Interviews are possibly the worst part of applying for jobs. Especially when you’re faced with questions that you just have no idea how to answer – like ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ Fortunately, we’ve got some advice from interview experts at Bauer Media, O2, and Zenith Optimedia on what they’re actually looking for and what you should and shouldn’t say.
Tell me about yourself
When interviewers say this, a lot of candidates have the tendency to freeze, mumble a few words about their education, laugh nervously and announce, “Oh my mind always goes blank when people ask me to talk about myself.” (That can’t just be me, can it?)
It’s more about discovering your personality and working out if you’d fit in with the existing team than it is about being talked through your CV. “It includes not only your work background, but what you do outside of work as well,” Rachael White, Head of Planning at Bauer Radio, says. “For example if you’re interested in team sports a lot of those skills are skills that you’d need in the job as well.”
Estelle Jackson, a Senior Resourcing Manage at O2, says that this question tends to be a bit of an ice breaker as although interviewing is her day job every day, it isn’t for the managers that she’s working with, so it’s an opportunity to calm the candidate’s nerves, as well as put the manager at ease. “Think about the company you’re coming into and the culture you’re seeing,” she says. “For example if you’re coming into O2 and you’re really keen on rugby don’t be afraid to say ‘I’m a really big rugby fan’. It’s got to be real though, and you’ve got to mean it. If I came into an interview and said I was passionate about rugby and they asked who I support I’d go ‘erm…’ and look a bit stupid.”
“You don’t want to take up the whole interview time just talking about yourself!” Vicky Wordie, a HR Manager at Zenith Optimedia, says so the key is to be succinct in your answer to this question and briefly go over your experience and your interests, matching it to the job that you’re applying for.
It’s easy to go wrong with this question and not really let your interviewers see the real you. Estelle says that one of the worst ways to respond to this kind of question is to be really abrupt. “This is your chance to shine as a person,” she says.
Rachael adds that she doesn’t just want to be told what’s on your CV – “I can read that!” She says. “I’m looking for more than just that. The whole point of an interview is to expand what your CV says.”
We’d recommended saying something like: “I’m quite an outgoing person, I like working with a team of people – like when I organised the Summer Ball at university, it was great to be involved with a wide range of people to pull off a great event. I’m really interested in music too, I love getting my friends organised to go to a festival in the summer.”
Why are you suited to this role?
This is a genuine question – interviewers want to know what sets you apart from other candidates. So you’ll have to work hard and use examples to prove that you’re not like everyone else who has applied.
“It’s about selling yourself,” Rachael says. “And as we work in sales, if you can’t sell yourself, what can you sell? But it’s also a great opportunity to pinpoint why you want to work here and why you want this job at this company.”
“Do your homework on the job description,” Estelle recommends. “And always try to link your experience back to that. You can’t do enough preparation around the exact role that you’re going for.” And that advice extends to before you reach the interview stage too – Estelle says that she receives so many applications saying the applicant would love to work for Orange…
Don’t forget to talk about your personality too, as much as your work experience is important your personality will also play a key part in why you’d be good for that particular role. “You want to show that you’ve read the job description and that you understand what the role is about,” Vicky says. “Talk about why your personality makes you suited to the role based on what you’ve read but it’s best not to make assumptions.”
It can be tempting to roll a standard basic answer off your tongue when answering this question, but one of the worst things you could say is: “I’m the best person for this job because I’m hardworking, I’m passionate and I work well in a team.” Rachael says that the way to make it different is to use examples of times that you have shown these qualities. “The best response I’ve had to this question is someone who gave examples of when they upsold behind a bar at a music venue,” she says. “It’s probably not the most usual sales example you’d get but it really stood out to us.”
It’s important not to be too cocky when you answer this question. Yes, you want to show that you’re different to other candidates but you don’t want to be remembered for being arrogant. Estelle says that she’s had candidates who have said “Well, you invited me for interview so you must think I’m amazing.” And while, admittedly, it was unforgettable, it was for all the wrong reasons – and they didn’t get the job.
We’d recommend saying something like: “My experience during my internship at Party Planners Inc helped me to realise that I love running events, from coming up with ideas to running around finding props and decorations to make them happen. I’m also known as the ‘mum’ of my friendship group because I’m the one who organises us all and always has a backup plan if something goes wrong.”
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
This is possibly the worst question an interviewer could ask. It’s totally understandable that you hate it. But it’s also one of the most common questions that comes up in interviews so you don’t really have any excuse for being unprepared for it.
All three of our experts agreed that the reason they ask this question in interviews is because they’re looking for candidates who are going to stay with the company for a while – they don’t want to have to go through the recruitment process all over again because you’ve moved on to another company in six months’ time.
Estelle admits that this is a loaded question. “You don’t want to go into an interview and admit that you see the role as a stepping stone,” she says. “But at the same time I want to understand that the people we’re talking to are driven and are motivated and know where they want their career to go.”
But it’s also not a test. “Nobody’s going to come round to you in five years and say ‘well, you said you were going to be here and you’re only here,’ it just doesn’t work like that,” she says. It’s about demonstrating you understand where the role could go and that you understand the bigger picture of where that role fits in.
“I want someone who’s really thinking about their progression and is hungry to progress,” Rachael says. “Just have a clear idea of where you’re going, even if it’s ‘I don’t know whether it takes five or ten years but this is where I want to end up, I want to be CEO, I want to be managing director’.”
Estelle says that she’s had some terrible answers for this – from aspirations to be Prime Minister to senior managers who want to be holistic healers to 25-year-olds wanting to give up work to play on the Xbox all day. “I think one of the best is someone who said very calmly, ‘doing your job’, and it was someone interviewing for a £16k role to a manager on a £90k salary,” she says. “I thought that was clever and forthright and ambitious, but maybe not realistic. And when you just say a few words it tends to make you sound a little bit arrogant.”
Rachael says that she’s interviewed candidates who have said that in five years’ time they want to be doing something completely different – for example going for a media sales job and telling them that in five years’ time you want to be working as a photographer.
We’d recommend saying something like: “In five years’ time I’d hope to have pulled off some great events with you, and hopefully I’d have moved up through the ranks to be in charge of a team of planners by then.”