The Secret To A Better Interview Response

Start With Why
Start With Why – YouTube Video

Anybody can talk about what skills they have and how they’re better than everybody else. But there’s one simple thing you can add to your interview responses that nobody else is doing, and that’s sharing your WHY.

Improve any interview response by sharing your philosophy or belief behind your actions rather than simply what you did; this is your WHY. Including your WHY is going to lead to a much stronger and more relatable interview response.

What Does “Start With Why” Mean?

The concept of starting with WHY was coined by Simon Sinek back in 2009 in his book called “Start With Why”. He also gave a phenomenal TED Talk by the same name, which is more likely where you’ve heard of the concept. If you haven’t, I definitely recommend checking out that video here.

The premise of starting with WHY is that most companies think from the outside in. They say what their product is, and how it’s unique or different from others, and just end there. The example given in the TED talk was a computer company selling their product, which might say something like:

“We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. Wanna buy one?”

This is underwhelming, to say the least. But this is what we do all the time in our interviews. We say what we do, we say how we’re better or different from the other candidates, and then we hope that the interviewers will pick us out of the 30 other people interviewing for the same role.

Instead of starting from the outside, inspirational companies and leaders will always start from the inside and work their way out. An example of this was Apple selling their computers, which looks like:

In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We also make great computers. Wanna buy one?

It’s the simple act of starting off the sales pitch with a fundamental belief or philosophy, and THEN moving into the HOW and WHAT about the product, which is the thing that transforms an average sales pitch into one that’s difficult to refuse if you can relate to the WHY.

Start With Why In Your Interview

In ‘Start With Why‘, Simon Sinek spends a lot of time talking about organizations and their WHY, WHAT, and HOW. This is all well and good, but when it comes to your interview, we need to understand each of these components in terms of a you as a person, not necessarily in the terms of a company. That’s why I’ve gone ahead and broken down the WHY, WHAT, and HOW into sections that are applicable to you as an individual and as a candidate.

While it might seem strange to apply these company definitions to an individual, I think it’s actually much simpler than it might appear. The previous example was about selling a computer, but in your interview, you are the product. You are what you’re selling, and you can use the exact same approach to get a similar outcome.

The way you can do that is by incorporating each of these three aspects into our interview responses. We’re going to share our HOW, what, and most importantly our WHY.  Let’s start off by taking a look at the outside ring of the circle, you WHAT.

Golden Circle
Golden Circle

Your WHAT(Outside Ring)

“Every organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. These are products they sell or the services”

In my view, the WHAT here refers to your skills. I think hard skills fall into this bucket more neatly but certainly, some soft skills too. So consider, What is it that you do? Are you an expert coder or event organizer? Do you excel in public speaking or know exactly what to say to resolve conflicts? These are the skills and things that you do day to day. They’re valuable skills that companies are looking for. When somebody is checking your qualifications, they generally stay at this level.

I think we’re all pretty aware of our WHAT, that’s kind of the bread and butter of our resume and most interview advice out there is going to help you better sell these skills in your interview. So let’s move in the circle to the second ring. Your HOW.

Your HOW (Middle Ring)

“Some organizations know HOW they do it. These are the things that make them special, or set them apart from their competition”

To me, HOW represents your general approach to any given scenario. For example, you might be an expert coder, but HOW you code might look like working smarter, not harder.

You might always be looking to reuse previous code to save time and energy. You could be the person asking questions like:

  • “Why are we developing this in the first place?” 
  • “What’s the return on investment?” 
  • “Do we have anything that can already do this?”
  • “What does the maintenance of this code look like?”

Your HOW really gets deeper into your perspective, and the manner in which you perform different actions and skills. These are things that are harder to teach and are frankly much more valuable to the interviewers than you might realize. 

There’s that old saying that “the only thing college really taught me was how to learn” and I think that perfectly sums up the HOW ring of this circle. Sure you’re going to want to sell your skills, but take a deliberate effort to sell your perspective and approach to those skills as you go through your interview responses.

Your WHY (Center Ring)

Finally, we move to the center of the circle, your WHY. Let’s go back to the golden circle.

“Very few organizations know WHY they do what they do. WHY is not about making money. That’s a result. WHY is a purpose, cause, or belief. It’s the very reason your organization exists.”

Here I think things line up pretty well between an organizational why and a personal why. Just like making money should be an incidental result for an organization, so too should making money simply be an incidental result for us, not our main purpose.

Now I’m not naive, I get that most of us work solely for the money, but there are soul-sucking jobs and jobs that inspire you to work long hours just to see the job done correctly. 

The difference between the two is how closely your WHY lines up with the WHY of the organization. From your perspective, finding a company that matches your WHY is going to be what allows you to enjoy going to work every day and brings you fulfillment.

One of the best things we can do for our continued career progression is to reflect on our purpose and values so that we can seek out those companies that align with our WHY.

But maybe right now you’re not as concerned with finding your dream job as you are with landing a job that you’re applying for right now. For that, we need to take a look at the WHY from the company’s perspective. 

How To Use This Knowledge

From a company’s perspective, a candidate whose WHY closely aligns with the WHY of the company is an employee who is going to work extra hard, continuously learn, and inspire others to do the same. 

As an employer, finding employees who have the same WHY as you is infinitely more valuable than somebody whose just in it for the paycheck.

That’s why you want to infuse your WHY into as many interview responses as you can. And when I say your why, I mean their WHY. 

If you’re not sure what the company’s WHY is, go check out its mission, vision, and values. Try and take each of these and incorporate a little bit into your interview responses. 

Key Takeaways

Incorporating your WHY is going to be easier in some of the more open-ended questions like “tell me about yourself” and “what are your career goals”, but can also be incorporated into your behavioral response questions by modifying the STAR format to seamlessly include your WHY (Check out everything you need to know about the STAR format and how to incorporate it into your response here).

WHAT: The skills that you have. These can be hard or soft skills. This is WHAT you do!

HOW: The way that you utilize those skills. This is HOW the things you do are better than anybody else.

WHY: Your core philosophies or beliefs behind your actions. Your driving force and reason for doing the things you do and being the way you are. These are your driving values that will align with the type of employee the hiring manager is looking for.

In nearly every interview question you’ll have the opportunity to share your HOW and WHAT, but in order to maximize your interview response, you’ll want to include your WHY as well.


James is an Air Force veteran and software developer. He's passionate about personal development and sharing that knowledge with those who want to learn. He loves to mentor students to land their dream job, and excel once they’ve got it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts