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I am in the process of applying to jobs, and one common question I get, if not in the job application, I get it during the phone screening interview, which is: "why are you excited to join our company?" or "why do you want to join our company?" or a variation of that.

When I search for a job, I search by the job title, like "Frontend web developer", and not by company, because that's what I am interested in. Then I read about the company and what they do before I apply, but as long as they are doing legitimate business, and the requirements are aligned with my skills, I apply.

I am not sure what employers want to hear, but I suspect that they would like to hear that you are sold to their mission, understandably to make sure you will stick around, at least long enough. But this is not why I applied to the position, as what I am interested in can be applied to achieve different goals and missions.

Am I approaching this wrongly? If not, how can I answer this question honestly and in an acceptable way to employers?

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    What's your usual answer? Do you feel it's not working for you? – Erik Dec 30 '20 at 18:58
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    Does this answer your question? Is it ok to be honest about why I want to join a company? – gnat Dec 30 '20 at 23:49
  • "I can wait to spend my first paycheck on all the fries I want to eat". I usually answer with "I've seen what your company is doing and I'm excited to see what I will learn". – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 5 at 9:21
14

Although these type of questions are indeed very common, I actually think that in most cases it is a silly question. Because the actual honest answer for almost all candidates would be something like "Well I need a job to support myself and this one doesn't look that bad".

However companies/interviewers probably don't want to hear this answer, so answering truthfully on this question is something you definitely should not do.

Instead you should just study the company and it's products and find something positive you can say with a straight face and which might even have kernel of truth.

For example

  • If it's a big company, you can say you like to work in a big company (more opportunities for growth and personal development)

  • If it's a small company, you can say you like to work in a small company (less bureaucracy, being able to do multiple things, etc)

  • You like to work for the world leader in .....

  • Maybe you like the products they make because they are very useful and/or save lives.

  • You like the company because it supports BLM, #METOO or any other cause.

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When asked in an interview

I used to ask candidates a variant of this question but more recently have switched to asking "Are there things you're looking for in your next role?" instead. Ultimately what I want to know is whether the candidate's interests and expectations align with the role they're interviewing for and the culture of the company. To some degree I am trying to make sure they'll stick around, but it's more about overall "fit" rather than them being sold on our mission. If the candidate's interests align with what we're offering in terms of e.g. job responsibilities and work environment, great! If not that doesn't mean it was a bad answer, just a bad fit.

I can often tell when a candidate is giving me the answer they think I want to hear rather than something more truthful. While it doesn't necessarily hurt their chances, it doesn't help them either. In fact a large part of the reason I switched from asking this type of question is because it tends to inspire those answers. So be honest! But also keep in mind that honesty doesn't mean tact and considering your audience aren't important.

When asked in the application

Another reason this type of question gets asked, especially when part of the application, is that some applicants take something of a wide net approach to job hunting. They seem to apply to every job with "developer" or "software" in the title even if their background isn't remotely close to the job requirements. It's common enough that in my experience easily more than half of applications are basically resume spam.

So it can also serve as a way to separate out candidates who read the job description from candidates who likely didn't. In this case a reasonably professional answer that suggests you read the job description and have even the faintest idea what the company does is probably all they're looking for.

4

You can use this as a way of complimenting the company as a whole. You can say that you admire the work that the company does and they way they approach doing business.

If you already have some insight into how the team works, you can tell them that you feel you will fit well into how the team works and that you feel you can add value.

Also mention a work-life balance that works in the way that you want it to. An interest in the location can also go down well.

If you can spin the last aspect into something that would make your audience laugh, this would be a plus point in your favour as well.

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Imagine you received offers with equal salary and benefits (vacation time, 401k matching, etc.) from two of those companies. How would you pick between the two? That's at least part of what you say.

If their mission or operations do not excite you, and you are not looking to find a company that has missions or a business model that excites you, I'd look for other reasons why you'd choose one company over another. Sometimes, you will have to find these reasons during the interview, because it might be things like team structure, languages they work with, mentoring programs, ability to set your own schedule, clear direction, etc.

You need to understand what makes a good work environment for you. Here's some of the questions I try to answer about candidates when I'm interviewing to make sure it's a good fit:

  1. Do you prefer a lot of structure, or a lot of freedom?
  2. Do you like to stay in your comfort zone, or learn new things?
  3. Do you require variety, or do you prefer consistency?
  4. Do you enjoy teaching yourself, or do you prefer clear mentorship?
  5. Is work-life balance important to you? What about flexible working hours?
  6. Do you like working with other people, or do you prefer working alone when possible?

Then take those answers, and pull out the ones that match the company you are applying to. If none of them do? Answering honestly may sometimes rule you out, but ideally it will be from companies where you wouldn't have been a good fit anyway.

My current company looks for people who enjoy a variety of challenging, self-directed work, but also value time outside of work. I have interviewed people who had long successful careers at highly structured, do-what-you're-told companies. They wouldn't be happy where I work, and probably wouldn't succeed, but they found success other places. There are definitely companies where not being bored by doing the same thing is an asset.

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  • Probably every larger company's"mission" is to generate money for the boss and the people with shares. Everything else is means to an end. – guest Jan 1 at 20:16
  • Hence why I work for a small company that doesn't have shareholders or exorbitant C-Level salaries. What's your point? That Amazon is bad (fair point)? That companies are all the same? Yeah, a lot of big companies don't have or don't follow their mission, but a company working on weapons manufacturing and a volunteer organization for children's education are obviously not the same and have different impacts on the world. – AlannaRose Jan 1 at 20:21
  • When I first started job searching, step 1 was eliminating companies who had missions that conflicted with my morals. Step 2 was finding companies that I thought had a positive impact. Even larger companies that have a primary goal of making money for shareholders have different impacts --- Microsoft vs. Lockheed Martin. It may not matter to you, or to OP, but companies do differ. – AlannaRose Jan 1 at 20:25
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Imagine all of the companies presented you with a job offer

Then, answer some questions in your head:

  • Which companies did you apply to?
  • Which offer do you accept?

It might help to think about the opposite, ie which companies didn't even get your resume and why. Dying industry, not a fan of their products, in-house positions.. if thoughts like this don't apply to the company, the opposite might be true.

Now, if you can't answer these questions, you have a far bigger problem than getting a job. But in this case, simply fall back to what they wrote on their website about their company, especially when they mention it in the position description!

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Then I read about the company and what they do before I apply,

Good! Many prospective candidates don't even do that. By all means, continue to do that, and find some things that you can sincerely say that you like about that company.

When I search for a job, I search by the job title, like "Frontend web developer", and not by company, because that's what I am interested in.

By doing that, you're not actually tapping into the hidden job market.

For instance, if you have professional colleagues that you admire, try to get a referral from them for their company, and then if the interviewer asks, just say "I know some really smart people who work here. That's the reason I'm applying."

Now it doesn't matter if they don't have a job posting yet, as long as you know that they're doing the type of work you're looking for. And if they happen to want to hire someone, then you're in luck because that could mean that your competition for that job might be non-existent.

And in other instances, you could decide to find potential employers by using your immediate geographical location as a primary criterion, or by the type of frontend library/tech stack they're using, or by the positive press they're getting, or by the tech talks/tech posts their employees do in public, or by the type of super usable UI their products have, or by their work environment, or by the type of mission they have, or by the high potential growth of their sector. The list is endless.

In either case, nobody gets to have a perfect answer every time to every interview question asked. It's just impossible. Just do your best. Continue to research each company as you've been doing. And do tap into the hidden job market, in addition to the open one.

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Look, here's something you need to know:

There is no money in programming qua programming

Programming is just solving silly logic puzzles. That's it. There is no money in that, any more than there is in solving sudoku puzzles. It's a fun diversion.

What makes money is solving people's problems. That's what (theoretically) companies do. They solve a problem a person has, and charge money for it. So when you say "i just want to code" then it should fire a warning to the hiring person, because their company doesn't make money from people liking to code.

It makes money from people working in the domain of their specific industry (using code) to solve problems. If you just like coding, then perhaps consider coding competitions and the like, you can probably make money if you place in them reliably.

But if you want to get hired to do work, then you need to get hired doing something that is beyond solving silly logic problems. I'm not sure what your passions are - some people like reading, others like cars, some people love porn, other people like religion. As you might realise, there are tonnes of programming jobs in each of those niches.

And if you actually care about those niches, you'll actually do really well for yourself.

So don't tell them "i like to code" because that doesn't set you apart and it is honestly a warning sign. Tell them why you are interested in that niche, in that industry, in the work that company does. And tell them honestly because you've gone to the effort of finding a company that you are excited by.

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    Your perception of programming narrowed down to 'solving silly logic puzzles' really baffles me - Without people that love solving silly logic puzzles we wouldn't even understand gravity, not to mention the relativity theory.. – NullPointerException Dec 31 '20 at 10:59
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    I have no idea how this answers the question – Simon B Dec 31 '20 at 12:17
  • @SimonB I think it indirectly does. The question is about answering the passion question honestly. This answer is why doing so is unwise. – Matthew Gaiser Jan 6 at 8:57

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