Category Archives: Employment
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” How do you answer this common interview question? The following is an excerpt from my book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, available from Amazon.
What’s behind this interview question?
Why do interviewers ask you this? For one thing, they want to know whether the job aligns with your goals, and thus whether you’ll stick around. They may also be hoping you have some ambition. Ambitious people often make better employees. They’re more motivated, and they may work harder and smarter. They make a point of growing their abilities.
On the other hand, those who come in with their eye on a higher position and view the current role only as a stepping stone may be impatient and lack commitment to the tasks at hand.
So give an answer that combines a desire to grow, on the one hand, with realism, patience and commitment on the other.
Before the interview, see if you can find information about paths to advancement from within the position. If the only position you can advance to is that of the person you’re interviewing with, proceed with care! He probably won’t like the idea that you have your eye on his job, so just talk about growing and taking on more responsibility.
In most cases you won’t have much information, in which case it’s safest to start with a general answer followed by a question, like this:
“Over the next few years I see myself building my skills, taking on more responsibility and moving up, if it’s appropriate. Can you tell me about how others have advanced from this role?”
Although the question often includes the phrase “five years,” you don’t have to be that precise in your answer. More open-ended terms like “over the next several years” may be best.
We have all heard about the power of networks in the job hunt, but too many people still fall back on using online applying as their central job search method. However, internal referrals and inside validation of candidates still often act as the catalyst to eliminate or minimize the competition. To reach this status, a strong network is needed, and it does not mean that we all need to be extroverts. Here are some basic tips to help expand your network.
Ask members of your current network for referrals. The “friend-of-a-friend” connection is quite strong and can be very successful. “Who else should I be talking to?” is a good question to consider using when asking for referrals.
Ramp up your activities on social and professional networking sites. Add connections / friends. Make sure that your LinkedIn Profile is up-to-date and vibrant. Endorse skills of your connections and write sincere testimonials. Virtual connections can be further strengthened with face-to-face connections, when possible locally.
Join professional groups on LinkedIn. Then become active in participating in or starting discussions. Online networking is an excellent way to grow our networks beyond our geographic limitations.
Join professional associations with local chapter meetings. Then attend the meetings, get to know others, and look for opportunities to assist others. Reciprocation is natural and cooperation bonds people. Local affiliations often hold networking events. Take full advantage of such opportunities.
Volunteer. This is especially important for those in the social services field. Providing your time and effort to a needy cause is perhaps one of the strongest venues for networking because you are working side-by-side with people who share your passion for helping others.
Conduct informational interviews. This is an especially effective method for entry-level job seekers and career changers. As the name implies, this is an interview you set up with someone in your profession or industry who can provide you with an insider perspective. Not only do you gain insider information but you create a valuable contact. Keep it short and professional. Most people are happy to talk about their careers if it does not impinge too much upon their time.
As you grow your network, you will see that it snowballs in a very positive direction as long as you stay positive and professional.
ocial Media: Social media has become more important than ever during a job search. While I have stated it before, let me repeat the five golden rules for social media use during a job search:
- Delete from Facebook, Twitter, or any other site those pictures and posts that show your nonprofessional side, including any heated arguments you exchanged.
- Do not use social media to trash your last employer or your fellow employees.
- Make sure you have a professional profile on LinkedIn and other professional sites.
- Do use social media and the company website to find out more about the company where you are applying or interviewing and to make sure your resume and cover letter speak to the company’s needs.
- Remove any political content in your social media footprint. It has been a contentious time in politics. However, if you are looking for a job, expressing your opinion on social media, or complaining about the results can be perceived as a big negative. Remember half of the voting public in the United States likely disagrees with you.
Resume Content: Your resume may be two pages (or more) but the content in it must be concise and powerful. Hiring managers and recruiters—not to mention applicant tracking systems—do not appreciate long paragraphs about what you did and how you did it. They want to know results and achievements first, and they want to know them fast. Include numbers (revenue you brought in, size of team you led, efficiencies you contributed to) wherever possible. Numbers talk.
Soft Skills on Your Resume: Some of the most important soft skills involve teamwork and team leadership, the ability to motivate and mentor, and the ability to work across silos, countries and backgrounds. More and more companies are reaching out globally, working hard to keep strong teams onboard and discovering the benefits of inclusivity. The workforce has been becoming more mobile and eclectic with every passing year. You need the soft skills to fit in with that new normal.
Contact Information on Your Resume: Complete, correct contact information, including a professional email address, is more important than ever. Unfortunately, many candidates never receive an invitation to interview because their contact information is incomplete.
Job search support groups used to be a staple of job seekers when looking for a new job. They’re still around, but maybe not as easy to find as they used to be. On the other hand, I’ve just learned about a different kind of group that isn’t only for job seekers but could serve as a valuable resource in your next job search.
Such groups have been referred to as “X helping X” groups. In a recent blog post by Nick Corcodillos of Ask The Headhunter (“Recruiting: How to get your hands dirty and hire“), an individual wrote a comment about these groups, which could include such designations as “lawyers helping lawyers” or “accountants helping accountants.” The idea is that members of these groups need help from others who understand the types of challenges they might be facing.
Here’s a quote from the Corcodillos blog (part of his response to the original comment):
“Employers get so stuck thinking about hiring the traditional way that it never occurs to them to make it personal. That means having managers stop and think about social, professional, and community settings where potential job candidates congregate. You’ve hit on a particularly interesting one, where you’re not only getting what you want, but helping the kinds of people who make great employees.”
GROUP COLLABORATION CAN HELP YOUR JOB SEARCH
Finding a group of individuals with a similar background to yours can give you a boost in several ways during your job search. For one thing, those people probably have a good idea of what you’ve been going through, both on the job and in your job search. That increases the odds that you’ll be able to tap into knowledge and experience directly relevant to your situation.
It’s not an unusual concept. If I talk to friends or relatives about what I do in my resume-writing/career coaching business, they might have a vague idea of what I do, but that’s it. They haven’t been “in the trenches” with me as I strive to make good decisions in challenging circumstances and help clients who are struggling with their job search.
On the other hand, when I network with colleagues–at an annual conference or one-on-one–they “get it.” They’re either in a similar situation or they’ve been in one in the past. Plus, I know that the colleagues I’ve come to know well over the years will give me good advice and candid opinions on what I’m doing or thinking about doing. That’s like gold!
Of course, you also want to make sure you’re prepared to participate in a group in a way that benefits others besides yourself. That’s critical.
Debra WheatmanI have recently re-entered the job market, after being in my previous position for nearly ten years. One of the reasons that I stayed in that role for so long was that it offered enormous flexibility of schedule. I have a special needs child, and I really need the ability to work from home as needed to accommodate things like doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions, and meetings with school. Should I be up front with interviewers about my personal situation, and my need for flexibility?
Thanks for writing. The issue you describe is a fairly common one—people become accustomed to the perks of a certain position, and those non-monetary perks become perceived as non-negotiable for their next role. However, it is important to keep in mind that the interview is really not the time to talk about yourself. That’s right. You might think that you’re there to discuss your achievements and accomplishments, but you’re really not. You’re there to talk about a specific business problem and how you might be able to solve it.
I don’t think that you should bring up your home situation with an interviewer. Right or wrong, that is going to send the message that you are someone who has excessive commitments in your personal life, and that you may not be fully dedicated to your job. The interview needs to focus on what you can do for the employer, and how you can help with the current business need.
Question Marks Around Man Showing Confusion And UnsureWhat I do think you should do is to wait until the offer stage, and then negotiate a flexible work arrangement, like two days from home. You have a decade-long tenure at your previous company, and your references should be able to speak to the quality of your work, thus reassuring your prospective manager that you can get your work done regardless of your location. You needn’t mention your child at all. Many, many white collar employees and employers see telecommuting as a reasonable, inexpensive employee benefit.
In any job interview, you’re bound to be hit with one or more “behavioral” questions, the ones that ask you to describe your response to real or hypothetical work situations, and one of the more popular questions concerns your reaction to stressful situations in the workplace.
It’s a reasonable question. No job is immune from stress, whether you’re a retail clerk trying to cope with an irate customer, a programmer faced with an insane deadline or the head of Wells Fargo Bank facing a committee of hostile Senators. The stakes may vary, but performing well under pressure is something that all employers value.
As a result, your answer can make or break your interview performance.
What to Say
You can attack the question from several angles, opting for anything from a simple declaration to a more elaborate explanation. As long as you choose an approach that feels natural to you, you’re off to a good start.
- I do some of my best work under pressure, and I relish the challenge.
- I enjoy working on multiple projects at the same time, and the opportunity to do so has been a chance to really refine my organizational skills.
- When faced with competing, high-pressure demands, I’ve learned to prioritize, and I’ve learned to call on supervisors, teammates and subordinates to sort the priorities and identify those that matter most to the organization.
- Stressful times call for bringing out the best you have to offer, but it’s more than an individual test. It’s also a test of your ability to work well with everyone who’s trying to cope with those same pressures. It’s a test of your entire team, and that means that you need to pay attention to team functioning when the pressure isn’t necessarily at its peak. Waiting until the heat is on can lead to problems. Preparation matters.
- I look on stressful situations as a challenge and an opportunity to grow. I learn new ways of coping all the time, and working under pressure has actually been great for my organizational skills.
As noted, though, those are only places to start. For best results, don’t stop when you’ve described some abstract skills that you’ve developed and deployed. Instead, make it concrete. Tell a story.
Think of an example that shows your highly stressed self in action. Perhaps you were under immense pressure because of a number of competing deadlines. You prioritized. Perhaps you enlisted your supervisor’s help to determine which projects needed to be first on the list. Perhaps you called in another team member who was working on a lower priority project for a temporary assist. Perhaps you rearranged things with some other piece of the project’s structure to accommodate the deadline that truly mattered.
If it helps, organize your story in terms of situation, action and result, the “SAR” approach. What was the situation? What actions did you take? What results did you achieve?
It’s not the details themselves that matter. It’s the fact that you back things up with details in the first place. That’s what makes your answer believable.
What to Avoid
There are a number of answers that just don’t work, and they’re all fairly obvious:
- Don’t talk about a situation in which your actions themselves were the cause of the stress.
- Don’t choose a situation in which the pressure got the better of you.
- Don’t claim that you’re immune to stress. If you’re a human applicant, that’s not a believable answer, and it tends to indicate that you may not be paying much attention to what happens around you. Obliviousness and apathy are not desirable qualities in an interviewer’s eyes.
- Don’t focus too much on your feelings. Talk about what you did, why you did it and how you succeeded.
Securing a coveted interview with a potential employer means you have passed the first test to getting your foot in the door with a new organization. Congratulations! While being asked to interview is an achievement in itself, now is the time to prepare to wow the interviewer(s) with your knowledge of the business, relevant experience, and ability to meld with the company’s corporate culture. The following are some signs you are not prepared for the big job interview with tips on how to get ready to rock it instead.
Not Knowing About the Company
You are not prepared if you know nothing about the company, what type of work it does, the company culture, or any details of the position you have applied for. It will be glaringly obvious to your interviewer if you didn’t do your research ahead of time—and it will hurt your chances of being asked back.
How to Fix It
Do your homework ahead of time by researching the company. Visit the company website to learn about the company’s services or products, what it does best, and the clients they serve. Also visit the company’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages to get a better understanding of the company, any bleeding needs they have, and, most importantly, the company’s culture. You could even reach out to a couple of the company’s current employees to find out what they love most about working for the organization.
You Forgot Important Documents
If you did not bring your resume, cover letter, and references, you are not prepared and it will show. You should have several copies of these printed items with you on crisp, professional paper. When you get the call for an interview, be sure to ask how many people will be interviewing you so you know how many copies to take along. It also never hurts to have a couple of extra copies on hand.
How to Fix It
After you receive an invitation to interview, visit the company website and social media. Review the requirements of the position for which you are interviewing and adjust your cover letter and resume accordingly to demonstrate how well you will fit in and what you bring to the table. Be sure to run a spelling and grammar check. Print several copies two days before the interview on professional resume paper. This buys time to replace ink cartridges, correct glaring errors, and make necessary changes. You also don’t have to panic about printing these the morning of the interview if you have taken care of this in advance.
You Failed to Dress to Impress
You didn’t have proper interview attire, so you’re not dressed appropriately. This is a big problem. Recruiters report that candidates not dressing appropriately for the position is a major factor in their hiring decision. The old adage “Dress to impress” still holds true.
How to Fix It
Dress for the job you want. Invest in at least one great interview outfit. Keep your look conservative and professional. Buy a black, gray, or blue suit that makes you look sharp for corporate jobs. Don’t forget the tie, gentlemen. Also remember nice dress shoes that fit well and will be comfortable to wear. Try on your entire ensemble when you get home to make sure everything fits well and is comfortable far before the interview. This gives you time to make any necessary alterations and allows you to feel primed when the big day arrives.
In a larger sense, your entire career could be viewed as made up of seasonal shifts, from your first job out of college (spring) to your retirement and possible second-act role (winter). Your job search might not have seasonal changes that correspond closely to those you experience in terms of climate-based alterations throughout the year, but as a microcosm of the overall career evolution process, it can and often does change at least somewhat from start to finish.
Consequently, you might find it helpful to consider your job search plan from the viewpoint of seasonal changes. When you start out, you have a goal in mind and define the steps you believe are necessary to achieve that goal. As the search progresses, though, you could well find yourself facing the need to grow and change in ways you hadn’t anticipated when you started the search.
WHERE IS YOUR JOB SEARCH AT THIS TIME?
As I’m writing this, we’re experiencing fall here in Massachusetts, and the leaves have been dropping for a while, although they’re not done yet. This tells us we’re headed for winter weather (snow, ice, etc.), probably not too many weeks in the future, and we might want to make sure our snow-blowers are in good shape!
If that’s comparable to where you are in your job search when you read this, you’ve most likely been engaged in the search for a while. In that case, now might be a good time to re-evaluate your situation and see how far you’ve come toward the goal of a new job and what you still have left to accomplish.
If you’ve been thinking that the end of the year isn’t a good time to work on your job search because “no one is hiring until after January 1,” I encourage you to reconsider. You might not be able to envision the end of your job search at this point, but even if it’s not visible on the horizon yet, you can make progress toward it and save yourself time and trouble on the other end.
Of course, the same can apply equally well regardless of which stage of the search you’re in. Starting it now instead of waiting for January 1 to join the job-seeking crowd could give you a leg-up on your competition. That’s a good thing!
BUILD “SEASONAL” CHANGES INTO YOUR JOB SEARCH PLAN
Unless you want your future to be “more of the same” as the past and present have been, you need to consider building change into the pattern. For instance, if you’re well into the late summer/early fall of your career, the job search probably will look quite different from those you conducted earlier in your career. You’ll have developed a larger and hopefully stronger network, for instance, and will be tapping into that to help move your job search to a successful conclusion.
If you’re contemplating the pursuit of a higher-level management position, the time between now and the end of the year can be usefully applied to maximizing all the resources available to you, including but not limited to your professional network. You’ll definitely want to assess your strongest points from an employer’s perspective and make sure you have attention-getting stories to tell about your successes in those areas.
The holiday season doesn’t need to be 100% down-time in your job search plan. Weave in the job search preparation with the celebration along the way, and you’ll be ahead of the curve come January 1.
Strategic talent development has several aspects: the ability to mentor others, the leadership and other soft skills required to advance oneself, and the perspective needed to see talent gaps in an organization. If you are applying for a job in middle to upper management—up to and including the C-level—your resume must reflect your abilities in strategic talent development and management.
First, strategic talent occurs at every level of an organization. Your ability to recognize and mentor it is an important soft skill. Your resume should show solid results from your mentoring, perhaps by reorganizing teams for greater productivity, developing direct reports into management roles, conducting training at your company’s request, or reducing turnover.
Second, your resume should show your commitment to developing your own talents. Perhaps you were chosen out of a number of candidates for a particular role; perhaps you were quickly promoted within your company; or perhaps you took courses in leadership or in a technology important to your company. Speaking engagements and opportunities to serve as a subject matter expert in your field are excellent indicators of your talent.
Finally, companies need employees who can help to reach their goals. The achievements on your resume should show that you understand the strategic goals of organizations and how to reach them. Your resume should show how your talents align not only with the goals of your current company, but with the goals of the company where you want to work. You should research the pain points of that prospective company and address them in your resume or cover letter.
Did you help create job descriptions and performance metrics that built a clear path for employee advancement? Did you find ways to engage employees who were resisting change or seemed unable to meet goals? Did you turn around a division or an entire company? Did you help identify areas where your company could better align existing talent and strategic goals? Did you institute training or mentoring programs? All of these activities show that you are aware of the importance of strategic talent development and management.
I’m sure you’ve heard some of these from well-meaning friends and family. What worked back in the era of the 3 martini lunch—or in the era when MTV still played music—doesn’t work today. If you hear any of these bits of advice, you have my permission, and encouragement, to ignore them!
Drop your resume off in person. Companies follow strict protocol for resume submission. I don’t know of any employer nowadays that accepts unsolicited resumes in person. Don’t do this. Follow the rules that the employer sets forth in the job descriptions.
Call to “schedule an interview.” This is presumptuous at best, intrusive at worst. If they want to interview you, they will contact you.
Print your resume on bond paper. No one wants a printed resume. No one. Don’t waste your time.
Limit your resume to one page. Unless you are a new graduate, you probably have more than a page’s worth of accomplishments.
Call to follow up on your application. First, unless you sent your application materials directly to an individual, how are you going to know who to follow up with? Again, contemporary etiquette dictates that the hiring company will reach out to you if they wish to have a discussion.
Send the hiring manager a gift so that you will stand out. Gimmicks will not get you a job.
If you’re not applying to 100 jobs a week, you’re not trying hard enough. The most effective job search is targeted. Applying to every posting you see is ineffective.
Offer to work for free in order to “prove yourself.” Not only will no reputable employer go for this, you should never offer your services without compensation. You perform valuable work for which you are compensated.
Get in as a temp, and then you’ll get hired full time! This worked in the 90s. It worked well in the 90s. But now, many companies use “permalancers.” That is, they keep contract employees as temporary ones and very rarely hire them for full-time roles.
You can only wear a navy, gray, or black suit to an interview. Absolutely false. Interview attire can be flexible, and can change with the culture of the company. It would actually be weird, for example, if you went to an interview with a tech startup and dressed in a navy blue suit. You want to look professional and appropriate for the position and the company with which you’re interviewing. You don’t want to look like you’re wearing a uniform.