There Are no Stupid Questions, but There Are Definitely Stupid Answers

When college career counselors prepared me to enter the job market,1 they drilled one lesson in my head: Be prepared to tell interviewers why you want the job. 

That lesson sprang to mind a few days ago as I read the obituaries for journalist Roger Mudd. All of the coverage recounted an anecdote about how Mudd destroyed a presidential candidate’s chances of being elected. From the NBC News article:

In the report, Mudd asked the Massachusetts senator a simple question: “Why do you want to be president?”

Kennedy was unable to give a focused answer or specify what he personally wanted to do.

“Well, I’m, uh, were I to make the announcement to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country. … We’re facing complex issues and problems in this nation at this time but we have faced similar challenges at other times. … And I would basically feel that it’s imperative for this country to move forward, that it can’t stand still, for otherwise it moves backward.”

Kennedy flubbed the response disastrously. I wonder if that’s the moment every guidance counselor in America began preparing job seekers for that exact question.2

1 Not nearly well enough, as my resume will attest. 
2 I’d like to paraphrase another Kennedy and give some more advice about how to answer this question: Talk not about what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.