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What Interviewers Really Want to Hear When They Ask “What Can You Bring to the Company?”

“What can you bring to the company?” is an interview question that cuts to the core of what you’re doing in any job interview. The goal is simple: convince your interviewer that they want you to work there. And why does any employer want you to work for them?

“Hiring managers and interviewers are [interested] in one thing above all else: Can you add value to the company?” says Muse career coach and executive coach Ravi Raman.

When you’re interviewing for a job, of course, you care about what the job means for you, but interviews (and employment) are a two-way street.

When she interviewed candidates for IT and higher education positions, Muse career coach Tara Goodfellow, owner of Athena Consultants, asked this question to find out, “What's in it for me/the company?” Recruiters and hiring managers “want to see if you ‘get it’”—the “it” being what the person who gets hired for this role needs to accomplish. They want you to use this question to “connect the dots from your experience to the job requirements,” Goodfellow says.

So what sort of answer should you give? “Interviewers are looking for specificity, creativity, and authenticity,” Raman says. Make sure your answer is truthful and specific to the job and company you’re interviewing for—and not the same answer the interviewer has heard three times already.

How to Prepare Your Answer

The first thing you have to figure out before you can answer, “What can you bring to the company?” (and the narrower, “What can you bring to the team?”) is what the company (or team) wants and needs. Then you’ll try to show them you’re a match. Here’s how you can do that:

Do Your Research Take the time to do some research ahead of your interview to gain a deeper understanding of the job responsibilities and company culture, Goodfellow says. You want to figure out the main problems you’re being hired to solve and any areas where the company or team is struggling or constantly running into issues.

Your first stop for research will be the job posting. Are they looking for someone to wear many hats, help launch a specific new program, or analyze and report on large amounts of data quickly? Next, look at the company’s website and social media (and their Muse profile if they have one!).

Explore the mission and values of the company, Raman suggests. Does the company stress teamwork or innovation? Does the sales team you’d be joining have a strong sense of friendly competition? To dig deeper and get a sense beyond the image the company puts forward online, you might also conduct informational interviews with people already working at the company, Goodfellow says.

Listen Carefully If this isn’t your first-round interview with this company, you should also reflect on what was said in earlier interviews. Was there anything the hiring manager is particularly excited about a new hire working on? Did you learn about certain obstacles the company is facing? “What are the big problems that keep them up at night regarding their work?” Raman says.

Connect the Dots Once your research is completed, reflect on how your own skills, traits, and experiences line up with what the company needs and wants, and decide what you’re going to talk about in your answer. Focus on one or two things that make it clear you’ve done your research and that you’ve been listening, Goodfellow says. And be sure to “answer with the specific job in mind, not your general strengths.”

For example, if you’re being hired to help build a new back-end for their website, an employer probably wants to hear about your experience on a past company’s website rebuild rather than your talent as a cook. Or let’s say the interviewer implied that goals and processes might change quickly or it’s a role where you really need to hit the ground running. You might talk about your proven track record as a fast learner.

Or maybe it’s a startup or small company where you’ll have a lot of varied duties—in that case, talk about your skil