“How are we different from our competitors?” AKA why do you want to work for us?
Researching companies for applications and interviews can be a frustrating business. Especially when many of them appear on the surface to be so similar, it can be tough to work out how they really are different. You can predict you will be faced with some form of the question: “who are our competitors?” / “how are we different from our competitors?” / “why did you apply to us and not [insert name of their rival]?” So how do you prepare to answer it?
What do they want from me?
First you need to be clear on the point of these questions. Vanity and curiosity might play a small part in these questions but the main purpose is to see how much homework you have done. How much do you actually know and really understand about the business you have applied to? An applicant that has put the time and effort into achieving this, is likely to have a better understanding of the job role they are applying to and its challenges and demands. It will also give you insight into the company culture and give you a sense of how to ‘sell yourself’ to them.
The goal ultimately is to show your motivation by being able to articulate and justify with clear reasoning why you want to work for them (and not their competitors).
But they all look the same!
The complaint we often hear is that no matter how hard you look, these organisations simply look too similar to find meaningful distinctions. Think. What was it that actually made you apply to them? Dig around on the website, see the recent news section, look at employee profiles: what values do they prize themselves on? What do you perceive their strengths to be? Who are their clients? What work have they been in the news for? Our previous post on this give some tips: http://wp.me/pBxxJ-1LO
Don’t forget to exploit any personal contacts you might have as well. This is where networking can make a difference. Keep a note of the names of any representatives you meet at careers events, open days or contact on LinkedIn. Mentioning that you were inspired by hearing about the projects that a particular member of their staff had been working on, is a specific response that adds a personal touch likely to make you stand out from the crowd. Most of this research should happen prior to making your application but also applies to interview preparation.
“Can you give us an example?”
The second most dreaded question is the follow up. You need to be ready to substantiate your answer to the “how are we different” question. You need detail. If you are claiming that the type of work they specialise in is of interest to you, be ready to take about a recent case / contract they have been working on. If you are saying they have a better customer focus, then be ready to talk about examples of feedback from their clients for example. If you are claiming that they have experts that you want to work under, be prepared with names. You can get all this from the papers, blogs, threads and discussion boards online. You could even look at their (and their clients’) last annual reports.
One more thing…
Answering the question itself is another skill altogether. Try to give your answer with detailed examples, but avoid rambling about the research you have done. Focus on the one or two differences that you want to explain. Lastly, exam rules apply: be careful to answer precisely the question that you are given and not a pre prepared script on the theme of these questions. (See our previous post on over-preparing: http://wp.me/pBxxJ-1NP)