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What’s Your 5-Year Goal? The Most Common Interview Questions, #2

What's Your 5-Year Goal? The Most Common Interview Questions, #2“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

How do you answer this common interview question?

This post is the second in a series of excerpts from my upcoming book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, to be published January 1, 2017. You can pre-order it as an eBook now, or get the softcover in January.

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.

What other interview questions are you wondering about?

Keep reading this blog as we examine some of the most common interview questions, what they’re about, and how to answer them in a way that’s authentic, strategic and gets you the offer. Next up: “Why Did You Leave That Job?” And remember there’s a lot more help in my book!

How to Use Job Interview “Extras”: Portfolios, Presentations & Plans

How to Use Job Interview Extras: Porfolios, Presentations & PlansUsed correctly, job interview “extras” such as portfolios, presentations and 30/60/90-day plans can make your interview more memorable and convincing – and make you stand out as the candidate who goes the extra mile.

Portfolios aren’t just for artists.

Portfolios – whether online or physical – aren’t just for “creative” professionals like graphic designers and copywriters. If the quality of your work can be demonstrated by several of the following items, consider assembling them into a binder or computerized presentation.

You might include:

  • Samples of work or summaries of projects
  • Writing samples
  • Kudos
  • Awards
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Positive performance reviews
  • Graphs, charts or other infographics
  • Certificates, licenses or transcripts
  • Resume, cover letter and references
  • And what else? Use your imagination and good judgment.

Use an attractive binder – don’t skimp! – and place each item in a page protector, perhaps with copies to share behind each original. Or design the portfolio to be left with the interviewer. (Do not impose on them to return it to you afterwards! Keep a copy for yourself.)

If you have only one item or two extra items to show, for example a letter of recommendation and a list of references, you can simply provide these to the interviewer along with your resume.

Consider a mini-presentation with your tablet or laptop.

Some interviews require that you give a presentation – but if it’s not required, why not be the only candidate who prepared one?

This can be especially effective if presentation skills are relevant to the job, or if some of your skills – for example, web design – lend themselves well to online presentation.

Do not ask to use the employer’s presentation equipment. Keep your use of technology simple and seamless. A tablet computer may be the best choice, because it’s easy to hand back and forth. And make sure your battery is fully charged; don’t search around for an outlet to plug into.

Any unasked-for presentation should be very brief. It could be anywhere from a quick reference to one particularly telling infographic, or a multi-slide presentation the length of a typical interview answer (which you may recall, I suggest limiting to a minute or two).

Introduce the presentation as a way of answering a question that has been asked. “To answer that question, I’d like to show you a one-minute presentation I’ve prepared on my tablet. All right?”

Remember that applications like PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or Google Slides are only as effective as your use of them. Spend at least a few minutes reading up on smart presentation design in terms of font sizes, balance of text versus images, color, and so on.

Is a 30/60/90-day plan appropriate for you?

This tool is typically used by executives, managers and sales or marketing professionals, but it could be effective for others as well. The plan shows what you would accomplish in your first three months on the job, and the purpose is to demonstrate that you fully understand the role, have good ideas about how to perform it, and are highly motivated – driven – to excel in it.

Craft and present this toward the end of the interview process, after completing at least an interview or two, when you’ve gained detailed knowledge of the challenges, resources and expectations involved in the position.

Expect to spend a number of hours researching the company and its environment, writing the plan, and developing a polished document or electronic presentation.

Since you’re not yet on the job, the plan will necessarily be tentative, and may include mention of additional information you would seek or alternative courses of action to be considered. At the interview, engage the interviewer in discussion about your plan and invite feedback.

Be deferential in introducing extras into the interview.

Remember that the employer is in charge of the agenda for the interview and respect that. You want to bring your portfolio, presentation or plan into the meeting only with their permission, at the right moment and without disrupting the smooth flow of the meeting.

Physical portfolio, plan or other document: If the interview is taking place at a conference table, you might say something like, “May I set this here?”, making it natural for the interviewer to ask you about it when they’re ready. Otherwise, wait until a topic arises that corresponds to what you’ve brought and ask, “May I show you something that relates to this?”

Electronic presentation: It may be distracting or seem inappropriate to have your device in plain sight before you’ve had a chance to explain its presence. It may be best to keep it in your briefcase until the right moment has arisen and the interviewer has agreed to view your presentation.

Be prepared for the possibility that the interviewer may not want to look at what you’ve prepared, either due to time constraints or a desire to be “fair” by following the same format with each applicant. In that case, you might offer a hard copy or attach it with your follow-up correspondence afterwards. Your effort was not wasted – you’ve still demonstrated your exceptional motivation, creativity and work ethic.

What will work for you, to make you stand out in your job interview?

Job Search Tips from the Olympics

simoneJob search has more in common with the Olympic Games than you might think.

Both require a participant to do their best in a high-pressure, competitive situation. And every great athlete knows success is not due purely to physical prowess; mental preparation is huge.

A study of Olympic athletes has shown that four key mental skills were crucial in their success.

One: Positive Self-Talk.

Here’s an Olympic runner:

Immediately before the race I was thinking about trying to stay on that edge, just letting myself relax, and doing a lot of positive self-talk about what I was going to do. I just felt like we couldn’t do anything wrong. It was just up to us. I said, ‘There’s nothing that’s affecting us in a negative way, the only thing now is to do it, and we can do it . . . I just have to do my best.’

I’m sure Olympic athletes have unhelpful thoughts, too – the equivalent of a job seeker’s “I’m so awful at interviewing” or “I can’t call that hiring manager, I’ll make a fool of myself!” But they can’t afford to let those thoughts go undisputed – and neither can you.

Instead of kicking yourself when these thoughts occur, just kindly replace them with positive thoughts like “I’m working on my interviewing skills and getting better all the time” or “I’ll get ready for that call and I’ll make a good connection” or “I’m calling him five minutes from now and we’re having a great conversation.”

Two: Visualization (a.k.a. Creative Imagery or Mental Practice).

These athletes had very well developed imagery skills and used them daily. They used imagery to prepare themselves to get what they wanted out of training, to perfect skills within the training sessions, to make technical corrections, to imagine themselves being successful in competition, and to see themselves achieving their ultimate goal.

Visualization goes even further than positive statements. Saying to yourself “I’m calling the hiring manager and we’re having a good conversation” is good – and vividly imagining is even better.

For tips, see my article Mental Practice for Interviews.

Three: Setting Goals.

The best athletes had clear daily goals. They knew what they wanted to accomplish each day, each workout, each sequence or interval. They were determined to accomplish these goals and focused fully on doing so.

We all know determination is important. How can you be determined to accomplish something if you don’t know specifically what it is? The overall goal of “get a job” is a start, but you also need smaller goals that will get you there. Set objectives like “10 networking conversations this week” and apply your determination to those.

Four: Simulations.

The best athletes made extensive use of simulation training. They approached training runs, routines, plays, or scrimmages in practice as if they were at the competition.

Practice aloud for important phone calls. Do mock interviews. Be realistic, making sure your posture, facial expression and tone of voice are the same as they should be in the real situation. For interviews, do a dress rehearsal at some point.

Follow these four pointers in your job search and perform at the top of your game!

“Why do you want to leave your job?” (Interview Question)

Why do you want to leave your job? (Interview Question)Why you want to leave – this interview question is a minefield if your mind immediately goes to places like: My boss is a micromanager. The politics are toxic. The company is broken.

How can you answer this question in a job interview without sounding like a whining bad-mouther?

Some reasons for leaving are easier to talk about:

  • You like your current job, and are only interviewing because you saw another opportunity too exciting to resist.
  • You are successful in your current job but wish to make a career change that your current company can’t offer you – e.g., a shift into a different industry.
  • There is no path for advancement from your current role.
  • You need to relocate to a different city or state, and your current company can’t transfer you.

It’s more difficult if you’re leaving because of a problem – that the company is poorly managed, your boss is difficult, or such. It’s ironic that while the number one reason most people quit jobs is because of their bosses, that’s the last reason you can safely talk about in an interview. And it’s poor practice to criticize your current company, especially if you would be revealing issues that are not publicly know

Here’s an approach that will help.

When you really think about it, there are probably several reasons you’re leaving, not just one. Look at the four examples in the bulleted list above – do some of those apply? And what else? Make a list of all the reasons – “Why will I leave thee? Let me count the ways!” – and then craft an answer focused on the reasons that present you in a good light.

Now, you’re still basically talking about a negative – that you want to leave your job – so surround it with positives: the successes you have had there, what you have learned, and the reasons why you’re excited about the new opportunity.

“This job was my first foray into tech, and that was a great step for me. I’ve learned a lot about what customers want in an app. And I’ve learned that while I’m good at project management, I’m even better at understanding the customer. I want to move into a customer success role like this one. This opening is ideal for me because…”

(And they never need to know about your boss’s lousy management style!)

Watch for future posts focusing on other tricky job interview questions such as “Were you ever fired? Why?”

Want Job Interviews? Be Online!

Want to Be Interviewed? Be Seen Online!Did you know this? A third of employers are less likely to interview you if they can’t find information about you online.

In a Harris Poll survey of 2,000 hiring and human resources managers nationwide, across industries and company sizes, 35% expressed this view. A solid 52% stated that they use social networking sites to research job candidates.

The numbers may actually be higher now; this poll was taken in 2015.

These employers aren’t necessarily looking for negatives like compromising photos or negative comments about the boss. Most of them are looking for evidence that supports your qualifications: a professional persona that demonstrates good judgment and networking skills. And they’re looking for “social proof”: LinkedIn recommendations and other positive comments about you.

It’s time to get on LinkedIn at the very least, whether or not you’re looking for a job right now. A good profile takes time: to get it written, to develop a good-sized network of connections and to obtain those so-important recommendations. Build it before you need it.

If you’re concerned about privacy or identity theft, learn how to be online safely rather than shying away automatically. Here are just a few tips: Don’t include your high school, mention your pet by name, or – god forbid! – post your full birth date, since financial institutions often ask for these facts to confirm identities. You may want to post a more general “metro area” location name, rather than your specific city. Consider carefully before posting your email address or phone number. And of course, use a very strong password that you don’t use for anything else.

After LinkedIn, you might consider other options that might fit your interests, occupation and needs: maybe an online portfolio, professional blog or personal (but professional!) website. Consider professional networking platforms beyond LinkedIn.

As for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like, although these aren’t conceived as professional networking arenas, they can be useful if carefully curated to support your professional brand. If skillfully done (and that’s a big “if”), a blending of personal and professional interests on social media can help employers feel that they know and trust you.

And don’t be overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Start with one platform. For most people, LinkedIn is by far the most important place to be seen online. Create an excellent profile and gain the benefits of a professional online presence – attention from recruiters, job interviews, offers, and advancement of your career.

10 Interview Questions to Assess the Boss

10 Interview Questions to Assess the BossThe #1 reason people quit jobs is their boss. So in your job interviews you need to interview your prospective manager and get a feel for whether you’ll like working with him or her.

Hmm … how to do that?

It’s fine to ask “What is your management style?,” but the answer won’t tell you the whole story.

Here are 10 good questions to ask at interviews to dig a bit deeper. Use your best judgment in deciding which questions to ask and how to ask them. Remember, you’re not interrogating the manager – you’re having a friendly conversation!

Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager:

What are your goals for this position and your department?

You want to understand what’s important to this manager and how you can help achieve those goals. Ask this question as early in the interview as possible, so you can relate your other questions and answers to what you learn.

What do you most enjoy about working in this organization?

What are your frustrations working here?

These questions may give you insight into the manager’s values as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the company culture.

How will you and I work together make me successful in this role?

This may tell you a lot about the manager’s style.

In order for us to work well together, what should I always do, and on the other hand what should I never do?

This question must be asked with a smile! It’s a way of inviting them to air their hot-button issues, the things they feel strongly about – and the wording is very frank, which may encourage a frank reply.

What are some good ideas you’ve gotten from your direct reports, and how did they make a difference?

This may tell you how interested they are in such ideas, whether they act on them, and whether the company provides a fertile field for innovation.

What recognition, training and development have your direct reports received in the past year?

If they’ve received none of the above, this may not be a very motivating environment!

How much do you typically interact with your direct reports?

Many a new hire has been unpleasantly surprised to find that their manager is rarely available.

How do you like to communicate with your employees? By email, phone, texts, popping in with a question, weekly meetings, or some combination? What about when you’re traveling or in the field?

This is also a good time to find out what percentage of the time he or she will be out of the office.

May I ask about the person who was in this job before me – did they advance within the company or leave for a job elsewhere?

This may provide clues not only about the boss but about the company and paths for advancement.

Of course, it’s easier to know what to ask if you’ve done some research on the boss ahead of time. Click this link for tips for doing a “reference check” of your own.

If the answers to these  questions raise any warning signs about the boss, you may want to look elsewhere – or proceed to the next job interview with your antennae up. If you decide the job is worth the downsides, at least you can start planning for how to work effectively with this person who will be so influential in your future.

Quick Tip for Easier Eye Contact in Online Interviews

Quick Tip for Easier Eye Contact in Online InterviewsOnline interviews / video interviews can feel unnatural and unfriendly. The main problem is the lack of eye contact.

If the person you’re talking to is looking at the image of you in the middle of their screen, they appear to be looking away, as though they’re not interested in you. This lack of eye contact is likely to be off-putting for interviewers.

One solution is to look at the camera, but then you can’t see and react naturally to the other person’s facial expressions and gestures.

Here’s a better solution, which works in Skype and some other platforms as well: Minimize the window in which the person’s image appears, then move it up as close to the camera as it will go. Now, when you look at their face you are virtually “looking into their eyes.”

For more tips on video interviews, see my post “Video Interview? Get Ready to Ace It!”

Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your Answers!

Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your AnswersWhen you’re answering a job interview question, do you find yourself meandering at the end, repeating yourself because you’re not sure how to stop?

As an interview coach, I often hear mock interview answers that wander around in circles or trail off into something like this:

“… and, uh, yeah, that’s about it.”

(That’s one of the worst endings you could use, because it implies that the good things you were just saying were all you have!)

Here are 5 better ways to wrap up your answer to an interview question.

Relate your answer to the company and/or the opening.

“So that’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of, and it shows one of the approaches I might take in marketing your products in Latin America.”

Summarize or refer back to the question.

Let’s say the question was “What would you be looking to accomplish in your first 30 days on the job?” You might end like this:

“… so these relationship-building and planning activities are what I’d want to accomplish in the first 30 days, in order to build a foundation for achieving the longer-term goals.”

If you’re talking about an accomplishment, specify the beneficial results.

“… so I was able to complete the project right on time despite the challenges I mentioned.”

“… and my plan resulted in a 20% increase in revenue.”

“… The division manager said the new process was ‘brilliant’ and invited me to present about it at a leadership meeting.”

Briefly add something positive beyond what was asked for.

For example, if asked to name your greatest strength, you could add another.

“… so that’s my greatest strength, and if I may add one more, a close second is …”

End with a question to encourage dialogue and to gain useful feedback.

“Is there anything more you’d like to know about what I’ve just said?”

This is especially useful in answering an initial request like “Tell me about yourself.” If there was something you said that particularly intrigued them, a chance to say more about it is bound to be beneficial to your cause. On the other hand, if they have concerns or confusion about anything you’ve said, it’s useful to surface that right away and respond to it.

Try out all of the above before your next job interview, and don’t over-rely on any one type of ending. With a little practice you’ll find that most of your answers come to a natural, effective close.

Good endings like these can help turn what could be a stiff, awkward job interview into a smoothly flowing conversation – leaving the employer impressed with your communication skills and wanting to talk with you again!

Mental Practice for Interviews, Part 3

Mental Practice for Job Interviews, Part 3If you want to ace a job interview, you need to prepare yourself on every level, inside and out.

Mental practice – also known as imagery or visualization – can help you present yourself effectively and get the job.

This is not mysticism. It is self-help techniques for learning to do your best in interviews and get job offers.

In the first of these three posts I introduced mental practice, and in the second I provided troubleshooting for some common difficulties experienced by people who are new to it.

In this post I’ll describe several advanced techniques to make your mental practice more powerful – and fun – by making use of deep relaxation or “the alpha state.”

Why These Techniques Are Powerful in Interview Preparation

When you relax deeply, your brain shifts from a “busy” beta brainwave pattern into slower alpha brainwaves. This state of mind is similar to meditation or a light trance, like what you experience when you are caught up in a daydream and forget about the outside world for a while.

When intentionally focused, this state of mind helps allow creativity and learning to occur – for example, creating a clear vision of yourself being confident and articulate in an interview, and learning to make that a reality.

Because this state allows greater access to your subconscious mind, you’re able to have a learning experience that isn’t purely intellectual, but also emotional and even physical (as I discussed in Part 1). You’re preparing your whole self for success.

How to Do It

To enter this deeply relaxed state, start by getting into a comfortable position – sitting or lying down – and take a few deep breaths. Relax. Close your eyes, or focus them on something simple like the floor, a wall, or a candle flame.

Now experiment with the following ways of deepening your state. You don’t need to master all of them – just find out what works best for you.

  • Counting down: Count slowly down from 20 to 1, telling yourself you are relaxing and going deeper. “Twenty. Relaxing. Nineteen. Going deeper. Eighteen. Letting go…” etc.
  • Color: Choose a color you find relaxing, and imagine it vividly. Imagine you can breathe that color into your body, one area at a time, filling you with a deep calmness.
  • Special Place: Imagine a very safe place where you can easily feel deep relaxation and well-being. It can be a place you’ve been before, or one you create in your imagination. Go there in your mind, experiencing it with all your senses so that it feels as real as possible.
  • Utilization: This is a great way to deal with distractions: tell yourself they’re causing you to go deeper. “The cars I hear passing outside are carrying off my tension. Every passing car allows me to go deeper.”

Once you have attained some degree of relaxation and focus – which may not feel like anything special, since it’s a natural state you’ve been in before – it’s time to practice for your interview. Now you’re ready to clearly experience and practice having an excellent interview, following the steps I laid out in the first post in this series. If imagining the interview brings up any anxiety or distractions, you can repeat the above steps to quickly return to a deeply relaxed state.

Use a Guided Imagery Interview Preparation Recording

It’s not necessarily easy to follow  instructions while remaining deeply relaxed. It can be very helpful to make a recording to guide yourself through the process. Or contact me for your own customized “Relax and Psych Up” recording and coaching.

Deep relaxation-enhanced mental practice is a valuable tool help prepare yourself – mentally, emotionally and even physically – for successful job interviewing. Enjoy using it!

Mental Practice for Interviews, Part 1

Mental Practice for Interviews, Part 1Practice makes perfect. One of the most valuable – and overlooked – ways to practice for a successful job interview is in your imagination, via mental practice.

There’s also a lot of value in mock interviewing with a friend or coach, or practicing aloud by yourself with a mirror, but don’t skip the inner practice. One thing it offers is an opportunity to practice with the real interviewer!

Let’s say you’ve landed an interview with John Smith, CEO of XYC Corp. In your imagination, you can actually practice interviewing with that person: seeing his face (which you’ve looked up on LinkedIn or elsewhere), feeling the handshake, hearing his voice talking with you – while you remain calm, cool and confident.

Is that good practice? You bet it is, and there’s research backing it up. Mental practice (sometimes called motor imagery) is widely used by top athletes, musicians and others interested in improving their performance when the stakes are high.

When you mentally practice having a great interview – concentrating on seeing, hearing and feeling it as vividly as possible – you are powerfully training yourself to have a great interview experience.

And because you’re imagining a successful interview, your confidence will grow. In fact, the inward focus of your private imagery session can allow you to concentrate more fully on cultivating the feelings of relaxation and confidence that allow you to do your best.

You can use mental practice on your own. It can also be helpful to have a guided imagery recording you can listen to before interviews, using your phone or other playback device. Contact me if you’d like to experience a one-on-one session (via phone or in person) and obtain a customized “Relax and Psych Up!” recording.

To use mental practice on your own, here are some guidelines:

  • Get comfortable, take a few deep breaths, relax and close your eyes.
  • Imagine yourself waking up on the morning of the interview, feeling rested and calmly optimistic. See a few images of your day unfolding, up to the point where you’ve arrived at the interview.
  • Vividly imagine meeting the interviewer, feel a good firm handshake and see her smiling, and experience the feeling of a nice rapport blossoming.
  • Then imagine the interview itself. You can imagine specific questions and answers, or just imagine the tones of voice, body language and overall “vibe” of a successful interview for a practice session focused on nonverbal factors.
  • Continue up to the final handshake and out the door, feeling a sense of accomplishment!

If anything negative creeps in – for example, if you imagine feeling very nervous at the interview – back up a little and try again. Be kind and encouraging with yourself. Mental practice is itself a skill that gets better with practice!

Easier said than done? In Part 2 of this series I’ll provide troubleshooting tips to make your mental interview practice easier – and more effective.