Job Interviews

Answering the Interview Question: Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

Ideal responses for one of the trickiest interview questions.

This one is right up there with “tell me your top five strengths and weaknesses.” In an ideal world, prospective employers would only ask about your workplace experiences (teamwork, job responsibilities, how you handled projects, etc.) and draw their own conclusions about you as an employee from there.

But that doesn’t always happen. Some companies have set questions they ask potential employees to weed out undesirable candidates from the rest of the applicants. Asking where you see yourself  in five years is one of those questions.

Your answer can tell them something about your drive, your desire to keep working at their company, and where you think this position fits into your career and overall life.

Here are our tips on how to best answer.

Focus on Upward Movement

Most employers want an employee that plans on improving over time. They don’t want you to be content with the same responsibilities year after year. The expectation is that you’ll come to master some of your responsibilities, and be able to handle more work (whether that means just more duties or an outright promotion).

So when they ask where you see yourself in five years, don’t say the same position. Aim for a management position, just not the position your possible manager has (you don’t want to seem like you’re gunning for their job). Find a specific position if you can (___supervisor, ___manager, etc.), not just “a management position.” Note that you hope to use all of the experience and responsibilities you will pick up in this position in your future career.

Show Your Passion for Learning

Employers love employees that love to learn. If you’re constantly improving yourself, you’re continually making yourself a more talented and desirable employee.

In five years, you want to still be learning, still honing your skills. Whether that means obtaining a certain metric (___ number of customer services calls an hour, ____ increase in page views on a website, ___% increase in product production time, etc.), taking continual online training courses, obtaining a certification, or earning a degree, tell your interviewer about it. Make sure to associate all of that learning with the position you’re interviewing for, and how it will help the company as a whole.

Illustrate Your Desire to Stay At the Company

General turnover is higher now than in previous years. The current economy is a job seeker’s market. That means employers are looking for people who are in it for the long haul. When they ask you about where you want to be in five years, tell them you plan to be at ___ company. Mention a project you’ve read about online that’s coming up in the future you’d like to be a part of, or a future product you want to help create.

Research the company’s upcoming plans (news releases are great for this). Is there anything that looks like it will be launching within the next five years or so? Mention you want to be involved in that, and you’ll show that you really know the company.

And that’s how to answer the question!

Show you’re a stellar employee with real goals who truly wants the position. That’s what they’re asking for, anyway. “Do you really want this job? Will you work hard at this job?  Are you in this for the long haul? Okay, then prove it.”

And now you’re ready to do just that.

Have you ever had to answer this question? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below!

So, You Left a Toxic Work Culture – How Do You Explain That in an Interview?

Where do you even start?

Sometimes a good company goes bad. This can be for a range of reasons: from sketchy financial situations and harassment issues to nepotism and endless gossip. The possibilities are practically endless. Regardless, the result is the same—you probably leave.

But while interviewing with new companies several of them ask why you left your previous job (especially if you weren’t there for very long).

How are you supposed to respond? Should you tell the truth? Or do you need to dress it up as something else? The answer is a mix of both.

Tell the Truth (But Maybe Not Every Detail)

Being honest about why you left a job is a good thing. But try to keep your emotions and the specific details out of it. For instance, if you left because of nepotism, stay away from saying “I left because the CEO only promoted friends and family members into leadership positions.” This makes it sound like you were bitter about the promotion landscape, and might have been coming up for excuses why you weren’t promoted.

Instead, go with something along the lines of: “I was ready to take on more responsibilities and enter a management position, but the company decided to go in another direction. While I respect that decision, I believe I’m ready for a position like [name of position you’re interviewing for], and am excited to take that next step.”

This way you’re staying truthful, but keeping the focus on you as a productive individual and your own career hopes and dreams.

Keep the Focus on You

Don’t spend too much time talking about the culture and misdeeds of your last company. Your interviewer wants to know more about you as a job candidate not about how your last company was run. Keep emotion out of the interview, give a quick soundbite about why you left that job, and continue to keep the light on yourself and why you’re perfect for the position you’re interviewing for.

If you spend too much time talking about how bad your last job was, your potential employer might think that’s how you’ll talk about their company in the future.

Show What You Learned

Try not to place all the blame on that old company. What was it that finally made you leave? Focus on that element, and turn your leaving the company into a learning experience.

For instance, perhaps there was uncontrollable gossip in the office due to a lack of clarity from management regarding the future of the company. Instead of saying that you left because “people wouldn’t stop talking about me behind my back,” opt for something positive:

“There was a lack of clear vision for the company going into the future, and this trickled down into discontent among employees.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure where things were going either. However, I eventually realized that sitting around wondering about things wasn’t going to do anything to change my circumstances. I researched ways for the company to improve, and brought them to my supervisor to forward up the chain. When no action was taken regarding those concerns, I decided to leave the company. I wish them all the best, but I think for me, personally, it’s time for a change.”

Have you ever left a toxic work culture? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below!

How to Follow Up After an Interview

You’ve got your foot in the door, but how do you make sure they let you in?

We’ve all been there. The interview is over, and you feel great. You breezed past every question, provided solid references, and you know you’re the right person for the job.

But three weeks go by and you don’t hear anything. Weeks turn into months. Did you do something wrong? Is there anything you didn’t cover in your interview?

You want to touch base with your interviewer to see if you’re still in the running, but how do you do that?

Believe it or not, it all starts mere minutes after your interview ends.

Step 1: Write a Thank You Note

As soon as you get home from an interview, start drafting a handwritten thank you note. This should be brief, but powerful. Mention something new you learned about the organization, like what a typical day is like or what you learned about their workforce. That shows you’re not only interested in the company as a place to work, but in the people and culture as well.

Companies interview many, many applicants. Sending a great thank you letter is a wonderful way to stand out and help them remember you. Making yourself memorable means they’ll be more likely to get in contact with you in the future about the interview process.

Step 2: Send an Email Inquiry

The best way to get in touch about next steps is to send an email. Wondering how to make that email stand out? As noted by CareerSidekick, reply to an existing conversation. You’ve already talked to your interviewer by email (or someone in HR), so replying to that same email chain makes it easier to remember who you are.

Change the subject line to something specific regarding your interview. This can be something like RE: Last Monday’s Interview or RE: John Smith’s Interview Status. Something that catches the eye and gets straight to the point.

Step 3: Write the Email

A great follow up email should be short and sweet, but packed with specifics. Start off by using their first name, and then mention the exact position you’re applying for. Sprinkle in a few details about why you’re the best person for this position. Then tell them you enjoyed the interview and are excited to learn more about the company.

Finish up by asking about next steps and when you might hear something about the position.

Not quite sure what to say? Here’s a basic template! Feel free to adjust it to your needs, but try to keep it short and simple.

“Hi Edward,

It was wonderful interviewing with you last week regarding the Administrative Assistant position. I enjoyed learning about your company culture and hope to get started with Company Name soon! With over ___ years of experience, I’m excited to start working with Company Name.

If it’s not too much trouble, could you provide me with information regarding next steps and when I might hear back about the position?

Thank You,

Bobby Schmidt”

Call

You should only call as a last resort. If you’ve emailed and still not heard anything after a month or more, then it’s alright to pick up the phone. Politely ask about the status of the position. If they tell you it has been filled, thank them for their time and tell them you’ll be sure to apply for another position in the future. Just because this job wasn’t right for you doesn’t mean the next one won’t be perfect!

Do you have any more questions about following up after an interview? Let us know in the comments section below!

Body Language: When You Ruin Your Interview Without Opening Your Mouth

In an ideal world, interviews would purely be about your skills and accomplishments. An interview would consist of placing your resume in a machine and watching it match you to the perfect position.

But we aren’t just our resumes. We’re people. Each one of us has our own personality, culture, and worldview. Those differences are what make successful teams.

However, your personal quirks are being reviewed in an interview just as much as your resume. An interviewer wants to know who you are as a person and how that fits into their particular team dynamic.

Unfortunately, there are certain habits or body language that can immediately dissuade an interviewer from hiring you. And you’ll never know what they are without someone to tell you. Luckily we’re here to do just that, using information from a CareerBuilder study.

Failure to Make Eye Contact

This was number one on CareerBuilder’s list of the biggest body language mistakes. And it makes sense—failure to make eye contact means three things to interviewers:

  1. You’re not confident in your skills. You might be meek or afraid to take on challenges.
  2. You aren’t a people person. Most jobs require some degree of human interaction, and not being able to handle an interviewer’s gaze doesn’t bode well for interacting with customers or other employees.
  3. You might be easily distracted. Lack of eye contact can sometimes come across as not paying attention.

Here’s how to know if you struggle with eye contact:

  • Go somewhere with someone in authority. It might a meeting with a professor, dinner with the in-lawws, or an appointment with your doctor. Challenge yourself to maintain eye contact with them during an entire interaction. If you can’t, you might have a problem.
  • Hold mock interviews with your friends or family. Have them ask hard questions, and try not to look away too often.
  • It’s important to note here that good eye contact is not constant eye contact. You don’t want to make your interviewer uncomfortable by staring at them constantly.

Failure to Smile

Here we have number two on CareerBuilder’s list. It’s easy to tell why this one is a problem. Your interviewer might think:

  1. You don’t like interacting with others and might be a problem on team projects or in customer service positions.
  2. You don’t really want the job in the first place. (Why are you here?)
  3. You dislike your interviewer.

If you’re a person who doesn’t smile very often, you’re probably aware of it. Friends might bring it up from time to time, saying you need to smile more often. And honestly? It’s ok if you’re not a super smiler. Some of us just aren’t.

But in an interview, you do need to smile. For all of the reasons stated above. Remember, your interviewer doesn’t know who you are as a person. They’re basing their entire approximation of who you are based on a 40 to 60-minute interview. So, you need to do everything you can to show them you’re right for the job.

Playing with Something on the Table/Fidgeting Too Much in His/Her Seat

These came in at third and fourth, respectively, on CareerBuilder’s list. We’re including them in the same section since they’re similar types of behavior.

An interviewer is here to speak with you. They expect to be your main point of focus. You should answer questions promptly and succinctly. If you’re engaging in the behaviors outlined above they might think:

  1. You’re bored and don’t want to be in the interview.
  2. You won’t be able to focus on projects if they hire you.
  3. You won’t be able to handle the pressure of the job in general.

Also, you shouldn’t touch anything on the desk unless prompted by your interviewer.

This is another behavior you might not be aware of. Next time you’re watching TV or talking to someone that outranks you, check how long you can stay completely still. If it’s an issue, take a few moments each day to meditate or sit still.

Not Quite Sure How to Up Your Interview Game?

Express Employment Professionals can help.

We have a video about interviewing in our Job Genius educational program.

And, if you’re looking for a job and more interviews in general, call your local office. Our recruiters will work with you to figure out your interview strengths and weaknesses.

Check out our online office locator to find a location near you and schedule an in-person visit, or apply online.

 

Ask a Recruiter: How Much Should You Share About Your Past Job in an Interview?

Are you telling too much? Or not enough?

You got past the phone interview and now you’re sitting in front of someone who could be your boss in the very near future. Then they ask the dreaded question: “Why did you leave your previous position?”

You have so much to say. Maybe your boss was a control freak who was impossible to work for. Perhaps you wanted a promotion that was never in the cards. It’s even possible you just wanted a change of pace.

But does your interviewer need to hear all that stuff? How much info is too much?

We asked our Express Employment Professionals expert recruiters to find out.

Avoid Negative Emotions

If you left a job because you hated your boss, it can be tempting to say so. But bringing that up in an interview is unprofessional. Keep the discussion to the job and any duties you were responsible for and leave your boss out of it.

“I always advise my candidates to keep anything negative about a previous job unemotional. If it was not a good experience, highlight what experience that you gained and stick to specific job duties. I’m against saying anything negative about previous bosses or coworkers. Most companies take that as you, the interviewee, being hard to please or get along with.”— Carlos DeLaFuente, Portland, OR

Be Honest

Obviously, you don’t want to lie during any stage of the interview process. But when it comes to interviews, being honest means answering questions truthfully but appropriately. For instance, if you’re asked why you left a previous position, don’t say, “The work was boring.” Instead, say something along the lines of, “There was a mismatch between the company’s work culture and my own way of handling job responsibilities.” The truth about the work is still there, but saying it in an impartial way is professional. Plus, you’ll avoid looking like a potential problem employee with a chip on your shoulder.

And if you were let go? Admit it. Just be purposeful with how you say it.

“I think people have to tread a fine line with being honest, but not oversharing the emotional side of it. I find a lot of people trying to skirt the issue or not being honest as to why they are no longer with an employer. I think it is good to be honest with why the employment ended and if they were terminated as to why they believe this happened and what they learned.” —Shannon Jacoby, Bellingham, WA

“Use phrases like ‘parted ways’ instead of quit or fired. Something like ‘the company was going in a different direction from my work goals.’ Most interviewers will understand that wording and realize that you are being professional and ultimately that is what a company is looking for, people that can maintain a professional demeanor during adversity.”— Carlos DeLaFuente, Portland, OR

Embrace Positivity

When it comes to talking about previous jobs, you want to show that you learned something. An interviewer doesn’t want to hire someone who was employed for four years and didn’t come out of the experience with any extra knowledge.

When you’re talking about your previous job, focus on what you learned and how exciting it was to learn those things. Interviewers love to see applicants who are passionate about their work.

“Instead of sharing how much you dislike a position and why it didn’t work out, flip it around and tell the interviewer what you learned while working in your last role and what your greatest accomplishment was during your time there. NEVER trash talk your previous supervisor or company! I have had situations were applicants have cried at my desk or talked negatively about their life or previous job. All that being said, keep it positive and professional!” — Kim Vargas, Howell, NJ

“Showing excitement about what you did is very appealing to an interviewer. Speaking highly of coworkers or ex-bosses is perfectly fine as long as it is kept to work relations. Avoid talking about personal time away from work with coworkers. An interviewer might read this as potentially bringing drama to a team.” — Carlos DeLaFuente, Portland, OR

Any more questions about how much to share about a previous job in an interview? Let us know in the comments section below!

Discussing Skills and Experience in an Interview

Interviews usually start out the same way. You’ll shake hands with your interviewer, sit down, and wait for the first question. They might want a quick introduction, or could just go right into asking about your resume. If you don’t have a resume, they might want you to speak about your applicable experience and skills.

This is where many job seekers stumble. Some have plenty of skills and experience, but aren’t exactly clear on how to articulate it. Others don’t have much experience, and don’t know what to say.

Here’s our list of do’s and don’ts to get everything out there.

Do: Kick Things Off with an Elevator Pitch

Before digging into your skills and work experience, share a bit about who you are as a person. Giving the interviewer a feel for your unique personality, strengths, and what you’re looking for in a job is a great way to stand out from the competition.

All this information is called your elevator pitch, a quick speech outlining who you are, what you want, and what you can do for the company. This is where you can highlight what you want in a position (e.g. family-oriented culture, opportunities for advancement), as well as specific experiences you’re proud of (e.g. increasing ROI, achieving deadlines during a serious time crunch).

Do: Make a List of Your Skills

You have useful skills; the hard part is figuring out how to talk about them. For instance, maybe you were a cashier at a fast food restaurant or sold shoes at the mall. That means you have customer service experience! The same goes for being a recruiter for a school or college club.

Before your interview, write down a list of everything you did at your past jobs. Or, if you haven’t worked before, jot down club or volunteer experience. Then, translate those job responsibilities into skills and pair them with specific experiences. Instead of going on an unfocused ramble about your last job, note that you managed a team, completed projects well-before deadline, or exceeded expected quality levels.

That’s the kind of information interviewers want to hear. Making a list ensures you recognize your skills and can speak directly about them, instead of babbling about jobs in general without a central focus.

Do: Connect Your Skills to the Job You’re Applying For

Every job is different, which means you need to prepare differently for every interview. Take time to read the “required skills” section of the job listing and match those qualities to the ones on your list. Sprinkle a few of those keywords into your interview and expand on them with specific experiences and you’ll stand out as an applicant.

Don’t: Speak Poorly of a Previous Employer

This is something we mention frequently. It seems obvious, right? Nobody is going to want to hire you if you walk into an interview complaining about a previous boss.

But things are a bit more complicated than that. In most interviews, you’ll be asked about why you left your previous job, or what issues you ran into at a previous position. Applicants make mistakes when they’re tempted to say it was because of being fired, hating their boss, or bad leadership.

While you shouldn’t lie in response to these questions, finding a positive spin to show off your skills and experiences is a safe way to answer. Saying anything negative can cause the interviewer to think you might speak negatively of your new employer in the future.

Perhaps there wasn’t a chance to advance into higher positions (this shows your zest for success), or you realized you wanted to use your skills and experience in a whole new way. And if you can’t come up with anything positive? Just say that there was a culture mismatch.

Do: Stop Stressing

The interview process is stressful. You need a job now to pay your bills. But you’ve done everything you can. You’ve made a list and checked it twice, conducted your research, and really gotten to know who you are as an employee. All that’s left now is to ace the interview. So, breathe. Take a few minutes to meditate, let out a primal scream, or do whatever it is you need to do to settle your nerves. Go in there, be yourself, and dazzle them with your experience.

Have any more questions about discussing skills or experience in an interview? Let us know in the comments section below!

Asking Relevant Questions After an Interview

Does your interviewer keep answering your questions before you can ask them? We’ve got you covered.

Last month we asked what parts of the job interview process you need help with. You all agreed that asking relevant questions was your top pick, so that’s what we’re covering today!

During your interview preparation journey, you’ve no doubt come across the tip that you absolutely must ask questions at the end of an interview. This is true. Asking great questions shows your interest in the position and helps you stand out against the competition. However, what do you do if your interviewer already answered the questions you had prepared?

The key lies in your question preparation. You need to come up with multiple insightful questions so you have backups at the end of the interview. However, avoid asking questions just to ask them—everything you prepare should be relevant to the position.

We realize it’s hard to come up with these questions on your own, so we’ve prepared a few of our favorites. Feel free to customize them to suit your unique interview situation.

1. A question asking for more information about the job.

For example: If I were hired for this position, how would my performance be measured?

This question shows that you’re interested in the intricacies of the position beyond the job description. It also shows that you’re goal-oriented and are already thinking about how you can be the best employee possible.

2. Something specific about the company’s culture that wasn’t covered online.

For example: What factors were considered when designing your logo? How did you settle on your current mission statement?

Although this question will change depending on the company, showing an interest in the company’s culture is always a great idea. Such a question displays your passion and interest in the company as something more than a place where your job is.

3. A question specifically tailored for your interviewer.

For example: I saw on LinkedIn that you oversaw [project name]. What was that experience like?

Or: Have you ever had an experience at [company] that really made you think ‘this is what it means to work at [company]? What was that like?

These questions show that you’re curious not only about the company, but about your interviewer as well. A slightly more personal question can get an interviewer to lower their defenses and see you as an individual, not just a job applicant. You can also get great answers from these questions that provide a behind-the-scenes look at the company. Just make sure not to ask about any failed projects or hard financial times.

4. A question regarding the recent history of the company.

For example: I saw that the company recently overcame [problem]. Would it be alright if we discussed how that was achieved?

Be careful with this one. Although showing that you’re interested in how your skills can solve a past company problem, you don’t always know how an interviewer is going to react. Some companies keep these problems close to their vest, while others love to see brave interviewees take on problems before they even get an offer. Research online, get a feel for the culture, and only then decide if you want to take the plunge. Avoid any emotional issues like layoffs or company reorganization.

5. And if it wasn’t covered, always ask:

What will the next steps look like?

This one is more for your benefit than the interviewer’s, but it does show that that you care about what happens next. And you’d be surprised how many interviewers fail to cover it during the interview!

Have any question you’ve had success with in interviews? Let us know in the comments section below.