How to answer "Why are you interested in this?" questions in interviews

Several days ago I had a job interview. I asked the budget of the project and they did not answer the question and asked me why I was interested in. I just said I was curious, because I was curious. I could not give am more elaborate answer because I did not expect they would ask me why I was interested in learning the budget of the project.

Is it OK to ask about the budget of the project in the interview?
How should I have answered this question?
A side question: is it fair to answer an interviewee with “why are you interested in learning this?”

I would think you asked a fair question. I don’t think just curious was such a good answer but I can understand not having anything better right off the top of your head.

Of course it is fair.

Why were you curious? In what ways does that potentially reflect positively upon you?

If I was asking the budget question my answer to the why am I asking one might be that I like to have a sense of the big picture of what I am hoping to be involved in. Not sure though that that was why you were curious.

What did you really want to know? How many contractors were going to be working on it? How long-term it might be? Whether it was “important” and might lead to more assignments for you? What would the budget have told you? I think your question was a bit “vague” as to what you were wanting to know, and the interviewer’s question was trying to get from you what you were really wanting to know.

I agree with blob on that one. I think asking about project scope, person-hours, or some subject-related metric (in IT: number of use cases, etc.) would be clearer – and more relevant – than budget.

Well say you hired me for a building project, it would be nice to know whether I’m building a doghouse or Trump Tower.

It could depend somewhat on what part of the project you are being hired for. If you are interview to be the PM, then it would be odd for them to not state that upfront. I suppose that there may be some jobs which the scope would be irrelevant.

The scope and the budget are… related, but it can be more important to know which one is more important. I’ve known the scope of every project I’ve worked in, but I’ve had financial information in only one professional project. Normally I get scope for the total project and for any subprojects I manage, and I budget mainly person-hours (very rarely trips); I know VP-hours are more expensive than lab-tech-hours, but I don’t know how much each costs.

There’s been interviews where I’ve been asked what was the sales volume of this or that of my former clients. The answer “I have no idea. I’m Ops, not Sales or Finance.” “Oh, but that’s an important piece of information!” “If I were Sales, Finance or an investor. I’m neither. Now, if you want to know what was the cost and the lead time for the most expensive replacement part in each of their factories, I am your woman! Mind you: I wouldn’t tell you, it’s confidential.”

Yes, sarcasm is always a good idea at job interviews.

It really depends on what the specifics are. Is this an on-going annual budget, or are you talking about a one-time project? Would the open position have to make decisions based on the budget? What type of work?

When I’ve interviewed people, I’m often interested in the underlying thought process. If you would have said something like, “I was interested in the scope of the project I would be working on” would have been a positive answer IMHO.

I thought it was slightly improper to ask confidential matters while still at the hiring stage. That is, unless you were asked to comment on a project and the only way you can is to know the amount budgeted.

Somewhat irrelevant is the fact that most projects are derived on a “best use” basis, meaning the plan is the best there is for the external givens. In that case, it is assumed that the budgeted amount to put the plan into action would be academic.

Did you sign an NDA? No? Then I’m not going to tell you the budget.
If you are interviewing for a senior management position, then an idea of the scope is pretty important. If you are interviewing for a programmer job then not so much.

A good question would be how the project fits into the work and scope of the company. You will be on other projects with other budgets if you stick around, understanding how the pieces fit together is a lot more relevant than budget.
In any case the significance of the budget depends on project specifications and requirements. $10 million Euros might be lavish or skimpy depending on those.

Also, some companies might be worried about people from competitors interviewing to check things out. I’ve never run into this, but a certain level of paranoia might be appropriate. Someone interviewing for a low level job asking about budget might set off alarm bells. That might be why they asked why you want to know.

“Why are you interested in why I’m interested in the budget”? Then the interview is over and all your problems are finished.

I’d probably try to recover with something like “I was going to follow with some questions about how your budgets are determined and set, in particular, for ‘greenfield’ projects where there is no past template available - how do you, as a company, measure (expected) value for money?”

They may want to know if you’re just asking random questions that pop in your head or whether you are thinking strategically. Have you ever been with a kid who asks a million questions like “why is the sky blue” “why are clouds in the sky” “why does it rain” etc, etc. etc? The child is just popping off questions and doesn’t seem to care or understand the answer. So like with a question about the budget, first think about why you are asking the question. Why do you care about the budget? Do you think the project’s scope is very large and you’re worried that they might not have planned for a big enough budget? And rather than asking for a specific number, it would have been better to say something like “That project sounds pretty ambitious. Do you think there is management support (e.g. budget) to make it happen?” In general, companies are not going to want to tell you confidential corporate details like budgets and future plans since you might just be a spy from a competitor.

So in the future, take a moment to think about why you are asking the question. I’m sure we all can understand you may feel on the spot in an interview and feel forced to come up with questions, but try to make it seem like there is some reasoning behind what you are asking. You can also do some homework on the company beforehand to come up with canned questions. That way you don’t have to think of something in the moment.