Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

21523294814_ddd84475e2_bOften appearing towards the end of an interview, this question seems relatively straightforward. Indeed, the main problem candidates face with this question is not having thought that far ahead! But don’t worry, this question isn’t a test of your prediction skills – it’s a job interview question just like any other. So how do you answer it?

First of all, the panel does not want to hear about your personal aspirations. This includes where you want to live, how much money you want to earn, whether you want to start a family, and even ‘I want to be doing a job that I enjoy’. As with other interview questions, keep your answer focused and professional. Your ambitions should be related to the industry you’re applying for and, if it’s a full-time position, preferably to the company or organisation you’re being interviewed by.

A good strategy is to break your answer down chronologically, beginning with the position you’re applying for. If it’s an internship, how will it provide a stepping-stone to your future career development? If it’s a graduate job, how do you hope to progress within the role? It’s important to stress how you want to develop the skills you’ve already mentioned in the interview, and that you want to become an expert in your field.

Nonetheless, be realistic. Five years may seem like a long time, but it’s not an eternity in professional terms. If you say that you want to be managing an entire team by then, you’ll look naïve rather than ambitious. To avoid such mistakes, it’s a good idea to find out what other people who’ve applied for your position in the past have gone on to do (LinkedIn is a great resource for this). That way, you can find out what’s achievable, whilst tailoring your answer to your own aspirations.

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Answering the ‘Why Should We Hire You?’ interview question

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Joe Cronin, Application Adviser

This is probably one of the less pleasant job interview questions – although it comes up with frightening regularity! – because it seemingly invites you to brag, or compare yourself to the other candidates (who you haven’t even met), or, worst of all, beg and plead. But a good answer to this question avoids all of these pitfalls, and becomes an opportunity for you to provide an overview of yourself as a candidate, your top skills and qualities, without having to make unsubstantiated claims about yourself (à la The Apprentice) or assume that you’re better than everyone else who’s applied. It’s another way of saying ‘this is what I have to offer. If you like it, hire me’.

So how do you answer this question?

The first thing you should bear in mind is that, whatever the position, the interviewers are going to have a fairly clear idea of the candidate they’re looking for. So this question is as much ‘explain how you’re the ideal candidate for this position’ as it is ‘why should we hire you?’

Before the interview, make sure you read and re-read the person profile provided with the job application so you know, off by heart, the key traits they’re looking for. Next, think about how your own experience matches those qualities. Note down some examples. Memorize them. Then, in the interview, you have a ready supply of hard evidence to back up your claims that you’re the right candidate for the position because you have, say, excellent analytical skills (and provide an example). You’re also a fantastic team player (again, provide an example). Oh, and finally, you’re constantly finding innovative solutions to complex problems (another example).

As a finishing touch, you might want to mention how much you admire the company’s core values or work ethic (and say what these are!) and how this really applies to you. This shows that you know – and even better, care – about the company and what it stands for. You may be asked this question more specifically at another point in the interview, but there’s no harm in conveying extra knowledge about your potential employer.

Of course, there’s more than one way of approaching this question correctly, but the most important points to bear in mind are that you a) relate your answer to the skills and traits they’re looking for and b) always provide evidence/examples for the claims you make. Follow those two basic rules and you’re well on your way to an impressive answer.

Good luck!

Guest blog: 5 Bizarre Interview Questions… Answered!

As every job-seeker knows, interviews are tough. The train’s delayed, your suit itches, from the look the receptionist just gave you you’re pretty sure you have coffee breath. Then, just when the interview seemed to be going swimmingly, the interviewer throws an unexpected curveball by asking you if you’d rather fight one hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck.

Bizarre interview question can leave the candidate feeling confused, panicky, and even a little resentful (how were you supposed to prepare for that?). But there’s a good reason companies ask them. And with just a little bit of insider know-how, you can give even the weirdest question a stellar retort.

  • THE RANDOM QUESTION

E.g. What colour crayon would you be?

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These sorts of questions might seem infuriatingly vague, but they’re actually one of the easiest things you could possibly be asked. Why? Because there is no right answer. You can be a red crayon or a yellow crayon or a pink glittery crayon, all the interview is looking for is an insight into your personality.

Always back your answer up with some reasoning, no matter how glib it sounds (“I’d be yellow because I’m very sunny and positive”). Unless you have the misfortunate to be questioned by a budding Freud (“hmm, baby blue suggests an infantile depression complex”), all the interviewer is looking for is that you answer confidently and don’t freak out when caught off guard.

Oh, and just because there’s no right answer, doesn’t mean there aren’t wrong answers. Incorrect responses: “Errrrr….”, “I don’t know”, and “that’s a stupid question that has nothing to do with mechanical engineering.”

  • THE MATHS QUESTION

 E.g. How many Big Macs does McDonald’s sell in the US each year? 

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Bad news: unlike the crayon question, you’ll almost certainly be expected to use actual numerical/logical skills to get somewhere in the ballpark of the real answer. Good news: you remember how maths exams always gave you points for your working out even if your final figure was wrong? That’s exactly the same deal here.

Never be afraid to take some time to think about your answer. That’s true of any interview question, but is especially so when it’s something you couldn’t possibly have prepared for. Indeed, indicating that you’re thinking carefully about your response is likely to work in your favour.

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How to answer ‘What do you know about this company?’ on an application or at interview

A common application form and interview question is: ‘what do you know about our company or organisation?’

It can be a difficult question to answer – often it feels like telling the company or the interviewer information they’re already sure to know.

So why do employers ask this?

As we saw in part one, A recent government survey found that 23% of vacancies in 2015 were difficult to fill because applicants lacked relevant skills and experience. In the survey, employers said that two of the key technical or practical skills which applicants most frequently lacked were knowledge of the products or services offered by the organisation, and knowledge of how the organisation works.

Employers want to hire people who are truly keen to work for them. People with a genuine interest in what the company does and how it does it are likely to be much more committed than people who are simply looking for any job at all. Knowledge of what the organisation does and its products and services is also very important in practical terms: understanding how your role fits in to the organisation’s overall goals and aims will help you to contribute more effectively to those goals.

Also, applicants who are able to answer this question impressively are likely to be those who have prepared thoughtfully for the interview, taking the initiative to do some careful research – these are all key transferable skills that employers value.

How to answer this question:

To answer this question you must do some research – on the company’s website, on relevant professional websites/websites about the industry or sector, and in newspapers. Important points to try and find out include:

  • What does the organisation do? Make sure that you understand the organisation as a whole, as well as the particular area or department you’re applying to work in.
  • What are the organisation’s products and services?
  • Who are the organisation’s customers or clients?
  • Who are their competitors and what makes them different from their competitors? Students often say that big companies are ‘basically all the same’. But if they were the same they’d cease to exist – there’d be no need for them. Think about areas you’re really familiar with, like supermarkets or universities. Supermarkets all sell food; universities all educate students. But nonetheless each supermarket or university has its own distinctive characteristics, selling points and strengths – it’s these key defining characteristics you need to be familiar with.
  • What is the organisation’s revenue, where is it based, who are its key employees, how many employees does it have?
  • What are the general trends in the industry which affect the company? What are the key challenges and opportunities it faces?

What NOT to do:

Don’t talk in general terms: try to avoid saying that a company is simply ‘big’ or has a ‘good reputation’. Instead quantify this. How many national or international locations do they have? What is their annual revenue? Have they won any particular industry awards or introduced any innovative products?

Don’t bring up negatives: it is sometimes the case that a company makes the news for negative reasons (and this has particularly been the case in the aftermath of the financial crisis). The application process is not the right time for you to discuss this! This is not the kind of evidence of commercial awareness employers want to see. Mentioning such issues (unless explicitly asked to) is likely to come across as a criticism of the company, implying that you’re not totally keen to work for them. Worse, if this the main piece of information you know about the organisation, it might seem that you lack integrity or honesty yourself.

Just breathe: Answering the correct question at interview

Recently I was interviewing and I noticed something about the way the candidates were answering the questions. In fact, it was one question in particular that seemed to cause the trouble. It was along the lines of ‘tell me about a time when___ and tell me what you learnt from this experience’. Now this is a common interview question and if you’ve never been asked it before you are likely to be asked it in the future so take note. Indeed the specifics of the question don’t matter, because in fact the problem could be said to be the same for pretty much any interview question. Every candidate either answered the wrong question or only answered half of the question. Now I know what you are thinking – ‘that would never happen to me’ – right? Well everything that we know here at Careers & Enterprise tells us it’s a common occurrence, and an understandable one.

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Wrong question

Take the first issue, answering the wrong question. You prepare so much for an interview, you run through all the questions you might get asked and practice your answers. You know your examples inside out. So somebody mentions ‘customer service’ and away you go. But in your nervousness and keenness to show off the great examples of when you’ve given excellent customer service, you fail to notice that the question was actually about your experience of bad customer service. Your answer was great, really fantastic in fact. But on my marking scheme I can’t give you any points because it was simply an answer to a different question than the one I asked.

Half the question

As for the second issue, again, it’s very common when you get caught up in the nervousness of an interview setting that you forget the other part to a question. This is why you should use the STAR technique – Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s as much for your benefit as for the interviewer because if you follow each step it makes sure that you don’t forget the crucial end bit, the result. How a situation made you feel, what you learnt from it, what you would do differently in the future – these are all things that an interviewer wants to hear, and in some ways are far more important than the actual event/task itself.

And relax

Now in some situations an interviewer might interject to point out that you haven’t answered the actual question or they might say ‘and what did you learn?’. But some companies have to abide by very strict rules when interviewing, and might not be able to give you any prompting. So, you can’t take any chances. Our advice is to listen carefully to the interviewer; ask them to repeat the question if you didn’t quite hear it or if you need time to quickly gather your thoughts; prepare in advance, of course, but don’t assume you’ll be asked specific questions; use the STAR technique to structure your answers; and above all try to relax. Easier said than done I know, but by relaxing, and trying to think of the interview as a conversation, you are much more likely to listen better and answer precisely.

‘Any questions?’: What to ask your interviewer

Although the idea of questioning your interviewer may seem a bit daunting, asking questions is actually a very good idea. It enables you to clarify your understanding of the company, what you would be expected to do, and whether you will actually enjoy doing it. Other than this, asking questions demonstrates to the interviewer that you possess a genuine interest in the job and the company. You can ask almost anything, but first read our tips about what to ask and what to avoid.

Two questions you could ask

  1. How can I best contribute to this company? – This question shows how enthusiastic you are. It also shows how willing you are to make a positive contribution to the company. Asking a question like this shows the interviewer that you plan on standing out as a valuable member of the team.
  2. What are the prospects for growth and advancement within this role? – A question like this shows the interviewer that you are keen to develop yourself within the company setting and also that you are serious about the role.

Two questions you should avoid

  1. So what does this company actually do? – Try to avoid asking questions that show that you haven’t taken the initiative to do your research into the company. Also, don’t ask questions to which you could have easily found the answer elsewhere, for example on the company’s website.
  2. What will my salary be and what other benefits will I get as an employee for this company? – This questions shows that you are more concerned about the money rather than what you actually have to bring to the table. It’s not a very good idea to ask questions like this so early on.

Remember that you will be judged on the questions that you decide to ask so make sure you think long and hard about it!

If you have an interview coming up, you can book a mock interview session with one of our careers consultants. Please give us a call on 020 7882 8533 or come in to see us in WG3 of the Queens’ Building.

Novlet Levy

Careers Information Assistant, QML Careers Centre