After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

The question is straight from the pages of The Complete and Unabridged Manual of “Uh-Oh” Interview Questions (by Bob Ward; expected publication date: five years from today).

 “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Or it may be phrased somewhat differently.  “What are your short term and long term career goals?”

It is a relatively common interview question, favored by highly trained HR professionals and less highly trained headhunters.  You can expect to hear some version of the query over the course of a long job search, especially at the beginning to middle levels of your career. 

For the candidate who has not anticipated the question, the answer might be similar to the seven-second “ummmmmmmm” generated by my wife during a stressful job interview situation. This is why it is helpful to anticipate and prepare for this and other difficult questions before, not during the actual interview.

While this might seem to be a trick question setting up a “gotcha” moment, most hiring managers are not trying to trip you up. Rather, they are truly interested in your short term and long term career objectives.  Your answer may help them establish whether you will be happy in a given role and/or if that role will help you or hinder you in achieving your stated goals.    For instance, an individual who really wants to advance to a creative marketing role might not want to accept a position where his/her responsibilities,  visibility and mobility are limited to the finance department.  As most of us with many years of experience know, one position can set the course for a whole career.

If, however, you are not completely committed to a specific career path and really want the job for which you are interviewing, here are some broad recommendations:  Your answer should always reflect ambition and the desire to grow within your field.  Your answer should NOT indicate a desire for a radical shift in career direction.

A very generic answer (which can be adapted to a specific situation) would be “I would like to have accomplished enough in this role to be eligible and considered for the next level.”

As you reach the highest levels of an established career, this question becomes much less relevant. For example, in a recent CFO search, if any of my candidates had been asked the question, my recommended answer would have been simply “In five years, I would like to be celebrating my fifth anniversary as your CFO.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Burnt Bridges and Bad Blood

There are very few ways to offend a headhunter.  Over the years we recruiters develop rock-hard shells based on hearing multiple iterations of the word “no.”  Still, there are occasions when a potential candidate has behaved in such a fashion that I might choose not to work with him/her again.  And I can assure you that certain conduct during the recruiting/ interview process can cause hiring managers and human resources professionals to write off a candidate in perpetuity.  (Hiring managers and human resources professionals have long memories.)

Here are a few examples of interview/ job search misconduct that can do irreparable damage to a candidate’s future prospects with those involved.

1.     Initial rudeness.  Answer cold calls neutrally if not politely.  A recruiter or company representative may choose not to call a rude respondent again.  And the future role that you don’t hear about may be much more attractive to you than the role that you greeted with bad manners.

2.     Boredom or bad attitude during your interview.  Even if you decide early in your interview that a role is not for you, do not begin to look at your watch or yawn or otherwise demonstrate boredom.  Instead, finish out your interview with poise and graciousness and hope that the positive impression you make will benefit you in the future.  Acting bored in an interview is disrespectful to those who have spent time and effort making it happen.

3.     Dishonesty.  Lies and misrepresentations regarding your background and credentials will always be discovered and never be forgotten.

4.     Long, drawn-out indecision.  It is always hard to leave a secure position and chart a new course.  But dragging your potential employer through a lengthy hand-wringing process will lead to bad blood all around.  Vacillate all you want among your family and friends, but appear decisive among those involved in your hiring.  If you have serious reservations about a position, a quick “no” is a gift to all participants.

5.     Changing your mind after accepting a position.  When you accept a position, your employer becomes committed to you, utilizing employees and man hours to complete paperwork, make the necessary benefit arrangements, formalize your salary, prepare an office, etc.  When you renege on an offer acceptance, not only have you wasted the employer’s efforts, you have caused other interested interviewers to be released.  Plan that your name will live in infamy among all those involved in your hiring. 

When it comes to your career, a burnt bridge in your background might also require a fire extinguisher in your future.  The world can be very small sometimes.  Though you might not anticipate any future interaction with someone interviewing you today, at some point you might find that individual sitting across the desk from you at another interview with another company – or even worse, in a position as your superior.   Feel the sizzle.