Ready, Set, Switch! The Only 3 Things That Matter In The Interview


Getting in front of the decision-makers can be the toughest part of the job search, and everything you’ve done up to this point has prepared you to succeed.

There are three things an interviewer is looking for:

  1. Abilities (the “What”)
  2. Fit (the “How”)
  3. Motivation (the “Why”)

If you made it to the interview, you have the foundational skills (the “What”) required to do the job. This is your opportunity to showcase your best accomplishments to add credibility to the achievements you’ve included on your resume (SOART stories are a great way to do this), including your unique selling points (USPs), which make you stand out from the competition. Whether you’re a project manager, teacher, programmer, or healthcare professional, you bring something to the role that’s uniquely you. This differentiator can have a significant impact during the hiring process, which brings us to “fit” (the “How”).

In hiring terms, fit is how you approach your work in alignment with the culture of the organization. While many hiring managers define fit as an “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” quality, it’s helpful for both the company and job seeker to have a specific definition in mind to make a good decision about moving forward.

Prior to the interview, identify the characteristics of the working environment that are most important to you, and then ask questions to learn more about these during your discussions with the company. For example, are you driven by a competitive or collaborative setting? Do you prefer structure and process or flexibility and autonomy? Do you have a pair of jeans for every occasion or are you on a first name basis with your dry cleaner?  While no environment is perfect, your job satisfaction will be higher if your surroundings align with what you value.

Determining what a hiring manager is looking for regarding “fit” can be trickier, but getting referred into the company by a trusted insider is a surefire way to bypass any ambiguity bias that a hirer might be unknowingly harboring. In fact, that’s why many companies have employee referral programs since these are known to bring in talent that matches the organizational culture. This is where networking into a role can have its biggest benefits.

Motivation (the “why”) is the single most important factor of the three and the ultimate decider. Hiring managers dig into your motivation by asking, “Why do you want this job, at this company, at this time?”  While it can be asked in a number of ways, what you need to be able to convincingly articulate is why you’re choosing to make a career change and what specifically about the job/company is of interest to you. Here’s the wrong way to answer this question:

“Well, I’m ready for a change, and Apple has a great reputation. Plus, I’m really passionate about cutting-edge technology and Apple is the world leader.”

Apple already knows they’re cutting-edge and have a great reputation, and their sales prove that many people are passionate about new technology. You’ve not told them anything they didn’t already know, and worse, you haven’t told them anything specific about you. It’s a canned answer they’ve probably heard a dozen times that day, and will likely mean the end of your candidacy.  Yup, the answer to the motivation question is THAT important. Here’s why.

Loss aversion is a very powerful psychological principle. At a basic level, loss aversion refers to our tendency to feel pain more deeply than gain of equal value. For example, if you find $20, you’ll be happy for about an hour, but if you lose $20, you’ll be grumbling about it for months. The question, “Why this job, why here and why now?” gets to the heart of your desire to be with the company. Answering tritely leads a hirer to worry you’re not a serious candidate. Fearing you might leave prematurely, to avoid the loss, an interviewer may choose a less qualified candidate who seems more motivated.

Here’s the right way to answer:

Craft a Career Story that:

  • Demonstrates COMMITMENT to the role: Show how you’ve already taken steps towards your career change, which demonstrates this isn’t a whim or a chance to get out of a bad job elsewhere.
  • Sounds LOGICAL to your audience: Being “passionate” is nice, but it’s not enough. Have a specific reason why this company and role makes sense in your longer-term career path.
  • Is GENUINE but not TMI: If your story isn’t true, a hirer will see right through it. Be authentic, but keep irrelevant information (e.g., your last boss was a jerk) to yourself.
  • Communicates your VALUE: This is a perfect time to reiterate how your accomplishments align with the core needs of the new role.
  • Incorporates your USP: Your USP shows how you stand out from the others who have made it to the final round.

“Having successfully led several complex projects as a Lead Engineer, it was time to take my career to the next level. After researching the options, consulting is a natural fit for my deep analytical skills, expertise with managing key stakeholders, and ability to lead diverse teams in solving complex problems. Two years ago, I decided to pursue my EMBA to deepen my strategy and finance skills, which has given me the unique view of a technical expert combined with solid business acumen. After researching your company’s client base in Asia, I believe my skills and experience having worked as an ex-pat in Shanghai for three years can contribute to solving your clients’ core business challenges.” 

When you keep in mind the hiring process is about elimination (not selection), you begin to realize how important these three factors are in the interview, particularly the “why.”

Chance are, the other finalists also have the foundational skills to do the job and may even be a decent fit with the team, so the deciding factor will come down to your Career Story. Don’t allow the motivation question to be what eliminates you from the running!

Happy hunting!

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