“Why do you want to work here?”
I’ve been working since I was 16 years old. That’s 22 years. Back then, I wanted a job to have some extra cash so I had more independence and could pay for gas and my own food. In 22 years of working, the motivations haven’t changed much. Now, independence means rent and other bills but the primary objective of being an employee is still to get some money and be able to live on my own. I point this out because the question, in question, doesn’t acknowledge the way we have been conditioned to answer it:
“I really want to work here because I just love the mission and what you all are doing…”
Or something along that line, right?
You wouldn’t dare tell a potential employer the you want to work for them because they have a job and you have bills… even though that’s pretty accurate (in my experience at least)… Especially in the middle of this pandemic where so many people have lost a source of income… Especially if it’s a low wage job or a job that requires weird schedule commitments. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you show up to work and give a lack luster effort. I would recommend that we give our best effort to any commitment that we make, even if we don’t love what we’re doing. Of course, in the case of a first job or a first time working in a particular role, how would you know whether you love it or hate it? What you know is that you have bills, you have desires, and both require money.
In 22 years of working I have learned quite a bit about what I like doing with my time and I have learned a lot about what I don’t like doing with my time. I’ve learned a lot about what I’m good at and what I’m not good at… what I can tolerate and what I can’t tolerate.
One thing that I’ve looked for in jobs since leaving Engineering is some level of being physical. It can be walking, moving things, landscaping, etc. I don’t like sitting still all day in front of a computer or on a phone. I am much more likely to stick with a job if I can move around regularly. I also like solving a variety of problems (no surprise there). Everything from figuring out a manufacturing bottle neck to acting as an intermediary between coworkers in conflict. I like having to think critically to execute the mission. And, I don’t want to feel moral conflict with what I’m doing. I don’t want to feel like I’m bankrupt in terms of integrity with self. I don’t expect any company to be perfect and life is filled with contradiction, but don’t ask me to knowingly compromise my own values.
If I can find a job that meets those characteristics, I’m likely to want to stay. It would be nice to be in love with the company ahead of time but how likely is that? How likely is it that you are passionate about a job with a company whose internal culture you know nothing about? Asking me on the interview ‘Why do I want to work for this company?’ is like asking on a first date ‘Why do you want to get married to me?’. We just met each other. Let’s give it some time.
Okay, all jokes aside, it’s not a silly question but given the nature of working since I’ve been doing it, whenever you ask a potential new-hire, “Why do you want to work here?”, there’s sort of a ‘right’ answer and a ‘wrong’ answer. Social convention plays a role in how you answer the question. ‘Right’ being something about interest, love, alignment etc. ‘Wrong’ being something about money, benefits, schedule, etc. I’d rather be asked questions that give me the room to give honest answers:
- What was your favorite aspect of your last job and why?
- What’s been the best job you’ve ever had and why?
- What parts of past jobs have you struggled with?
- Are you a person that likes being active at work or would you prefer to be stationary?
- Are you extroverted and really thrive off of lots of social interaction or do you prefer more quiet and solitude?
- What’s your ideal pay? (I know this isn’t everyone, but I feel like when I was growing up it was almost taboo to ask how much a job paid in the interview. It was like you wanted to give the impression that it wasn’t important. Obviously it’s not the only thing but pay is important.)
What’s been beautiful about getting older is the ability to identify situations where I’m going to thrive and situations where I’m going to suffer based on an increased understanding and awareness of myself and the world around me. Understanding and awareness that certainly weren’t well developed as I was looking for my first internship in college.
Maybe the economic woes of this pandemic and the financial aid that’s gone out to people will help us begin to shift how we interview and select people for job roles. Things like pay, benefits, and schedules have become massively important in the last year. Maybe it’ll become less taboo to be interested in a job purely for the money/benefits/schedule and be honest about it in an interview. After all, with the right characteristics, jobs that were chosen for money may become jobs of interest that lead to a person becoming passionate about the role. I think it’s okay to be honest about that progression.