'Why do you want to work for us?' Application and interview answers IT companies want

Don’t let this seemly innocuous question foul up your online application or interview for a graduate IT job.
'Why do you want to work for us?' Application question
...the question looks short, simple... Don’t be fooled.

‘Why do you want to work for us?’ ‘What attracts you to this position?’ ‘Why do you want this job?’ However it’s phrased, the question looks short, simple, and not something to waste too much valuable time on. Don’t be fooled.

There are actually several questions you need to answer here:

  • What do you know about the company and the position?
  • What evidence can you provide that you have an interest in the sort of thing we do?
  • What do you hope to get out of the job, apart from a salary?

‘Evidence’ of your interest should be just that. Saying ‘I’ve always wanted a career as a software developer in the financial services industry’ won’t cut the mustard. Naming relevant internships, projects, university modules or active involvement in relevant societies will do.

You should also be aware of the ‘unspoken questions’ that the recruiter will have in their mind as they analyse your response:

  • Are you serious enough about the job to have bothered researching us properly?
  • Do you have a realistic understanding of what the job actually involves?
  • Do you want the job?
  • If you accepted the job, how long would you stick around?

Recruiting and training graduates is a very expensive business. IT companies want to be convinced that the graduates they hire will be genuinely motivated to do the job and won’t leave after a few months or a year. You need to prove that you understand what the job is and that this fits in with your interests and long-term career goals.

Employers from leading IT companies were keen to discuss candidates’ research and motivations at the TARGETjobs IT Recruiters’ Forum 2012. As Gillian Bray, HR manager at CHP Consulting, puts it: ‘For a smaller company like us, we want to know that applicants really want to work for us. We want them to stay more than two years.’ Meanwhile a recruiter from a global IT company commented: ‘I think they really need to show that they believe in the company and what you do, that they’re choosing you.’

Good answers on your online application form

A good answer on an online application to the question ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ will therefore include:

  • Evidence that you understand the employer’s business
  • Evidence of interests or experience that relate to this
  • Clarification of your career goal and, if necessary, how this job will help you towards this.

See Online applications for technology graduate schemes and the TARGETjobs employer hubs for more help.

Good answers to ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ at interview

At interview you may be asked directly ‘Why do you want to work for us’, or you may be asked related questions about the job, company and your motivation for joining. Either way, keep the above points in mind.

Gillian Bray comments that when students get to interview, ‘Sometimes they don’t think about what the company actually does. In interview they should talk about how their experience relates to what we do, and what benefits our products bring to our clients.’

Lisa Amis, graduate recruitment administrator at Accenture, also highlights the importance of understanding the day-to-day job. She states: ‘We want to know if they understand how our lifecycle works, so we might ask them to describe the process, or what Accenture does.’

Good employer research plays a vital role – but what type of information will impress? ‘Candidates sometimes come into interviews and just regurgitate what’s on the homepage,’ states Steve Rodgers, recruitment manager (technology) at Ocado. ‘We want them to be able to tell us something that isn’t there.’ A fellow recruiter flags up her global company’s profusion of information sources, including a YouTube channel, which candidates can use to get beyond the basics.

Again, see the TARGETjobs employer hubs for help with your prep.

Bad application form answers that say ‘I don’t want this job’

In online applications, giving one-line answers to the question ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ suggests to IT recruiters the real answer is ‘Actually, I don’t’. Even worse, leaving in the wrong company name having copied and pasted the answer from an earlier application screams out both ‘I said the same thing to your competitors’ and ‘I’m really slapdash’.

Sadly, such mistakes are very common, and drive IT companies up the wall. Gwenyth Moore at IBM, for example, remarks that many candidates seem to use ‘a scattergun approach to applications’.

Why good employer research matters

Skimp on your research and you’ll end up resorting to empty flattery and waffle to fill space on your application. Both will go down badly.

‘I’d relish the opportunity to work for such a prestigious organisation…’ just screams out ‘I don’t know the first thing about you.’ Similarly, saying ‘I feel my unique blend of skills, experience and academic achievement makes me the perfect match for your requirements’ without actually stating what these are will get you nowhere. Recruiters see enough cliché-ridden applications every day as it is. Don’t let yours be one of them.