“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 skills with multitasking, prioritizing, and working well under pressure, Goodfellow says.
How to Structure Your Answer
Answering “what can you bring to the company?” and similar questions, Goodfellow says, “is your time to shine.” As you’re putting your answer together, align your past experiences with the company’s needs, and clearly state your value add and how you can make things easier for the company, team, or person interviewing you, she says. This is an opportunity to really make your interviewer think, Now this is the right person for the job.
How do you do this? Don’t just list off impressive-sounding qualities. In interviews, Goodfellow would get tired “of the slew of adjectives folks think I want to hear.” You should also be prepared to say more than “my ability to motivate my team members” or “my Salesforce knowledge” or “my experience launching email newsletters.”
Raman suggests starting your answer by restating the primary problems the company is looking to solve. Then, you should say what you bring to the table to help solve these problems and demonstrate your skills and/or experience with a story or example. “You can be clear and direct. Show your confidence,” Goodfellow says.
For example, based on what you’ve learned about the company and role in your research and past interviews, Goodfellow says you might start an answer with, “You need an account manager [who] is motivated, eager, and professional.” Then, you can state what skills or experiences you have that will fill the employer’s needs. For instance, Goodfellow suggests, “In my last role, I was hand selected time and time again by leadership to manage the challenging accounts, the underperforming accounts, and the ones that were labeled high maintenance.” From there, you can launch into a story that really demonstrates the qualities you’re saying you’ll bring to the company.
For any interview questions where you’re telling a story, it’s often helpful to use the STAR method to structure your answer. STAR stands for Situation (set the scene), Task (explain your role in the situation), Action (talk about the actions you took), and Results (share what the outcome was, using numbers when possible).
What Your Answer Might Sound Like
An answer for a sales role might sound like this:
“As Jocelyn talked about in our interview earlier, PopCo is looking to expand its market to small business owners with less than 25 employees, so I’d bring my expertise in this area and my experience in guiding a sales team that’s selling to these customers for the first time. In most of my past roles, this segment has been my focus and in my current role, I also played a big part in creating our sales strategies when the business began selling to these customers. Since I’d sold to small business owners before, I worked with my managers to develop the sales script. I also listened in on a number of sales calls with other account execs who were selling to these customers for the first time and gave them pointers and other feedback on how to approach these conversations. In the first quarter, our 10-person sales team closed 50 new bookings in this segment, and I personally closed 10 of those deals. I helped guide my last company through the expansion into small businesses, and I’m eager to do that again at PopCo. Plus, I noticed you have a monthly karaoke night—so I’m eager to bring my rendition of ‘Call Me Maybe’ to the team as well.”
Or if you’re looking to talk about a skill you have:
“I know you’re looking for an executive assistant who will make sure that nothing slips through the cracks because of your busy schedule, and I would bring my strong eye for detail to the team. In my past role I was responsible for supporting the company’s CFO, and I often caught small issues such as scheduling overlaps and missing information in expense reports. I was also responsible for taking minutes for all of the CFO’s meetings and then sending them out to meeting participants afterward. After one meeting when a number of important deadlines were discussed, I realized that the CFO had stated different dates for finalizing key earnings reports across different meetings—telling the executive team in an earlier meeting that she’d have the reports a week before a board meeting and telling her team she needed them by the date of the board meeting. I quickly confirmed the correct date with the CFO, and since she was on her way to another meeting, I sent a quick correction out with the meeting minutes, so that the finance team was aware of the error right away. As a result, the reports were ready in time for the board meeting. My fastidiousness and proactive nature would mean you can do your job knowing someone has the details and logistics covered.”