Thursday, 17 November 2011

The dreaded interview question

My wife and I disagree all the time. This probably comes as no surprise to any married person. She thinks I’m on the Autistic Spectrum. Naturally, I disagree. I do concede she might have a point though. I am very black and white, and sometimes fail to see the real intent behind what people are saying. One such situation arose today. I’m in a redundancy consultation process at work and so I’m looking for another job. Today I had an interview. The company was about a 45 minute commute away so I wasn’t really considering this as an ideal job opportunity. Still, I went along to the interview just to get in the zone since it was nearly 6 years since I last had an interview (my wife disagreed, of course : “Why would you want to interview for a job you don’t really want”). I sat down in the interview room and straight away the interviewer hit me with the dreaded question : “Why do you want to work for Acme Ltd?” (name changed to protect the innocent). I hate this question, and surely the people who ask this must know what a crap question this is. I mean, how the hell are you supposed to answer it? You’re between a rock and a hard place. I quickly went through the options in my head

1) Lie and come up with some bullshit, cringingly sycophantic answer

2) Be honest

I chose option 2. I said “I’m looking for work and I was put forward here by my agent. I hadn’t heard of your company prior to the agent telling me about you”. Not a great answer, but it was honest. And they didn’t recoil in horror, although I’m sure I didn’t earn many points for it.

“Did you look at our website?”

“Yes” I replied truthfully, preparing to add further qualification. And then I thought ‘I better stop there’. I understand where they’re coming from. I know what they’re getting at. They want you to care, to show you’ve researched the company. But please.

I had looked at their corporate website. It told me that they can help me reduce business risk and increase my ROI. It had quite a nice flashy, slideshow thing showing pictures of people with unbelievably perfect teeth and even more perfect hair, looking thoughtfully at a laptop. I Googled the company which turned up the corporate website and a couple of inconsequential and uninformative paragraphs on a couple of business news sites in the first five pages of hits.

There was nothing that told me anything about why I would want to work for this company. I’m a developer, I write software, I build it, I fix its’ bugs. What I care about is the tools and the technologies and working with like-minded talented individuals in a dynamic, intellectually stimulating environment. None of this I can glean from a bland corporate website or a few tidbits thrown up by Google. I can only know this once I’ve worked there. And interviewers, you should realise this! Let’s be honest, if you’re hiring a developer then unless you’re called Apple or Microsoft or Google or are headquartered in southern California (and not some identikit office in a business park on the outskirts of Chippenham) they’re not going to want to work for you any other reason than financial necessity. That’s not to say they won’t do a good job or be a valuable employee. Most techies are proud people, who take their competence and professionalism seriously. Respect of your peers is what it’s all about. Not to mention that keeping a roof over your head is a very effective motivator.

All that said, I wasn’t happy with the answer I gave. It was honest, but a little too glib. After the interview I thought about this and how I could answer it honestly, without selling my soul to the devil but also intelligently. I decided that henceforth, this will be my stock answer to this terrible question :

“I care about the work I produce, the tools I work with and the people who I collaborate with. I like to work in a stimulating environment, where I can feel that I can contribute. If this is what [insert name of company] provides, then I would very much like to work here”. I like this because it allows me to answer the question positively and without a whiff of bs. It might come off as a bit “what can you do for me”, but it’s honest and a bit more eloquent than the answer I gave.

Of course, if you are actually going for a job at an organisation that you’ve coveted and you do get asked the question, then the answer is easy. But I’m neither talented enough to pick who I work for or altruistic enough to work for an organisation that inspires me (i.e. doesn’t pay much. Hey, I have a family to keep J ).

On returning home from the interview, I was telling my wife about the dilemma and asked her how she would answer the question. “Look at their website and lie”. Well, she would say that wouldn’t she.


  1. Sometimes I feel crippled sitting around the interviewer’s desk and being bombarded with questions. Wish I had the perfect answer to each and every question.

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    1. This is wonderful. I would be making some soon.

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