Note: In somewhat the same vein as this question.

I recently landed a new job, but I was asked during the interview "Why do you think you're the best person for the job?" and they mentioned that this was basically my opportunity to sell myself. Now, I understand that what they're basically looking for in my response is me tying together my skills and experience to the requirements listed for the position.

However, I felt a bit uncomfortable declaring that I was indeed the absolute best person for the job, and prefaced my answer somewhat like so: "Well, since I am unable to compare myself to the other candidates I do not know for certain if I am the best person for the job - only you can determine this I imagine, but the reasons I feel I am at least a suitable candidate are.." and went on to detail why I was a good fit for the position.

The interviewer seemed a bit taken aback by my answer, but nevertheless hired me. I am not sure if their reaction was a positive or a negative one (that was offset by the rest of what seems to have been a good interview) and I'm wondering:

Was I right in my concern to add a preface to my answer, or should I have excluded it?

I should add that I've answered similarly before to such questions, but this was the first time I noted a visible reaction and made me wonder if I was perhaps taking the question too literally or something.

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    You got the job. Why don't you ask the interviewer? – user8365 Oct 29 '14 at 11:05
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    The situation made me think if my general strategy of answering the question like this was correct, hence my question here. It seems like from the answers so far that I should keep answering it the way I have :) – pi31415 Oct 29 '14 at 11:15
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    I feel you answered it properly, and you did something positive: you broke the interviewer out of the standard interview script. This made you more memorable in the long run. Congrats on the new job. :) – Tyanna Oct 29 '14 at 17:34
  • Well given additional feedback I'm beginning to doubt this to still be the case :) – pi31415 Oct 29 '14 at 22:56
  • I like how you answered. You addressed the asked question and answered the spirit of the question. If this happens again shorten your answer. Remember: You don't have to be the "best" person for the job, just the best they can find now. – Kevan Sheridan Oct 30 '14 at 4:21
up vote 13 down vote accepted

The interviewer was taken aback because he had not thought about the implication of his question: he was asking you to do HIS job, which is to evaluate the candidates, but without the information available to him - you have no way of evaluating the candidates because you have no data on them.

I view this question as a lazy and stupid question: it is lazy because he is asking you to do his job and it is stupid because comparisons without a fact base are stupid. Having said that, the question "What do you bring to the table?" is a more than fair question to ask. You have no way of knowing that you are the best person for the job, but you sure should know what you bring to the table.

What you did was pivot the unanswerable question "why are you the best person for the position?" to the eminently answerable question "what do you bring to the table?" In my opinion, the pivot was the right, smart and fair thing to do - it is a fair thing to do because you were fair to the other candidates and you can look at yourself in the mirror this morning as someone who competed and won without denigrating and casting aspersions on the other candidates. I respect that and I applaud the initiative you showed in refusing to play along. Under "normal" circumstances, how I go about winning and what I do to win is just as important to me as winning.

I'll note that what people mean to ask is sometimes different from what they actually ask, and there is the possibility that I have been jaundiced and unfair in ascribing impure and sinister motives to people who ask this question.

Memo to self: if I don't like a question as phrased, it is more constructive to answer the question by addressing the spirit and intent behind the question than to knock the asker flat on his back for asking the question. After all, we all make mistakes and acting with a bit of compassion and cutting some slack when the other person makes a mistake - that should be no skin off our noses.

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    I would agree this is a form of "doing his job" if the candidate with the best answer/highest praise of himself got the job, but that's not even the case here. No one interprets this question that way. This question offers insight to the candidate's understanding of what is required and how they perceive their ability to handle the role. Anyone who makes claims they can't support (I'm the best because my mom told me so.), would be questionable. – user8365 Oct 29 '14 at 11:12
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    @JeffO There at least two persons who interpret the question that way - the OP and I. Maybe we shouldn't, but that's what we do - Words have a life of their own once they are out of someone's mouths. – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 29 '14 at 11:18
  • I didn't see how the op thought he was doing someone else's job, but he has indicated a literal interpretation of the question. Maybe I missed a comment? – user8365 Oct 29 '14 at 13:02
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    The question is simply a softball opportunity for the candidate to sum-up what they offer the employer in terms of skills, aptitude, or anything else that comes to mind. Taking it literally or as some kind of "entitlement" test could mark the candidate as awkward and in the case where there are two otherwise matched candidates the more polished one will get the offer. – teego1967 Oct 29 '14 at 17:05
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    @RualStorge "Why should I hire you instead of someone else?" is not a question that I, as a candidate, would care to answer. And if you asked me that question. I would hold your asking agaist you. On the other hand, "what is it that I get if I were to hire you?", my immediate answer would be "you get a pretty smart, tough cookie - someone you absolutely want around to back you up when the poop hits the fan and is flying in all directions" You get to decide if I am what you need - Either way, I am having my dinner and going to sleep like a baby tonight ") – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 29 '14 at 20:22

You made a correct statement. As an interviewee, you have no idea who the other candidates are and therefore you couldn't possibly know if you are the best person for the job.

I think the interviewer was taken aback because he had probably never heard a candidate start off their answer to that particular question like that. There is probably a lot of people out there who try to inflate their skills and abilities during interviews. The honesty and modesty that you exhibited is not the norm, especially for a question like that where you have to sell yourself.

Since you got the job, your preface obviously didn't hurt. I think it could have been a positive - the interviewer may have appreciated your honesty. It's not always easy for interviewers to tell if a candidate is being honest.

Was I right in my concern to add a preface to my answer, or should I have excluded it?

No, you weren't. This is a very typical interview question. It is understood that you and everyone else asked this question doesn't know the other candidates unless you all work together and are wanting some sort of promotion.

Unfortunately, interviewing is a bit of a game. Candidates are suppose to know how to play the game to a certain extent and should prepare themselves to answer the basic questions: Tell me about yourself. Why should you get the job? What salary do you expect? There are do's and don'ts like the first thing discussed isn't salary.

I'm not saying this is a good question. I'm not justifying the way the question was asked. Would it really make a difference if they asked, "What makes you qualified?" instead of why you're the best. You can't take things so literally when it is common knowledge what they really intended (I'll be "back in a minute" does not mean 60 seconds.)

Just play the game for now. Hopefully, everyone will get better at interviewing, but until then, don't feel you have to fight every windmill.

  • Thank you for your input. I suspected what you said to be the case. As I somewhat pointed out, I tend to take questions literally and while it may be common knowledge, I certainly didn't realise that to be the case. I think perhaps I need some more exposure to interviews to sort of judge these things better. Thanks again for the input. – pi31415 Oct 29 '14 at 11:32
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    There is nothing wrong with answering the better question - "why are you the right candidate for this job?" and even leading with that "I'm the right candidate for this job because...". There is quite a bit wrong with starting with "you asked me an illogical question. I will now correct your error." It's possible that your interviewer interpreted your preamble like that, and so reacted with surprise. Since they hired you, it's likely they are fine with you being literal, but keep in mind a future employer might hold that against you. It's ok to think things you don't say. – Kate Gregory Oct 29 '14 at 12:25
  • @KateGregory - Good points. I think it was the "correction" that threw the interviewer. – user8365 Oct 29 '14 at 13:00
  • @Kate for what it's worth, if this is how OP appraoches problems, it might be good for all interested parties to know that in the interview process so they can hire the best cultural fit. I've been in places where that kind of challenging nature is truly welcomed in an effort to do what is best, and I've been in places where that is rather shunned and the status quo is the way to go. – corsiKa Oct 29 '14 at 16:45
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    I agree it's probably useful for the OP to reveal their nature to ensure they end up somewhere they're valued. I don't think that the nature being revealed is somehow more challenging, honest, or modest. I think it's intensely literal. I know a LOT of intensely literal people - software devs often are - and it can be part of a great cultural fit. But let's not turn this into "anyone who answered that question without pausing to tell the interviewer their error is a dishonest, immodest status-quo accepter who might not belong in this company." – Kate Gregory Oct 29 '14 at 16:55

The interviewer was probably taken aback because instead of considering the context of the question("we are here, together, to see if you are a good fit for the job and questions asked here are to determine that") you went for the general answer.

Questions like this aren't because the interviewer wants you to do his or her job(which is a fairly ridiculous assertion) or because they are lazy or bad at interviewing. Questions like these are prompts for your 'elevator' speech that should show two things:

a) You've done some research about the job and can articulate how you and this position would fit into the bigger picture.

b) A chance for you to show off a little and explain why exactly you think you are awesome or skilled.

In less formal companies an interviewer might ask - "What makes you awesome?" or "What is something that you've done that is exciting or impressive?" One of my favorite questions to ask is "What is the coolest/most interesting thing on your resume, the thing that makes you go 'Why hasn't she asked me about this yet?!?'" Interviewers ask questions like these in order to give you an opportunity to shine, to really show your passion(and knowledge) about projects you've worked on.

It's possible that, your initial caveat aside, your answer showed this knowledge and passion. It's possible that even with a weak answer to this question your interview and credentials were otherwise very strong. It's possible that you were the only applicant. It's possible that the interviewer dislikes the question nearly as much as some of the other answerers here on The Workplace... There are a lot of reasons that a person is chosen for a position and it would be hard to pin much on this particular answer.

Personally I think you would benefit from not adding the caveat. If you don't think you're a great fit for a job why would you be applying for it? Sure Batman could swing in and be like "I'm Batman" and he would probably be amazing at the job BUT you don't know(as you mentioned) and there's almost no benefit to downplaying your strengths and awesomeness in answering that question.

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    I think it's a bit strong to claim that a relatively pedantic line "Well I don't know I'm the best candidate but..." 'woke-up the interviewer is pretty strong. I haven't given many interviews but I've heard riffs of that answer several times and it often comes across, to me, as uncertainty, lack of confidence or (perhaps worst) false modesty. Interviews aren't the time to argue about questions or talk up other people - it's a time for the interviewee to shine. There's no meta game in talking yourself or your skills down. – Nahkki Oct 29 '14 at 18:29

I think you surprised the interviewer because you corrected them, in a passive-aggressive way. And also because they probably didn't think that what they'd asked was effectively "unanswerable" by you - they were just using the sentence to ask "what is good about you".

Your preface is neat, and cute, and the fact that you got the job implies to me that you're an engineer, and not, say, in sales or marketing or in the "business" side, where such a cute, neat answer is considered stupid.

The worst - to me - portion of your preface is the only you can determine this I imagine part, which is remarkably passive aggressive. Don't ever be "imagining" what the guy on the other side is thinking, it's condescending. Maybe you're even in the right, as some might argue you were - but being condescending is never the answer, especially in a job interview.

You're not trying to prove you're smarter than the interviewer - that might go down well sometimes (more so if you're an engineer) - but generally it won't go down well.

I would suggest you leave out the "cute" in interviews, it's too risky. It might get you hired, but as an engineer, knowing your skill set is much more likely to get you hired. More likely, the "cute" is just going to give a reason to not hire you (condescending, doesn't understand social norms, whatever), which you don't want.

Going "meta" on the question is very rarely going to work, they're asking the question for a reason (ie what is good about you), not to see if you're a meta-thinker.

  • Thank you for your response. As I mentioned in another comment - I'm somewhat surprised that my response could have been taken so negatively. I can kinda see how that can be the case now, and I'll probably do well to read up on these questions so I can ensure I answer what they mean instead of perhaps taking it too literally. – pi31415 Oct 29 '14 at 22:55
  • I completely agree that this comes off as passive aggressive. Interviewing is a game, where both have to play. The questions shouldn't be taken literally, and instead should be used to sell yourself. – Devdatta Tengshe Oct 30 '14 at 4:00

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