Job Hakr

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search


How to answer: “Why do you want to work here?”

“Why do you want to work here?'“ in the Student Affairs Job Search

“Why do you want to work here?'“ in the Student Affairs Job Search

So…. Why do you want to work here? For many job seekers this is going to be the inevitable first question.  Seems pretty simple right? You should just respond “Because you have an opening and I need a job.”



The thing to remember about the job interview is…. that it’s that: an interview. An interview is supposed to be a two way conversation. So at this point the interviewer is still sizing you up; still comparing you against the rest of the pool.  Of course you want the job. But at this point you have to show the institution how you would be a benefit to them.

Until you get to the point where the college or university wants to bring you on, the interviewers are still looking for reasons to eliminate you from the pool.

And a bad response to “Why do you want to work here?” might just do it for you…

So how do you address this? Well, first thing’s first. You need to empathize with your interviewer and understand the very basic nature of this question. They are really asking you two questions: 1) Why do you want to work for this institution? 2) Why do you want to work in this position?

The simplicity of this question is why it makes it more complex and nuanced to answer. 

Breaking it down

The interviewer is asking you this question because they need to know if you are completely interested in this job. They want to know how much you know about the institution, its students, the field, and the requirements about what it’ll take for you to succeed here.

Ideally you want your interviewer to come away from your answer with sense of confirmation. Demonstrating your communication skills, empathy, creativity, common sense, and a feel for the how office functions are key takeaways for them. To go the extra length, really identify with the interviewer and look at the situation, their hardships, and difficulties from their perspective. Conveying all of this and more in a tight and punctuated response is imperative to answering this question.

In the end, the interviewer is asking this standard question to see if there is an initial alignment: if there is a fit. They are trying to find out if you’ll fit in with the culture of the institution.  They want to understand WHY you even applied for this job and if you’re likely to bounce from this position or ride out the role.

Alignment: do you fit?

The best way to answer this question is to show the interviewer that you fit. The best way to demonstrate that is to ensure that you’re as prepared as possible for the interview. That means doing at least some research about the institution, the department, the role, and the responsibilities.

Ask yourself how you feel you’d accomplish those duties. What are the most exciting responsibilities for you? How can you translate your current workflow into this position?

The best way to do this is to relate your current experiences and how the skills you’ve currently developed fit WELL into this position. Then talk about your career goals and how they match with the institution’s direction, the department, and your responsibilities.  You want to draw an authentic road map for them. They should understand what you hope to achieve with your time at the institution. It should be clear how you plan to serve the institution and how a mutually created relationship is really to the benefit of all involved.

Doing your research

The best part about getting this question during the interview? Is knowing that it’s coming. That means that you can get ahead of it, anticipate it, and then address it quickly, succinctly, and convincingly for your interviewer. You can do that by researching the opportunity and everything attached to it.

Completing this research is crucial in your ability to discuss the role and in the institution and then convince the interviewer that you are a solid choice.  That way this seemingly benign question can be pivoted to serve YOU and your talking points about how great of a candidate you are.

A candidate who has done their research for the role is going to better show genuine and authentic enthusiasm for the part. Enthusiasm that can be contagious for you and your interviewer.

Of course doing that research is no easy matter. It can take days to fully pull together all of the necessary details to determine how this position matches your skill sets. That’s why I began offering briefing books as a way for candidates to get ahead of the competition by completing a thorough research document for them.

But if you want to DIY it then know that completing proper research for a position requires at least three areas to best address this question: knowing the institution, knowing the position, and knowing the interviewer / hiring manager.

Online media goldmine

But how are going to start this research on your own? The best way is to just find what the institution has to offer online. Look for college and university press releases and news articles. Examine the mission statement, vision statement, and presidential announcements. Also don’t forget about checking out the all forms of social media from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat to other lesser known channels. All of these avenues are goldmines for finding out more information about the institution.

Remember, that you’re looking for alignment here. Where do you see yourself fitting in based on the company’s values, and what you can bring to the position?

Specifically we’re looking at how you can find all of that great common ground between what the college and university does and what and what you can do for it.  That means that the best answer you can give to this question is one that DIRECTLY ties the institution’s mission, vision, and culture with your own skills, experiences, and goals. This means focusing upon the touch points that the institution includes in their mission and vision statements and what you can do to support it.

A shoe-in for the position is a candidate that is not only familiar with the institution, but also one that is well read and versed in what the role in its entirety entails.

Where your goals fit in

So ideally want you want to create is a clear alignment: a comparison of your career goals and how the institution matches them. You’ll need to determine what those are first before arriving for the interview. But after you do that, you will want to drop key information with terms from the job posting that align with your objectives and the duties for the position.

If you’re still struggling to come up with an answer to this basic question then do this: find one aspect about the institution, the people, or the role that resonates with you. Focus on that and use it as a main talking point of why you’re speaking with the interviewer right now.

This can be anything. But you should really focus on what you say being authentic and true. Talk about something the institution values: high student engagement, a liberal arts curriculum, a dedication to community service. Perhaps indicate that working for a small team or a demanding case load is for you.

Insightful advice

Your number one goal at this stage of the process is to be THE candidate that they want to hire. The perfect person that they see filling this role.  Of course you can do this by reading directly off your resume. But they could have done that without you. You’re here BECAUSE they think you would be a good fit. That means communicating to the interviewer things that they couldn’t learn by reading your resume.

This is where story telling comes into play. Share your experiences, your lessons, and your triumphs, with you at the center of an epic story that will leave the interviewer rooting for you as the underdog that beat all of the odds.  Because of that, there will never be a “template” response to this question. It has to be customized for people, roles, and institutions alike.

How to approach

Remember to combine your research, your personal career goals, and your stories of your past experience into this answer. You will want to share that content confidently, specifically, and enthusiastically to the interviewer. If it helps: you can find at least three main talking points to share before going into detail.

A consistent way to start would be to share your student affairs story: how you got interested in the field and what lead you here to this position today. Add information about past experiences and positions you’ve held, and how you would like to make this new opportunity a new set of challenges to explore. Detail how you, as the hero of the story, aren’t finished yet. That this is the next big quest on the horizon for you.

Above all you need to share your alignment, enthusiasm, and positivity for this role in a way that make sense for both parties: a win for the institution and a win for yourself.

Some examples

If you’re still having some challenges crafting your answers to this question then check out this article:

McGoff, C. (2017, December 08). What Interviewers Really Want to Hear When They Ask 'Why Do You Want to Work Here?' Retrieved December 4, 2018, from

Some things to avoid

No matter how you plan on answering this question, be sure to avoid some of the most common pitfalls. Those include indicating that you’re here only because of the job opening.

You also want to avoid sounding generic with some common phrases like “This is a great place to work.” Even worse is providing some answers that are completely uninformed or demonstrate that you didn’t do any research.

Lastly avoid any answers that you can’t provide with a straight face and legitimate enthusiasm. That demonstrates that this is a place that you probably don’t want to be right now: and won’t want to be again in the future.

Happy interviewing,

Dave Eng, EdD
Provost, The Job Hakr


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