'Why do you think you are suitable for this job?' Part 2: at interview

Interviews for IT graduate schemes include explaining why you are suitable for the job. Here's how to show your interviewer that you match the company's requirements.
If you have a lot of experience in a different role, show your suitability by drawing on areas of crossover.

Whether you’re going for a graduate job as a programmer, network engineer, web developer or something else entirely, expect to answer the question ‘Why do you think you are suitable for this job?’. In part 1 we examined how to prepare to demonstrate your suitability and what to write on your online application. Here in part 2 we reveal what to say at the job interview.

Showing your suitability at the job interview – the basics

At interview you may be asked directly ‘Why are you suitable for this job?’, or it might be implicit within many other questions, such as ‘What can you bring to this organisation?’, or ‘Give an example of a time when you had to prioritise conflicting tasks’. Essentially, the whole interview covers this topic so keep your research in mind throughout. If there are any key points that you don’t get a chance to work into your answers, raise these later in the interview, for example if asked ‘Is there anything else you’d like to add?’

Show your suitability by:

  • Drawing on examples of when you have applied the relevant skills in a practical context, rather than just saying you’ve studied them.
  • Reflecting back how specific technical skills are worded on the job description. If it mentions Microsoft Access, name this specifically rather than referring to ‘a Microsoft database package’.
  • Knowing the company’s products. Show you’ve used the websites they run or played the games they make and, if possible, mention how you think they compare with competitor products.
  • Making sure you can talk with passion about at least one relevant technology or other aspect of the role, and sound enthusiastic and informed about the world of technology in general.

Raeeka Yassaie, university and HR programme manager at Imagination Technologies, looks for graduates who have thought carefully about how they match the job and make this clear at interview. She explains: ‘We are looking for a strong awareness of how the skills sets (both technical and non-technical) the individual has developed in their academic and extra-curricular experience are relevant to the position. We are looking for the interviewee to have a good grasp of what the role requires and make it easy for us to see their enthusiasm and interest in the role.'

Raeeka continues: ‘It’s great if somebody can be quite specific about their answers, eg “I have spent some time writing Open GL ES demos and also focused on a graphics-based project for my final year project, which is a good starting point to continue my understanding of OpenGL and graphics in the role” rather than a more generic or vague response that forces us to do the legwork to make the connection. Make it easy for interviewers to see you fit the bill!’

Amelia Scott agrees that it is important for candidates to be clear about the skills and experience they have that will help them to do the job well. She states: ‘It’s important to be able to use examples and avoid talking in generalities; generic responses should be avoided at all costs! Saying for instance, “I’d be good at the job because I’m motived, ambitious and have strong technical skills” would be a poor response because it’s subjective rather than objective and we don’t actually learn anything from that statement.’ 

Prove you want THIS job – even if your background doesn’t match

Show you understand and want the role in question, not a different role or simply any IT job. If you’re being interviewed for a tester role, don’t go on at length about your experience in IT support. However, if you do have a lot of experience in a different role, show your suitability by drawing on areas of crossover. If you have an IT support background but are interviewing for a tester role you could stress your experience in diagnosing problems and following test plans to identify faults. Or, for a developer role, you could mention that your time in IT support included making coding changes to the company intranet.

Hint how you could be useful in future

You can also hint at your long-term suitability by dropping in passing references to skills/knowledge that aren’t on the job description, but might potentially be of use to the company at some point. For example, the job you’re being interviewed for might not require knowledge of PHP, but if the company is involved in web development it might come in useful in future. The trick is to have an idea what skills could realistically be of use if the role changes or you get promoted, but to keep the mention brief enough that the recruiter does not think you have misread the job description or that you have a burning desire for a job that will utilise these skills right away.

Questions about skills you don’t possess

You don’t need every single skill on the job description to be a suitable candidate. Your ability to pick up new technologies or other skills quickly – and your willingness to do so – is just as important. Show you understand what skills will be important and express keenness to learn them. Reinforce this message by mentioning a previous occasion on which you have successfully learned a new skill off your own back. Amelia suggests: ‘Make sure you do some basic research so you can at least say, “I haven’t used […] yet but I’ve heard about it and I think that […] and I’m keen to learn more”.’ You can use this tactic in different scenarios, whether it’s convincing a recruiter that it’s not a problem you don’t currently know a particular programming language or demonstrating that you would be willing to get stuck in to all the rotations on a graduate scheme even though they don’t all match your background. This will go down much better than pretending to have a skill you don’t. ‘A skill is something you are competent at,’ stresses Steve Rodgers, recruitment manager – technology and business support at Ocado. ‘So candidates should not try to fob off the interviewer by highlighting something they’ve only done once – once does not equate to competence!’

Interview weirdness is testing your suitability too

Be aware that ‘odd occurrences’ in interviews tend also to be attempts to assess your suitability – often, your interpersonal skills. It’s not always possible to tell precisely what is being assessed, but whether the interviewer unexpectedly fires an unanswerable question or demands you discuss your favourite vegetable, the ability to stay calm and go with the flow will leave a positive impression.