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Why do interviewers ask:

What is it that you can bring to our organization to make a difference?

I recently applied for a Java developer's position using my resume. The resume had a list of all technologies with levels indicating whether I am an expert, middle-level or a novice user of those technologies.

I am quite perplexed at the thought of me being able to bring a difference to a Multi m/billion dollar company. I genuinely don't think that the requirements for a programmer as advertized in their website, can bring any difference to their immediate stock price either.

I have applied to a position advertized for a (run of the mill) Java developer and am willing to work as a Java developer who will code using whatever technology I am asked to code with and preferably against some documentation. What would an interviewer want to know with this question?

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    Your attitude could be interpreted as a wish to be just a code monkey (without quotes, because that's already jargon in IT). That is, someone who doesn't put a lot of thought on his work, and just does what he is told to. You surely have some skills in which you are strong, and which you are proud of. Focus on those. Believe in your capacity to make the company more competitive, or to enhance the quality of its code/processes etc. Look at the question from another point of view: the interviewer is asking "why should I hire you". – user10483 Oct 21 '13 at 21:40
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    Close vote because the question is unclear ? What clarity is this question lacking ? – happybuddha Oct 22 '13 at 12:39
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    @Renan What is wrong with wanting to be a code monkey ? And why shouldn't a company hire someone who will simply do what he is told to do ? Being a code monkey doesn't mean sub-standard code is being written. – happybuddha Oct 23 '13 at 12:36
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    From 10+ years experience on the area, I can tell you that while Code Monkeys may produce clean, readable, working code, that is not enough for most businesses. I'd rather like to work with people who can propose solutions and improvements, and who can innovate and go beyond processes. Saying that you'd like to be a code monkey when applying for IT is like saying you'd like to be a button pushing, conveyor belt worker when applying for a car maker, for example. Don't sell yourself short - the simple fact that you can formulate a question means you are much more than just a code monkey. – user10483 Oct 23 '13 at 12:44
  • @Renan The position in question specifically asks for a java developer with the required skills. If I have to propose solutions and improvements, it should be mentioned in the job description. Or, as you say, should at least be an indicator I will be working with a sub standard bunch of architects and project leads who would expect solutions and improvements from a low rung Java developer. I am similar in years of experience to you, just that for this next assignment, I wish to be a plain old java developer. – happybuddha Oct 23 '13 at 13:01
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They're fishing for uniqueness and emotional buy-in [1].

If Candidate A says something generic, that's okay. If Candidate B says, "I believe developing this new piece of software will double the company's sales to high-end customers. [And here's why...]", all the sudden Candidate B looks a lot more interested and engaged, and he moves to the top of the list.


[1]If they can find something that makes you unique, they can just pick you as the candidate, and use that uniqueness to rationalize their decision to themselves and/or their manager.

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    The sad part is that in many companies once you're in any sign of passion is squashed out of you. Kind of like when they ask you lots of questions about design patterns, etc., but when you get on the job you better not touch their 10 Singletons. – Amy Blankenship Oct 22 '13 at 0:03
  • I do not think example fits well here. – F0G Oct 22 '13 at 6:23
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    Do you really think a person giving an interview as a developer would know which pieces of software will increase a company's revenue ? – happybuddha Oct 22 '13 at 12:41
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    @happybuddha not a specific piece of software, no. But you should at least know what kind of software the company does, and on what direction its development is going. Then you can be eager to improve on it. For example, if I were applying for Valve, I would say that I can help them fine tune Steam and Source for Linux, so they have a faster penetration on that market. Food for thought. – user10483 Oct 22 '13 at 13:11
  • I don't think the example fits well for a developer position but the jist of the response is correct. Other than monkey coding what are you going to bring to the company that will make the company better? This is your opportunity to espouse about what developer skills you have that are exceptional and potentially unique. Especially if you can bring those skills in and teach other developers how to be better in those areas. – Dunk Oct 22 '13 at 16:07
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Why do interviewers ask : 'What is it that you can bring to our organization to make a difference?'

This question is a standard "open-ended / big picture" question interviewers often ask.

Like 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' and 'Why should we hire you?', these questions are designed to get you to respond with more than just a yes/no answer, to talk about yourself, and to talk about your job and career expectations.

Interviewers would prefer that you don't give answers that boil down to 'I don't know.' or 'I probably can't make a difference.' Instead, they want you to talk about how you see your career progressing, where you want to go, and how it can help them. Even something along the lines of 'I bring an energy and ability to quickly learn new technologies that has helped my previous employers deliver products to market faster.' might be a good answer - particularly when you follow up with concrete examples of the same.

These questions can often feel awkward to answer at first. I usually suggest that you think about the question, write down answers until you find one that sounds good to you, and practice saying the answer with conviction.

Here are some more questions that might help you. Read through them, think about your answers, and practice. http://www.allthingsquality.com/2010/04/more-interview-questions.html

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One of the criterion for all work positions is potential for "engagement", or predicting your future buy in, vision, passion for your work, etc. This is not a casual concept: Gallup, for instance, reports that:

Companies with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-2011 experienced 147% higher EPS [Earnings Per Share] compared with their competition in 2011-2012.

Companies with an average of 2.6 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee, in contrast, experienced 2% lower EPS compared with their competition during that same time period.

So actually, if you aren't engaged with your work and think it is individually important in it's own right, you are a potential liability to the business.

The interviewer, in their undeniably imperfect way, is trying to divine the future and your potential engagement, motivation, etc. That's what they were looking for with the question - it was an invitation to try to convince them you care about the job, are confident in your ability, and feel you have something worthwhile to offer.

With the idea of "making a difference", they are trying to also divine your potential for POBs - positive organizational behaviors - which are in some cases positively correlated in research with lots of "good things" like being absent less, being more productive, job satisfaction, etc.

As for making a difference to such a large company, you are thinking too dramatically - if you have nothing to offer that would make a difference, then there would be no reason to hire you. If none of us made a difference, there'd be no reason to be alive at all - depressing, isn't it? But just because you don't think yourself the next Einstein doesn't mean you don't have plenty to offer, and none of us must become a peer of Nelson Mandela just to "make a difference". They don't expect you to revolutionize the company, just make a contribution - which would have been a better way to phrase the question, perhaps!

Also, technically you can always make a difference to even the largest company - you can always burn their HQ to the ground. They are trying to avoid that kind of employee as much - or often much more - than they are looking for a good employee. Every question is a way to get you out of being seen as a potential horror story, just as much as it's trying to see if you'd be a really good hire.

Again though, all of these questions are invitations to talk about your greatest skills, accomplishments, work ethics, etc. So if you get a lofty flowery question like this and you don't know how to answer it precisely, just correct it in your head to "So, tell me about your greatest workplace strengths...", and they'll often get the answer they were looking for anyway.

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The interviewer is asking what is it about you that makes you the person we should choose for this out all the people we are interviewing. This is your chance to sell them on what it is about you that makes you a better choice for the job than anyone else.

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Why should they hire you if you won't make a difference?

You're supposed to help them become more profitable; and perhaps also increase the quality of the code, help users become more efficient, help the team work better. If they're going to give you money, what are you going to provide to make that money a good investment? If you don't know the answer to that question, someone else who does plan on making a difference will be a better choice for them to hire.

They want to get the best value for the salary they pay. The question is asking what kind of value do you offer?

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    Did you try and go through various comments and replies ? 1) How is someone applying as a Java developer expected to know how to make them more profitable ? With the money they pay as salary, they get my services as a Java developer. I know hundreds can offer it and I am one of those hundreds. – happybuddha Oct 23 '13 at 13:05
  • @happy:They don't want just a java developer that is a dime-a-dozen. They want someone who is or has the potential to be that solid developer, even if not the top echelon. If you think hundreds (in your market) can do just as well as you then they aren't interested in you. Neither would I be interested in you, because your average developer is generally quite deficient in skills. – Dunk Oct 23 '13 at 14:08
  • @Dunk wouldn't this avg developer who is deficient in skills never make it through the interviews in the first place ? A developers 'solidity' can be evaluated in an appropriate technical interview. How would a company choose from the developers that are dime a dozen ? – happybuddha Oct 23 '13 at 14:54
  • @happy:At some point when a company needs people, they take what they can get. Also, while many people claim to be able to do so, I've never worked for a company that has been able to adequately evaluate developers from interviews. I've seen many cases where people wowed interviewees and ended up being duds AND many times where people were reluctantly hired and ended up being great. An interview can't reliably evaluate people. At best, it can tell if the person is ok to work with and do they have some experience in desired areas. It can't really tell the depth/ability to apply that knowledge. – Dunk Oct 23 '13 at 18:39
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    While interviews and hiring is often mostly a gamble, that still doesn't mean that you don't want to have a way to indicate that you're not just another dime-a-dozen java programmer. And if you aren't able to say what makes you a better value, based on what you know of your skills, other developers' skills, and your research of the company -- then you may not be a better value. They don't know what makes you different, so they're asking if you do. Do you? – thursdaysgeek Oct 23 '13 at 18:47
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I had the following experience, which might illustrate why you should respond in what ever way you feel.

I was invited to a group interview in which about 40 of us were seated in a video conference room where we watched a historical clip on an organization that had been around since the 1930s. Each of us was given a written questionnaire and each of us was asked to give a quick spiel on why we wanted to work for the organization and our personal interests.

Then we were invited to ask our own questions, and I had one, that involved the implementation of a networking technology that was being adopted in a number of big cities. In the context of this organization, it would have been 'leading edge'.

At the end of this about five or six people were invited to one on one's, while the rest of us sat around. Within ten minutes they had their candidate.

There were, largely speaking, two rather obvious factions in the group - the climbers and the coders. The climbers were in their suits and blouses, the coders in their jeans and sneakers. The one exception was someone that looked like they spent their life fixing old cars in their garage. This organization was in a rural area, was very laid back, and specifically disavowed being technologically aggressive. Guess who they hired?

Point being is that the organization may want a run of the mill java coder and the context of the question is to see if you're going to try to run rings around your boss or coworkers. If this is the kind of role you want you should say so.

However, some business units are short of inspiration and aggression. You would not be invited to work in one of those, because what they want is someone that is going to shake off the lethargy. There are some rather prominent disasters recently that could probably have used the services of troublemakers that asked jarring questions.

One might remember a largish company that replaced someone else's 'maps' program with their own, and it was discovered rather quickly that there were a lot of quality problems. If your role could expose the company to major embarrassments, they would rather have someone that will cry foul when the effort is proving to be careless.

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    What you want to bet someone did cry foul on that project and was told to shut up. It's amazing how low the comfort level is on some teams for people saying "but what about..." – Amy Blankenship Oct 22 '13 at 23:34

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