Is "getting paid" a good enough reason to want to work somewhere? Personally, I'm not looking for much in an employer beyond a regular paycheck and health insurance; any sort of personal fulfillment I want in life I seek in my personal time. To me, a job is nothing more than a means to an end. I struggle in interviews with the "why do you want to work here?" question because the true answer (that they are hiring for a job I am capable of performing, offering pay suitable for my financial needs, and are geographically close to where I live) is generally considered to be the worst answer one can give. Do I need to pretend to care about the company itself, or that I have personal goals that incorporate a career somehow? If so, why?
Here's the secret: When someone asks the "Why do you want to work here" question, what they really want to know is, "If I hire you, are you going to be here in a few years, or is this just a job and you'll keep looking for something better?"
Honestly, few jobs are the personal fulfillment type of jobs. And I'd even argue that by looking for a job to fulfill our sense of purpose, we actually are more likely to end up miserable. But companies aren't interested in your personal fulfillment. They're interested in their bottom line. Turnover is expensive. Hiring someone who is the wrong fit is expensive. Having an employee who wants to be at a different job is a drain on morale.
Stop thinking, "Why do I want to work for this company?" and start thinking, "Is this a job I would be happy in (not thrilled, ecstatic, etc., but happy) now and in a few years?" If the answer to that is "yes," then answer the question with why this is a good fit for you.
Answering that it will pay the mortgage just indicates that you'll be looking for something better. Everybody has bills to pay, so that doesn't distinguish you from the crowd.
Do you need to pretend to care about the company? No. Do you need to care about the company? Absolutely. Not in that "if Acme Corp had a Facebook account I would friend it!" sort of way. But you absolutely do need to care about the company. In order to get hired, you must care about what the company does and what its needs are. You must research. You must be able to speak intelligently about the company. You must be able to show them what you can do for them.
You want a pay check and health insurance. They want to be a successful, profitable company. If you can't care enough about the company to show why you can help them in towards that goal, then you're probably not on the callback list.
Regardless of the fact that you aren't looking for personal fulfillment, having a job you hate will destroy your outside-office fun as well. It's important to have a good culture match. For instance, I interviewed once at a company where the interviewing manager said, "I'm sure you've heard that women aren't allowed to wear pants here, but that's not true. We changed that a couple of years ago." (This was in 1998.) She then took a drink from a mug on her desk and said, "We aren't allowed to have cans of soda on our desks, so you have to pour your diet coke into a mug."
At that point, it didn't matter what the company did or what I could do for them because I could never work in an environment that was so picky that they cared what I drank my soda from. I'm not even a soda drinker. In fact, I don't think I've ever had a can of soda on my desk. But, I wasn't about to work for a company that had a rule about that. That's not a good culture fit for me. You need to think about things like that.
Good luck on your job search.
Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.