Ask James: How do I answer this question about competition?

Put on the spot about whether a company is the right fit for you?

In his monthly column, career coach and Chairman of reed.co.uk, James Reed, shares his expert advice to help you tackle your biggest career concerns.

This month, James gives his top tips on how to handle talking about competition in front of a prospective employer…

 

The question…

Hi James,

During an interview last week, the interviewer asked me the question: ‘If you could work for any company other than this one, which one would it be?’. I completely floundered and didn’t know what to say.

How do I answer this question without sounding keen to work for the competition?

Best,

Aaron

 

The answer…

 

Hi Aaron,

You’re not the first person to be stumped by this question. It’s a difficult one to get right. You need to provide a sincere and enthusiastic answer, without seeming overly keen to work elsewhere.

In today’s competitive jobs market, recruiters will expect you to have interviews lined up at other companies – probably even competitors. So don’t feel like this is something you have to hide from them if you do.

It’s easy to confuse this question with ‘what other companies are you interviewing with?’, but be careful because they aren’t the same. This question is asking which company you’d choose to work for, not what companies you have interviewed for already or are planning to interview with in the future.

Although it can feel awkward talking about one company when you’re interviewing at another, it won’t look great if you’re asked this question and you’re unable to provide an answer.

The majority of candidates, when asked this question, will probably reel off a list of the big players in your industry. But you don’t want to just blend in with the other interview candidates, you want to stand out, and this question is an opportunity to do so.

Rather than viewing this question as a chance to ruin the interview, use it to your advantage. See it as an opportunity to show your interviewer that you’ve done your homework and know your chosen industry well.

Instead of picking the larger, obvious companies in your industry that everyone else wants to work for, choose one of the lesser known companies or startups to show that your knowledge of the industry goes beyond surface level.

Anyone can Google ‘best companies for marketing jobs’, but very few will know about the up-and-coming firm that’s changing the face of the industry.

When you are talking about competitors, don’t describe companies as interchangeable. Avoid any suggestion that companies all look the same or do the same thing. Apart from looking like you don’t fully understand the industry, you may end up insulting your potential employer. Every company has their own unique culture and selling points that distinguish them from the competition.

One final thought. Even though your interviewer has specifically asked you to name a company other that the one you’re interviewing for, you can still use this as an opportunity to talk about the reasons you want to work for their company and what distinguishes them from the competition.

Find their unique selling points, and highlight them.

 

Best of luck in your next interview.

James

Common interview questions and answers

Difficult interview questions and answers

 

If you’d like James to answer your career query, tweet your question to @James_A_Reed

 

 

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