Editor's note: This article is one in a series on how to answer some of the toughest job interview questions. Read previous articles on answering interview questions on such topics as your greatest weaknesses, your salary expectations, and why you are leaving your current job.
When you're interviewing for a new job, you might be asked, "Why should we hire you?" It's a straightforward question, but it can also be a loaded one.
This question is popular, and it's important to be prepared for it, said Michael Steinitz, Washington, D.C.-based executive director for accounting staffing firm Accountemps. If you research the organization and the person interviewing you beforehand, you'll be better equipped to give a strong answer, he said.
"You can tailor your response to show that you're not just a fit for the position, but for the organization as well," Steinitz said. "It's a sales pitch, to some extent."
What the hiring manager wants to learn
The main reason hiring managers ask this question is to determine your fit, said Steinitz.
"Overall, they want to see how you are able to articulate your strengths and what you bring to the table," he said. "Being articulate about your accomplishments shows what you can lend to the organization. They want to see how well you think on your feet, and they'll listen to the substance of your words to determine the depth of your understanding."
The question can also be a test of your confidence and poise, according to Nicole Gable, chief of sales for Accounting Principals, a national accounting staffing firm based in Jacksonville, Fla. "Answering it takes self-awareness and the courage to self-advocate in a professional manner, which is precisely what hiring personnel are testing in this question," she said.
What are some good strategies for answering the question?
The best strategy for crafting your answer is to identify the qualities and skill sets that would be key to success in the role and hit those points with anecdotal examples to back up your assertions, said Gable.
For example, if you believe the ability to work in a fast-paced environment is a key requirement for the employer you're interviewing with, talk about your experience in similar roles and give examples of how you have shown agility and quick turnaround, she said.
"Anyone can say that they are good at something, but backing up that statement with positive, concrete examples is a game changer," she noted.
What not to say
Remember, you're not being asked why you want the job, Gable cautioned. If you talk about why the job will be great for you as opposed to why you are the right choice for the employer, "you will miss an opportunity to solidify that you are a candidate well worth their investment," she said.
Also, be aware of the fine line between self-promotion and bragging.
"Appropriate self-promotion shows that you are self-aware and courageous whereas empty bragging is off-putting and often unbelievable," said Gable.
When discussing your accomplishments, share concrete results you've gotten, awards you've received, or feedback you've been given, which can showcase how you are different from your competition, she said.
"This will demonstrate that someone besides you found you to be top-of-class," she said.
Another way to keep from sounding arrogant is to talk about others who helped you achieve your successes.
For example, Gable suggested saying something like, "For the past three years, I was recognized by my company as a top performer, which is a source of pride and gratitude for me: Pride because the plan I implemented to hit my goals was a success and gratitude that I had such a great team (or manager) who helped and supported me all along the way."
This strategy is a good one as it helps establish you as a team player. "No one accomplishes anything 100% on their own and demonstrating that you are a person who recognizes this and is openly grateful for that is a differentiator," said Gable.
Answering the question "Why should we hire you?" as honestly as you can is the best course of action, said Andrew Broderick, CPA, manager of Schellman & Co. LLC, in Columbus, Ohio. Employment is a partnership that has to be right on both sides and the more candid you are, the better a potential employer can determine if you are a good fit, he pointed out.
"If you're not a match with what the potential employer is looking for, then it's probably a blessing in disguise" to find that out at the interview stage, he said, noting, "There is a good fit for everyone and you want to find that place that wants you for you."
— Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer based in Michigan. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.