Job Search

Do You Know Why You Want That Job?

want job

You’ve got all your answers ready to the questions you expect an interviewer to ask.

You’ve even drummed up an almost believable description of your biggest weakness. But during your interview, the hiring manager throws a curveball and asks, Why do you want this job?

You blink a few times, and then you hear yourself telling the manager what a great company it is, how you’re a great fit, and how you’re really impressed with the team.

Too bad. You just missed an opportunity to shine.

Most job seekers make the same mistake, says Kelly Studer, a former hiring manager who now runs a career-coaching business. When she used to interview candidates, Studer recalls that, “one after another tried to win me over by selling me on how they were a fit for the job, even if they weren’t.”

But when Studer would ask why the candidate wanted a particular job, she rarely got a thoughtful answer. “Most of the time, it sounded like a ‘should’ more than a ‘want,'” says Studer. “The rare candidates who could make the connection between their passions and the job often got it.”

Ask Yourself This Question Before Your Next Interview

About to send a cover letter? Hang on. Before you apply to any job, and ideally before you start your job search, be sure you are clear about why you want a particular job. Dig deep to find out what might really make you happy to go to work every day. “You need to know what you want and why,” says Studer.

Most job seekers have a broad idea of what they want, but it is too broad to offer much guidance. When you keep your options wide open, you lose focus. You will start looking for so many types of jobs that you can easily wind up landing one far from your original intention. That is, if you even manage to get hired.

When you are vague in your own thinking, you are less likely to show the energy and enthusiasm that impresses hiring managers. Someone who can convincingly convey motivation will likely get the job.

“When someone asks what you want to do next, be sure your answer is so clear that the other person can tell how important it is to you and how confident you are about it,” says Studer. Your goal is to give them a distinct impression that you know exactly who you are and want you want.

Take the time to drill down to the specifics of your ideal job. Keep asking yourself why, as well. Say you want to be a portfolio manager. Clarify what aspects of that career, or the specific opportunity, motivates you. Do you want to manage money beacase it pays well, because it is what your father did or because you are good at it? Do you want a particular job because it comes with a higher salary? Because the team is more talented? Because it will involve a shorter commute?

It might sound like a simple exercise–too simple to matter much. But you might find when you start asking yourself questions, the answers don’t come as easily as you expected. Once they do come, you will be much closer to landing not just a job, but one that–almost–doesn’t feel like work.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.