“Why Do You Want the Job?”: Your Words Lost and Found

How do you answer this question when you just can’t find the words?

Yesterday as I was scrolling down my LinkedIn home page, I came across a short article written in Norwegian where the author was responding to job seekers who often asked him why they hadn’t been called in for an interview after sending in what they thought was a well-written application. Although his answer included the standard line about a cover letter’s need to be brief yet concise, include education and experience, etc – it was the final piece of advice that caught my eye:

‘[Your letter] needs to express your motivation for filling the role and succeeding at it.’

It’s just an indirect way of telling you that you’d better be able to answer the question, “Why do you want the job?” in writing.

At this point I wish to offer my condolences to you if your enthusiasm for seeking new employment dies a quick death as you – along with many, many other people – find yourself at a loss for words when trying to put your thoughts into words in answer to what is after all a standard question.

My sympathy comes from my own imagining how the following thoughts are now bouncing around your mind and where they got formed in the first place:

  • you came to class thinking that you want a job because you need a job
  • you worry that you’ll appear terribly egotistical if you answer in any way other than modestly (“I would like the job because I am a hard-working, motivated person…”)
  • you believe that you have to use big words beyond your vocabulary to grab the attention of/impress the reader (in your case: hiring manager)
  • similarly, you know from reading enough on the Internet that writing today needs to be clever and – above all! – catchy in order to (again) grab the attention of/impress the reader (in your case: hiring manager)
  • because of all the above, you feel like you’re being pushed into being someone you’re not (a wordy, expressive person) even though you know without a doubt that you can do this job just fine if they’ll just give you the chance to do it

That’s it for my sympathy – now here’s what we do in class and what you need to do. Quite simply, put your computer away for awhile and ‘talk this question out’ with another human being.

All this person needs to do is ask you, ‘Why do you want this job?’ And then they listen. You just start talking…and continue talking while doing your best to answer the ‘why’ in the question. Start getting lost and wandering off the subject? Don’t worry, hit your restart button and take it from the top. I want this job because…

After awhile you’ll notice that certain words and phrases – hmm, rather good ones – keep popping up over and over again. Write these down in any order and don’t get uptight about grammar, spelling, etc., while doing so.

When you’ve five or six of these down, choose the best and put them into a sentence or two, this time taking care to write and spell correctly to the best of your ability. Do these words now reflect who you are and how you think? If not, keep going until they do.

This is because if your writing is genuine, it won’t contain any worn out old buzz words which I imagine hiring managers are tired of reading (‘a results-oriented team player who likes challenges’).

That’s a good thing – these people are human like the rest of us, and respond positively to people who are real and truthful and whose writing reflects these important qualities.

Without a doubt – you’ll show anyone reading your words – the ones you put work into getting just right – just why the very person you believe is most qualified for the job is you.

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