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How to answer: 'Why should I hire you?'

  • Story Highlights
  • Expert: Too many job applicants stumble over question: Why should I hire you?
  • If employer thinks you're not qualified, prove you have other qualifications
  • If feared overqualified, explain you're in career cycle where you're ready for change
  • Make your past an asset by explaining how old skills will fit into new job
By Anthony Balderrama writer
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Be prepared to answer the question "why should I hire you" during your job interview.

Be prepared to answer the question "why should I hire you" during your job interview.

Recently, Stephanie Somogyi Miller was interviewing candidates for an entry-level public relations position at her company, Spread PR, a Miller/Hamilton company. Over the course of 20 candidates Miller quickly realized -- much to her shock -- that many job seekers were unprepared when she asked them, "Why should I hire you?"

"I thought it gave people the opportunity to tell me what they wanted to tell me, versus me asking a million questions," Miller says.

Only one candidate was able to give an answer without stumbling. What's worse, Miller couldn't envision any of these applicants having a coherent conversation with a reporter if her one question was causing so much distress.

"It is so hard to get a job these days, and I really expected people to be on their game," she says. "I guess it made my job easier though, because when I finally met someone who knew what was up, I hired her on the spot."

In today's job market, where many seasoned workers have found themselves out of a job and plenty of young but inexperienced graduates are entering the workforce, do you have the right answer to beat out the competition?

Here are three common scenarios job seekers find themselves in and how they might handle each one:

The employer thinks ... you're not qualified enough.
So you ... prove you have other qualifications that will help you in this position.

Interior designer and author Jeanette Simpson recommends job seekers draw upon what experience they do have to bolster their case.

"Give examples of how you have been a 'second miler' by going above and beyond what was expected by previous employers," she says. "Employers are looking for someone to solve problems and help with their work load. This can often be done by extra effort on [the] part of an employee. Also, point out how quickly you learn and apply knowledge to situations."

The employer thinks ... you're overqualified.
So you ... prove you're ready for a change.

Lisa Mininni, author of "Me, Myself, and Why? The Secrets to Navigating Change," thinks workers who are classified as overqualified need to explain why they're perfectly happy taking on new roles.

"Consider focusing on where you are in your career. If you've historically had supervisory or management responsibilities, you may be in a career cycle where you are more interested in contributing at a different level," Mininni explains. Part of that process is about explaining your professional game plane.

"Outline the career cycles and how where you are in your career cycle can add value to the position. Be an interested listener. Observe how the position fits in to the company and watch for signs of confusion, strong interest and agreement. Ask the interviewer what is most important to [him or her] about what needs to be accomplished by the person in that position and align your experiences with their needs," she says.

You obviously want the position, otherwise you wouldn't be interviewing for it. You can try to tell the hiring manager that you don't intend to leave the moment a better position comes along, but nothing you can say can prove it. Instead, address any potential issue he or she may have with your experience to build your case.

The employer thinks ... you don't have relevant experience.
So you ... explain how all experience is relevant.

Simpson's tips for workers whose experience is seemingly irrelevant are similar to her advice for seeming unqualified workers: Make your past an asset, not a drawback.

"Give specific examples of how your experience is relevant to the job," Simpson explains. "Customer service experience gained while waiting tables is often negated. Waiters deal with all kinds of people and situations while multi-tasking, working under pressure of short-term deadlines while keeping customers happy."

Don't expect employers to connect the dots -- they're busy and have a wealth of candidates from which to choose. Do the work for them. In this economy plenty of laid off workers are looking for jobs in new industries, which means you're not the only one experiencing this dilemma. Get an edge over other job seekers by turning your varied experience into proof that you're the right candidate.

Of course, if you feel like your explanations are falling on deaf ears, you can try a succinct approach. Thirty years ago, Sherry Gavanditti was applying at an ad agency and the owner asked her why he should hire her. She didn't fulfill every requirement listed on the job description, but she knew she was a perfect fit.

She simply told him, "If you don't hire me, your competition will."

She got the job.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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