Most people blow it, but when answered correctly, this question will give you an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and impress your interviewers.
This is a question asked at every interview. Even if it’s not explicit, it defines the very essence of the interview process. They are deciding if you are the person to hire for this role. In looking at how to answer this specific question, we unlock the secret to interviewing effectively in general.
It might seem less relevant at the moment, as companies struggle to find employees amid the Great Resignation. The value of a good answer remains, though, throughout all job market conditions. Even if the job offer is almost fait accompli, the interview is the first impression you make to the company. A better first impression sets you off on the right tone and may even speed your time to a promotion. Would you rather be the guy they hire because “yeah, he’ll do for the job” or the one about whom they say, “wow, this guy is amazing; we need to get him.”
Let’s consider the question itself: Why should I hire you? As I note in Chapter 3: Interviewing in The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You, you need to show, not tell. That is, you need to not just make a statement, but provide proof.
Anyone can say, “I’m a hard worker.” In fact, most people do make that claim during the interview process. Unfortunately, this statement doesn’t distinguish you in any way. Worse, if 95% of the people say it, it makes you look no different than 95% of the people.
Now consider the answer, “I’m a hard worker. Three years ago, we had our biggest client make a key change two weeks before a critical deadline. Our manager just left for an important weeklong trip to Asia. Knowing that time was tight and that we had to make the change, in addition to doing my own work I stepped in and coordinated the project. I was typically staying until about 11pm each night but knew we had to get this right to keep the important client. We got the change done just in time and kept the client.”
Anyone can say, “I’m a hard worker.”
In the first case you told them something, “I’m a hard worker.” In the second, you showed them that you were. It provides evidence and it does so in a way that is unique to you. No one else can tell that story.
The showing can be done through examples like prior work you’ve done. It could be your actions or your outcome. Alternatively, it could be what someone said about you, e.g. “My boss at my last company once said, ‘In twenty years of managing I’ve never seen someone as dedicated as you.’ He’s one of my references so you can confirm that with him.” In some cases, it’s third-party validation, such as an award, certificate, or completed training program. Some of these may not be unique, perhaps multiple people were in your degree program, but it’s certainly a much smaller set of people who completed that program than those who can make a generic claim like, “I’m very smart.”
You need to show, not tell.
It also helps make you memorable. A good, unique example helps you stand out. This is especially important in the early and mid-stages of your career when you’re not as differentiated from other candidates. By the time you become an executive you have a unique path that no other executive has. But five, ten, even fifteen years into your career, your experience may not be that significantly different from others at first glance. Obviously, it’s technically unique, but two people who each ran a six-person fintech engineering team for two years may not be all that different from each other in management experience. Conversely, the particular example you give to a general question helps to separate you from other candidates.
No matter how you answer that question, or really any question in an interview, the key is to show, not just tell. As we’ll see in next week’s article, How to Be Compelling at Your Annual Review, this applies post-interview as well and can help you accelerate your career once you have the job.