is geared towards the left tail of the curve, aiming to minimize the possibility of hiring someone who is not qualified. I prefer to spend my interview time focused on spotting those superstars on the far right!

If your hiring manager does not share my opinion, my suggestion is to hear the question behind his question, and address it clearly. You may also consider steering the hiring manager towards that right tail. Demonstrate your qualifications, and highlight value you can add to the company.

Interviewing is an art form. Memorizing a standard script does not serve you. Here is a guide to building your answer to the tricky "why should we hire you", step by step.

1.  Acknowledge the difficult nature of the question.

In all fairness, even with all the research you have done into the company, you will likely never know how you stack up against other candidates. Depending on the openness of the hiring manager, you may or may not have real insight into the issues that the department is facing. As a result, it is difficult to be specific about why you are a better fit than other candidates. I suggest being upfront about that. For example:

“That is a complex question. I have not met the other candidates, so it is difficult to compare myself to them. Based on the conversation with you, I am beginning to get a better sense for the challenges your team faces, and how I will be able to help.”

2. Briefly reiterate the fit between your qualifications and the requirements of the position.

Candidates often make the mistake of going into great detail on this point. Remember that the hiring manager has your resume and cover letter. If you have done a good job on those, they already demonstrate whether you qualify for the position. If you did not pass the initial qualifications test, you probably would not be sitting in an interview.

Answer “why should we hire you” by addressing the mutual benefit that would result from the hiring decision.

“I have been listening closely, and you have described the need for someone who has exceptional project management skills. In my role at ABC Company, I have built a track record of managing complex cross-functional projects and keeping them on time and on budget.”

3. Speak to your ability and willingness to learn quickly.

Even if you are looking at an opportunity that is a natural extension of what you did in your most recent job, every company is a little different. There are new systems to learn, different procedure protocols to follow, and a unique mix of personalities to work with. Address your ability to hit the ground running, and learn quickly when you answer this common job interview question.

“I know that every company does things a little differently. In my past transition into the role of the Project Manager at ABC Company, I found that building rapport with key players, and immersing myself into the company’s philosophy and workflow, helped me get up to speed quickly. I was proficient and productive within weeks, and able to make recommendations for process improvement within a couple of months.”

4.  Redirect and ask THEM a question.

Use what you know, offer an observation, and turn the question back to the hiring manager. This strategy, similar to the the Aikido method of using the opponent’s strength and momentum against him, can take a little practice – yet the powerful impact is worth it.

“From what I have read and heard you describe, it sounds like your company is balancing explosive growth with responding to increased regulatory pressure. This creates a unique challenge of playing offense and defense at the same time, and takes a special set of skills to manage correctly. What is your take on it?”

5. Demonstrate that you are personable and likable.

In my experience, hiring managers choose candidates that they like and trust. Position yourself as likeable and personable, both through your demeanor in the interview, and in response to behavioral questions.

This a difficult one to do on cue or by script in a genuine way. The best trick I have found for tackling common job interview questions like this is to enter the interview with a mix of curiosity and excitement. If you show up stiff, anxious, and awkward, even the best interviewer might mirror your demeanor, setting off a vicious cycle. Instead, do your best to focus on the hiring manager, and use this as an opportunity to have a conversation.

In closing, think about coming back to the question of “Why should we hire you?” at the end of the interview. You may pose this question to the hiring manager as the conversation wraps up:

“Given what we have discussed so far, do you have any questions or concerns about my fit for this position?”

Does this seem scary and forward?

Sure, you could just rely on non-verbal clues and second-guess how well you did for the next three days. Or you could ask the question and find out where you stand.

If the answer is “No, you seem like a perfect fit,” you have confirmation that you have answered all of the interviewing manager’s questions to his satisfaction. If he mentions something that he sees as a gap (lack of direct experience, not enough technical background, etc.), thank him – and address the point on the spot or as part of your thank-you note after the interview.

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