tiny answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Can you be more frank with temp agencies than with regular interviewers?

Can you be any more frank when interviewing with temp agencies than you can with a regular employer? I understand that you still can’t say “OMG. My last company just stunk! It was a nightmare! People are crazy there!” My question is, where I can’t say “I left due to bad fit” to a traditional employer, is it generally OK to be a little more honest with an agency?

To a certain extent, but not as frank as you’d be with a friend. You don’t want to complain about past employers, obviously, but the type of thing you’re talking about is generally fine. And it can actually even be helpful, if it lets them place you somewhere that’s the right fit.

2. Coworker wears the same outfit every day

We have a member of our department who wears the very same clothes every day – not just the same “type” clothes but the actual clothes themselves. I understand some people may be struggling with money and I really don’t care what they wear but… A couple weeks ago I discovered that she wore something else to work, changed into her everyday outfit and changed back out of it at night, leaving it hung up in here cubicle overnight. OK, so I thought she’d take it home on the weekend to wash. Nope, she leaves it at work over the weekend, and the cycle of changing into it in the morning and out of it at night begins all over again.

My friend suggested that she might be homeless so I started feeling sorry for her but she’s such an obnoxious person otherwise, it’s difficult to deal with her on any level. My boss is the greatest boss ever and I don’t want to really discuss this with a man – what would be the best thing to do here?

This seems like a clear-cut case of Mind Your Own Business. It doesn’t sound like this is affecting you — you don’t mention a smell or other issue that would impact you. So I’d leave it alone and just not think about it.

3. Do I have to sign and scan in my cover letter when emailing it?

Do I have to sign and then scan the cover letter even when I am emailing the documents as an attachment, or the signature is only required when I am mailing via USPS (for example)? Also can the cover letter and resume be combined into one document or do I have to separate them?

Nope, you don’t need to sign and then scan the cover letter when you’re emailing it. (I actually think it’s kind of weird when people do that — like a misunderstanding of technology.) I’d do the cover letter and resume as separate documents, although some people put them all in one PDF.

4. How to answer “where do you see yourself in five years?”

I always have a hard time answering the question “where do you see yourself in five years?” I don’t have a clear answer for this as I hope to be somewhere doing a job I enjoy, that provides me enough to support my family and celebrate success as it comes. Do I hope it’s with the same employer? Absolutely — I am after a career not just a “job.” Does it hurt me in the interview process when I don’t have a clear defined response to this?

They’re trying to get a sense of what your longer-term goals might be: Are you hoping to move into management, get more experience doing XYZ, change fields altogether, etc.? But it’s fine to say what you said here: You’d like to be with the same employer, having increasing successes and (if you want this) increasing responsibilities.

5. Applying for multiple jobs at the same company

My dilemma is applying for multiple jobs at the same company. I have 15+ years of experience and my last professional position afforded me a multitude of responsibilities all wrapped up into one position: B2B sales, project management, client relations and operational collaboration. Today there are two great jobs open at the same great company and actually in my geographical area (three shocking facts). One is a sales job, one is a client services management job. I believe I’m qualified for both and have good projects and sales numbers to back up a valid resume for either position. However, I thought I have read that this is detrimental for the applicant, as HR deems the applicant as desperate, willing to apply for anything, or unsure of their chosen career direction. For me, I would be happy in either type of role, as both have overlap and are multi-faceted.

So do I have to pick one and go for it, or is it valid to apply for both? I thought about addressing such in a cover letter, but a) I don’t want to reference Job B in my application to Job A and b) it may be overlooked anyway depending on the recruiter assigned to the position(s)….just thinking that idea may backfire in some way.

It’s true that you don’t want to appear to be taking a scattershot approach to your job search, applying for everything you see, but if you’re clearly qualified for both, you shouldn’t need to worry about that. You can either do one cover letter for both jobs, explaining why you’re interested in both, or you can do separate cover letters (and separate applications). If you do the latter, mention in each cover letter that you’re also applying for the other position so that it’s clear you realize it and so that you can explain why you’re doing it. (And this is definitely a time for very tailored cover letters, rather than something generic.) Good luck!

6. Is my lack of experience hurting me?

Last year, I graduated from a Medical Billing and Coding program, I made a 4.0 GPA, I had attendance awards the whole nine yards. As part of the curriculum I had to complete a 160 hour externship, which I did and even got a letter of recommendation out of it. Then I went and got my Certified Professional Coder certification. I’ve had several interviews since but no one is hiring me. The last interview I had I thought for sure I had it. I felt like she was giving me all the cues, it seemed like a perfect fit. She even told me that much experience wasn’t necessary, that they like their employees to come to them with a clean slate.

I’ve only had one paying job at McDonalds in 2008 during high school. I’ve been going to school at community colleges around the area since graduation high school. So my question is: is it my lack of work experience that’s hurting me?

Possibly. It’s a very competitive job market out there, and even highly experienced candidates are finding it hard to find work. You might consider temping, volunteering, or finding other ways to get experience to put on your resume.

7. Can you tell employers you’re leaving your job because of lack of opportunity?

Can you be honest with a prospective employer if you are leaving due to lack of movement or opportunity? The company for which I work does not allow any movement for administrative staff. We are not generally given promotions or even allowed to transfer. (They hire temps instead when there is an admin opening. Nice, huh?) The “skills training” they give us is pitiful. Our jobs tend to be the same, month after month, year after year. There just is no movement, so I feel my skills are stagnating. I do side projects that keep my skills fresh, but it’s not happening at work, and that is a huge part of the reason I want to leave. Is it OK to be honest with prospective employers if you are leaving for this reason? If not, what would you say instead?

Absolutely. Say something like this: “For the role I’m in, there’s no room for advancement or increased responsibilities, and I’m really hoping to take on ___.”

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Moses*

    #3. Thank you so much for clarifying #3, I thought it was weird too that you had to sign but everywhere I read it said to sign the cover letter! Your site is so so helpful!!!

  2. Emily*

    Re: #3. Another option would be to sign a piece of paper (white), scan it, crop it, and save as a .bmp or a .jpg. Then you can just insert your electronic signature into you cover letter.

    1. Anonynous J*

      There’s also a handy little program for MS Office called CoSign. I don’t know how much it costs or how easy it is to get, but we use it where I work.

  3. Temp*


    Thanks for answering my question about temp agencies. I figured there was a LITTLE more leeway, but obviously I know better than to let loose. Just wasn’t sure about protocol with agencies these days, since I have not worked for one in a very long time.

    I’m also the one who asked about being honest about the job being a dead end. I have tried using that (not those words) in some of my cover letters, but since I am getting NO responses, I wondered if that was a faux pas.

    I guess you’ve figured out by now that I’ve tried everything I can think of to leave or make my job more tolerable. It looks like my only option is to take a chance and start applying at temp agencies. I’m hoping some people from that field will chime in.

    Thanks, Alison!

  4. Recent grad*

    I completely feel #6. I graduated into the “in demand” field of mathematics and my goal is to become a data analyst or statistician but haven’t found employment after 6+ months. I have office experience and my past employers and relevant professors will give positive reviews of me. But I have a couple of strikes against me, I don’t have data analysis experience outside of academia and I don’t have a graduate degree (grad degrees are more the norm in my dream occupation). I was hoping to get a couple years of work experience before enrolling in grad school, but with this high unemployment and businesses unwilling to hire entry-level employees it’s unlikely.

    I too have had a couple of interviews and came very close to getting to get one job. I didn’t get the job because at the last minute they got an applicant from a competitor company where the VP of the group used to work at- bad luck for me!

    The best we can do is try to get a temp job- even these often require experience and are competitive to get, and keep trying for entry-level positions.

    I just wanted #6 to know that s/he, fortunately or unfortunately, is not alone. I wish everyone luck in their job search, though. :-)

    1. Recent grad*

      *Second sentence: I graduated with the “in-demand” degree of mathematics and my goal is to become a data analyst or statistician but haven’t found employment after 6+ months.

    2. Jamie*

      Just something to think about, if you haven’t already and that’s to try applying to a smaller business.

      My experience is in IT and finance in the manufacturing sector and I would do a cartwheel if we had someone on staff with an interest in the analytics – but most small to mid-sized places won’t have a position just to address that.

      A position similar to an Operations Admin would get your foot in the door. Admin in this case is usually compiling, analyzing, and communicating production data – as opposed to administrative assistant work.

      1. Recent grad*

        My search is open to businesses both big and small. I’ve been searching using the keyword “analyst” and usually come up with senior-level positions, but I’ll give searching for operations admin a try. Given your short description, that is a job I’d want to do. Thank you.

        1. Jamie*

          You can also try jobs in cost accounting. Some people mistake it for bookkeeping, but it’s a completely different animal. In fact if they were animals I’m not even sure the two species could breed :).

          Cost accounting involves everything from capacity plans to analyzing the job costing data to see patterns in waste and how to improve productivity.

          I know I just put most of the creative types to sleep with those sentences, but it really is a fascinating field.

          1. Recent grad*

            Not sure if I can consider cost accounting because I have no accounting education. Everything I see for anything remotely dealing with accounting wants at least a bachelor’s in accounting plus two years experience- I doubt I’d even make the cut to even get interviewed. However, I will try, eventually someone’s going to like the fact I like data analysis, I’m a team player, and I’m not afraid of learning something new. I don’t really have any other choice but to keep searching and applying. :)

            Thank for revealing two more job titles I can search for, Jamie.

    3. moss*

      my company is DESPERATELY seeking someone (entry level!) who can program in SAS. Have you had any experience in SAS at all?

      1. Recent grad*

        Some, I used it in an econometrics class for linear regression and a few tests (heteroskedasticity, residuals, ect…) to see if the model was a good fit and then in a research methods class where we used it at points for generalized additive models, a few spline models and cluster analysis. Still have all my old scripts and notes, too. Is this close to what your company wants?

  5. 5 years from now*

    Thank you for the response to “five years from now”; I’ve left interviews as others have stated here reading the signs wrong as I am still looking. As the length of my unemployment grows I find myself over-analyzing everything from the cover letter content, how early I arrive, and now the answers to questions I give. I’m so glad I found your site and I will be using it often. Thank you again!

  6. #5 OP*

    Thank you so much for answering my question on applying for multiple jobs at the same company, and so quickly! Because they are quite different, I’ve really been torn as to what approach to take. I’ve tailored my resume more to Job A (sales and client services/support), so mentioning Job B (outside B2B sales) in the cover letter was a big question for me. I’ve been furiously working away at this all night. Now, the daunting cover letters….(sigh).

    Great overall Tuesday posting, because I’ve also wondered about the “5 year” question and have never been good at answering it, as well as Question #7. I actually left a dead-end government job and wondered if my explanation (similar to above) sounded too textbook. Usually I just get blank stares after that conversation, but now I can feel more confident in my response. Most appreciated!

  7. Anonymous*

    A quick tip for recent grad, now is a good time to be looking for paid or unpaid internships, particularly in organisations that you may not have thought of such as market research agencies, consulting firms, retail agencies, universities and any company that does data collection. Statistics is a scarce skill but you could consider combining it with some schooling in research methods as this will give you a broader base and make you more market relevant. Good luck!

    1. Recent grad*

      I’ll try my best for an internship (I can’t take an unpaid one for financial reasons), but I do see the ramp up of internship offerings. The trick will be finding those that are open to recent grads. Most of my relevant experience is from research in economics, but the skills easily cross-over sometimes, especially since my other classes in data analysis and statistics were taught by a former engineer. Trust me, I’m not limiting myself to any one sector or industry. All job searchers certainly need luck right now, thank you. :-)

  8. Elizabeth*

    #2 mentioned, kind of off-handedly, that the woman who wears the same outfit every day is “such an obnoxious person otherwise, it’s difficult to deal with her on any level.” I’m curious to know if the other things that the letter-writer finds obnoxious are related to work or are more along the lines of the work outfit – odd, but not really affecting anyone else. If there is something that this woman does that affects the letter-writer’s ability to do her job well, that’s valid to bring up with the boss. If, on the other hand, she just has politics that you disagree with and talks too loudly about reality television in the break room at lunch… then really the only thing to do is shrug and move on.

  9. Anonymous*

    Question 7 – Something similar happened to me, and at interviews I would emphasise the “Your post has opportunities for Chocolate Teapot making, which is an area in which I want to develop” angle. When pushed, I would say that unfortunately there was less emphasis on the Chocolate Teapot making in my current role.

    Clearly it worked. Oh, and during my exit interview for the previous job, the HR manager told me they didn’t promote administrative staff unless you wanted to move into another role!

  10. Piper*

    #4- Due to the field I work in, my answer for this question has always been the same (and it seems to impress employers because they’ve never heard it before): “Due to the nature of the field and how it’s constantly and quickly changing, I see myself in a job that doesn’t even exist yet because technology hasn’t advanced that far yet” (plus something about being successful and advancing, blah, blah, blah). And to be honest, it’s true and looking back over my career, it’s also actually been what’s happened. Of course, this doesn’t work if you’re in a field that’s not technology driven.

    #7 That’s been my reason for leaving every single job and that’s what I tell potential employers in interviews. They seem to like this answer, too, and many have told me so. They are impressed that I’m not bad-mouthing the companies I’ve worked for and that I have ambition. (Side note: do that many people really bad-mouth former companies in interviews??)

    Anyway, I’ve been in so many companies where room for advancement and growth was absolutely nil. It’s frustrating! Are there any out there where employees can actually get promoted and not stagnate? I’m starting to think not.

    1. Piper*

      I should also note, since many have said they were in admin roles unable to advance in their company, that I am not an admin. I’m in a creative/tech role and there still are issues (which, to me, seems crazy). I know part of it is the area where I live and the lack of creative/technology emphasis, but still, you would think there would be some way to advance, but there’s not. A former co-worker of mine has been working in the same position for 8 years now with no advancement or increased responsibilities and he’s ready to stab his eyes out.

      1. Jamie*

        I’m curious – what’s a creative/tech role?

        It’s not an amalgam you see everyday…most of the creative types have a bias against those of us on the tech end (which, admittedly can sometimes work both ways.)

        Not trying to pry and I understand being vague on the internet – I just found the concept intriguing.

        1. Esra*

          As a graphic designer with some programming skills, I’ve seen a lot of the creative/tech blends. More and more places seem to be looking for someone who can do it all. Unfortunately, I think most of us tend to be pretty good at one and only competent in the other. I haven’t met many… well, I’ve met one person who was really good at both.

            1. Jamie*

              Thanks – makes sense. I’m in awe of those of you who can straddle both worlds. That’s a really great skill set.

              In the process of the initial build and maintaining of our company’s website I was happily immersed in the technical side – but I still want the hours of my life back from all those meetings deciding on colors, fonts, and a logo. I have no aesthetic vision – left to my own devices every thing would be pink and have obscure Van Halen references amusing to no one but me.

              Tell me what you want and I’ll build it, but for goodness sake don’t ask me what it should look like.

              1. Piper*

                To be fair, most info architects/UX designers are not true programmers (nor do most need to be). They are mostly front end (css, html, some javascript), but they aren’t doing the hardcore, backend development. But they do bridge the gap with creating technical documents (wire frames, site maps, task flows, etc) as well as creative design (look, feel, etc). And some companies classify them as IT or IS and other classify them as marketing. And it’s still a young field, so some people don’t even know what to do with them! I have experienced this first-hand.

                Anyway, that’s probably more info than you needed, but just wanted to clarify. :-)

    2. kac*

      I’ve had current staff members in interviews for internal positions badmouth their co-workers, current and former. I’ve also had external candidates bad-mouth their former workplaces. Sometimes interviews turn into some sort bizarre confessional, I’ve heard way too many personal stories that I never wanted to know.

  11. Joey*

    #7. If you’re going to use the lack of opportunity reason just be sure you stay at your job until you find the better opportunity. I’ve seen way too many people use that reason who ended up quitting with nothing lined up, or took a lower paying job/demotion, both of which are huge red flags.

    1. Jamie*

      I agree 100%. If you’re leaving because you want to move up, but you leave for less or nothing there is definitely something else going on and the reason looks disingenuous.

    2. Temp*

      I’m actually leaving for many reasons, and I’m definitely NOT going to leave before I have something new and better lined up.

      My boyfriend actually HAD The Money Talk, and we determined that we can’t afford for me to do that. ;)

      I’m miserable, but at least I’m paying the bills.

      1. #5 OP*

        Why does it look disingenuous if you leave w/o something else lined up? IMO I was wasting their time and lying about being sick so I could go on interviews, which I felt guilty about. When I began to have the “Sunday blues” go from starting on Sunday, to Saturday, to Friday night, I knew it was time to leave, regardless of whether I had something else lined up or not.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it’s because it’s so often used as a cover story when it’s not the real reason, and if there’s no better opportunity that you left for, it makes the reasoning questionable. (Although of course there are situations where someone could afford to do that without risk.)

          1. Anony*

            Ok, may I pose a question here? What would be a good response to that question when you left without something else lined up (a situation I lived through)? We had enough saved up, I was going to work part time and return to school full time while seeking a better full time professional position. (This is usually the answer I give to that question in interviews, but I get stone faces in response.) I can’t really be honest about why I left – which is the clientele were horrible, I literally repeated the same thing over and over again all day (literally… I said the same 8 things all day, every day with few exceptions – I counted. I might as well have been doing factory work and getting paid better), the manager yelled all the time, co-workers were allowed to slack w/o repercussion leaving the bulk of the work to the others or else stay late, management expected the workers to manage the slackers by peer pressure (they actually said that) and some people had been there doing THE SAME EXACT JOB for 20+ years. One day I looked around and had an epiphany that if I didn’t get out soon, I would be stuck there too. 1 year turns into 5 turns into 15 and OMG what’s happened. Economy be damned, when I got spit on by a customer and management did nothing about it, that was the last straw.

  12. Anonymous*

    #7: I worked at a law school in Maine that was exactly like that. Admin staff went nowhere and there was no hope of advancement. It was stifling and lead to regular turnover. It didn’t matter how hard admin staff tried, we just were not valued. I went to an interview while employed there where I was very honest about this being my reason for wanting to leave. They gave me the job because of this! My new boss said that it showed that I wouldn’t settle for a stagnant position and that I showed the type of ambition they wanted to see at their company. Keep this in mind. Most employers want employees with a desire to advance because people like that are motivated to do good work.

    1. Jamie*

      The other side of this is that I’ve seen this more than once through the years I’ve seen wanting to advance being an issue with admin asst. type positions.

      Some companies want certain positions filled long term with people who won’t want to outgrow the role – where wanting to advance is actually a red flag.

      I don’t agree with this philosophy personally. I think it’s better to use the more entry level positions to allow talented people to grow into other roles in the company, but unfortunately this means turnover and that is a dirty word in some places.

      When you are hiring for a specific skill set and you’re screening out people who will want to move beyond that you are by definition hiring people who bring a very finite amount of value to the table. That’s fine if you know you will never ask them to work outside of a very narrowly defined box.

      For example – if I am hiring for a receptionist with the mindset of making darn sure he/she will never want to do anything more than answer the phone and open the mail then I can’t complain when he/she balks at the offer of training on Office so she can do something in Word and Excel.

      It’s shortsighted, but it’s out there.

      1. Anonymous*

        If that was their plan, which wouldn’t surprise me by the way, then they were failing miserably at it. When I was there only two women on the entire admin staff had been there for more than a few years and everyone else was looking for a new position or planning to. It didn’t help that the admin staff frequently had to do work that was originally assigned to higher-level staff who preferred to go to endless meetings and free gourmet catered lunches. It was very clear that things were not going to change.Can you tell I’m glad to be out of there?

      2. Temp*

        Yes. It’s definitely out there.

        In my case, I fully believe they are doing this to save money, though: If I move laterally to another admin position, they have to continue to pay me my salary. If they hire a temp, they can pay less.

        I’d be happy as an admin if there were: More variety, better appreciation, more opportunities to pick up new skills, opportunities to participate in larger projects–WITHOUT necessarily transitioning out of being an admin.

        My company does not do this. They don’t value admins at all, and most of them don’t know how to use admins.

        1. Jamie*

          This mindset makes me absolutely crazy, how some companies don’t value their admin/support staff. It’s common place and incredibly bad business, if you ask me.

          A good admin is invaluable, not to mention that done correctly the job is freaking hard. It’s a lot like some areas of IT – you only get noticed when something is wrong. If everything is being done properly, you become invisible and they forget that someone is behind the scenes taking care of the details.

          Entry level admin positions are golden opportunities to hone skills, increase responsibilities, and move up. Conversely, for those who have the organization and multi-tasking abilities required to excel at a career as an admin and they are happy with the job, then for God’s sake pay them in the same range you’d pay a project manager at the same level.

          Great admins end up doing a lot of upper level tasks, it’s just that the final project bears the bosses name.

          If I ran the zoo (the Dr. Suess book pops into my head quite often when I’m on a work related rant) the position would come with three things:
          1. The respect it deserves.
          2. Decent pay equal in keeping with the value added.
          3. The authority to not have to take crap from people who have no idea what you do.

          Did I mention that the job is freaking hard? I’d rather cover for an out of the office CFO than the Office Manager.

      3. Dataceptionist*

        Yep I’m wary about saying too much of this too, as plenty of companies don’t have anywhere else for admins to go, so in declaring you left to find advancement, they think “well there’s none of that here! Next!”
        A job for two years, before discovering you’re going nowhere again can be better than endless rejections after being honest,looking for that perfect job.
        And sorry I think it’s overly optimistic to just say “oh but you should keep on to find that super fulfilling role waiting somewhere put there for you!” sometimes in admin you need to chop and change and get into admin in different industries, because the bones of the job are the same everywhere.

  13. LovelyLibrarian*

    #2: I’m kind of torn on this one (the lady in the same clothes), but overall thought Alison’s answer fell short today. I realize that (a) we don’t have much information on the situation and (b) the OP seems like they’re bringing other negative feelings to bear on this. But surely there’s a larger question to be answered here: what do you do when you suspect a co-worker of being in trouble of some kind?

    When you don’t really have solid information, and the situation / potential trouble is kind of personal and tricky, but you feel compassion for the co-worker and would like to find out more and potentially help, what to do? I think Alison’s answer of “Mind your own business” is understandable, but surely there’s another appropriate way to show you care about someone’s welfare.

    1. fposte*

      I think the OP just wanted the lady to stop, but I also think “How do you ask if a co-worker is okay?” is a legitimate and interesting question. Just make sure that the “Are you okay” isn’t a way to imply “Because what you’re doing isn’t”–I think we’ve all known people who’ve convinced themselves that phrasing condemnation as concern makes it a humanistic act. Especially in a case like this where what she’s doing is, in itself, okay.

    2. ThatHRGirl*

      Yeah I think the OP’s thought process was more “OMG… this lady wears the same gross thing every day, what is UP with that? And how can I get my boss to tell her to stop and get some new clothes. Eww.”

    3. Jamie*

      I don’t get the impression that the OP cared about her welfare as much as she was annoyed by it. In which case MYOB is the only advice to give.

      I’ve always been envious of the people who wear uniforms because it saves so much time and energy. I wish I could wear the same thing every day – clean of course.

      Actually I have a three identical pairs of black dress pants and a couple pairs of khakis so similar I bet my co-workers think I wear basically the same thing every time I’m not in jeans.

      I have worked with one person who was irrationally irritated when anyone wore sneakers to work – even though in manufacturing it’s the most practical footwear if you have to go out in the plant. The handbook allowed it, so no violation, he just found it so personally offensive. It weird what we end up noticing about the people we work with.

        1. #5 OP*

          Speaking of this, I just saw the modified Snuggie that has both arms and legs now. Basically a onesie for adults, in fleece. But it needs the back flap, because who wants to take all of that off just to go to the bathroom? :)

        1. Laura L*

          To be fair, a lot of people really don’t need to wash their hair every day. I know the blog author hasn’t washed hers in weeks, but anybody with thick, curly hair doesn’t need to wash it every day.

            1. Laura L*

              Oh, my bad! (see what I did there?)

              Yes, I meant the blog linked to in the comment above mine, I didn’t mean you!

          1. Anon from above, I like being anonymous*

            The blog author, Sierra Black (not AAM!) is washing her hair about once a month, if I read it correctly, and rinsing every day. Washing your hair two or three times a week is within the norm. At least I think it is! I personally exercise way too hard to get away with less than once a day. (think hair as wet from sweat as if I had dunked myself)

        2. Jamie*

          I won’t speak for anyone else, but if I stopped washing my hair every day Alison would be flooded with email from my co-workers complaining about my personal habits.

          I have been on tight budgets in the past, but never to the point where shampoo would be considered optional.

  14. Readette*

    I came to the site today to ask the same question as #4–perfect timing! However, the reason why I wanted to know is I have an interview tomorrow and on the phone the interviewer told me she wants me to think about where I see myself in 1,3,5 and 10 years and be ready with answers. What do I answer for those other years?? I have been laid off for 3 1/12 years and this is the first position I might actually get, even though I don’t want it. (It is customer service for a small 5 person business at home). So how do you answer these questions when you know you are taking the job just to have a job and benefits? I have been temping with no benefits since I have been laid off, and worked in mangement before, which I would like to get back into but have had no luck. (I am also worried about how it will look on my resume.)

    1. Jamie*

      1, 3, 5, and 10 years?

      I’d tell her I have no idea – as my life plan is broken out in 18 month increments – I’ll need to answer on another time scale.

      Seriously, for a five person business run out of the home? If the job was for CEO of Microsoft, maybe…but this illustrates perfectly the need for better interviewers out there.

      1. Readette*

        Seriously. She is also the owner. I can BS my way through the 5 year question–to grow within a company yadda yadda–but 1, 3 and 10? I would have the same answer–and it is not like it is a company with a designated heirarchy that I could use in my answers.

        1. Jamie*

          When you go to the interview if you get a feel for what she was asking for, I hope you post here. I’m curious if this is just some weird turbo charged version of asking about the 5 year plan, or if she was fishing for some specific information.

          1. Readette*

            Will do! I am hoping I can figure out what to say for the other years–anyone been asked this before? How did you handle it?

            1. #5 OP*

              For the 1 year, I’d expound on becoming an expert at your job, learning their business, knowing their customers, blah blah. I would think the 3 and 5 might be similar…adding new skills and responsibilities to your roles, taking on management or team leadership positions, mentoring others. For 10 years, you could turn it around and inquire about their succession planning.

              I truly wish you good luck!! I’m so sorry to hear you have been laid off for so long, but at the same time, I must admit, a bit relieved because I am now rounding onto my own 4 year professional layoff (not including crummy in-between jobs). From what I read on here, seems everyone gets a great job in 6-18 months, so I’ve seriously been wondering what’s wrong on my end. I too was a management professional and I don’t think anyone can understand the self-esteem impact this has on a person. I’ve been through divorce and this is worse.

              1. Readette*

                So true! It really does lower your self-esteem. To go from being a successful, independent person to being dependent on loved ones to help out with the bills is eye-opening. And the longer it goes on the worse you feel. You may complain about a job when you have it but when you lose it you then realize how much of your identity was part of it. For me, I find transferring into a different industry is the setback–they all want the candidate to have experience in their industry–and why not? With so many out of work, it is easy to be picky in what you want in an employee. I hope 2012 is the year it happens for you–the one thing we can’t do is lose hope. :)

          2. Readette*

            Hi Jamie–it seems she was looking to see if I would be a long term potential for them, thus asking about each year let her know I was thinking about those years. I did get the position.
            My question to everyone: should one take a job they have no interest in but can do, or continue temping? Backstory: laid off 3 1/2 years ago, no bites since then, been temping for a year at the same place, could continue temping and looking for a job/pay range I want, this position pays twice more than the temp job and less than half of what I was making before. Medical benefits. Home based with 6 people in the basement. I am just worried I will never get back into my field if I take it, as recruiters seem to look at your most previous position. I’m so conflicted–help!! :)

            1. Temp*

              If it were me, knowing what I know now after being stuck in a crappy job for too long to mention, I’d keep temping if your personal situation allows for it.

              You don’t want to be looking back one day when you are miserable, saying “I shoulda stuck with temping!” ….Like I am now. :(

              It sounds like you are sensing red flags, so you should definitely take that into account as you make your decision.

              Good luck!

  15. RHIT in Vegas*

    #6–I am a hospital coder. This will be disappointing to you, but you simply have not learned enough in your program to work as a coder. Real-world coding is completely different than how it’s presented in school–at my last hospital, two student hirees needed a year of training to become proficient in coding. Most places want experienced coders, as mistakes not only cost money but could put the facility in hot water with their FI, the OIG, etc.

    The best way to get hired is to get your foot in the door, find a position as a medical records clerk, release of information, etc., and work your way up into a coding position. One of my co-workes was an analyst when she was first hired, and now codes ERs. Unfortunately it’s a difficult job market right now, so even finding those positions are hard, but there are a flood of people out there like you who got their credential and haven’t found a job.

    1. MIS in WA*

      To #6: I was in the exact same boat you where about 8 years ago. The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to do, Insurance Coding or Medical Billing. They are two different beasts and I really wish the Voc schools would stop combining them into one class.

      RHIT in Vegas covered the Coding aspect; I thought I’d help with some Med Bill info.

      Medical Billing typically pays less than coding but it is a little easier to get into. Most places prefer to train you to do things their way for entry level billing positions. Be prepared for it to conflict with all of your schooling, different specialties have different ways of billing, each state/county has different laws and regulations for Medicaid and other programs. Billing software varies from agency to agency and some of it is pretty darn frustrating.

      Take any temp position that puts you in a clinic whether it’s doing reception, data entry or filing records you really need to build up your clinical office experience. Use this time to network and build references. Once you have some clinical office experience under your belt you are going to have an easier time of getting a entry level Medical Billing position. Don’t be afraid to apply for Billing positions that require “one year billing experience”. Many offices use the “one year experience” as a general filter to keep the factory churned Med Bill grads from spamming their inboxes with resumes.

      Keep in mind, if you attended a Medical Billing program from one of the Vocational Schools that air on TV this is going to do one of two things, give you a slight edge over another entry level candidate or get your resume tossed. To help avoid getting it tossed without a second look, you are going to really want to make your cover-letter shine with your accomplishments from the internship and any transferable skills from other jobs or volunteer work.

      It will be rough but hang in there!!

  16. Anonymous*

    I always like to head off the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question by asking where they see the position in five years.

    When I was an entry-level type, I actually told someone in response to that question, “I hope to be at a networking event telling someone about my great entry-level job at WidgetCo, and how everyone has to start somewhere.”

    1. Chris Walker*

      I think this is one of the dumbest interview questions ever.

      Given this:

      ‘The median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.4 in January 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.’

      The honest answer would be, ‘If you hire me, I won’t be here anymore.’

      Dumb or not, there’s a good chance job seekers will encounter questions like this. The answer I like doesn’t really answer the question at all: ‘I want to get this job. I want to learn this job. I want to become the best widget whacker you’ve got and advance with the company.’

  17. anon-2*

    #7 – probably not a bad thing to say that. It can be extremely frustrating to be held back, but it’s a reality — especially when one is passed over for opportunities within his or her environment.

    If the door is closed, it’s closed. And you have to find an open door. One thing, however, is if you express this in an exit interview, several things MIGHT happen, including a change in policy.

    Usually, however, it’s not a DEFINED policy. Just one in practice that if, you are qualified for another position, they can break it.

    What is policy, anyway? Just something someone wrote down.

    Sometimes a manager will be acting contrary to company policy — and that behavior may end up being curtailed. It might even result in a counter-offer, where suddenly “oh gee whiz, I have a new opening, and I was considering you for it. Would you stay if you got that?”

    Translation = “OK, you’re right, we have been holding you back, that’s over now, and I don’t want you going to HR and saying this in your exit interview, because I will be called on the carpet for it.”

    SO yeah, you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s best to say it to your manager before you formally resign. One way we do it in the computer world — you approach your manager and say “what are my chances of advancing to this (such and such) position in the next couple of months?” … you’ll be asked “why do you ask?” “Because I have an offer in hand from another company and that’s what they’re offering, but we’d all be better off if it could happen HERE. I’d rather have it happen here.”

    Then gauge the reaction. You’d be surprised at what can happen with a gentle approach like this.

    1. ThatHRGirl*

      “What is policy, anyway? Just something someone wrote down.”

      Umm… Sometimes it’s a long-standing policy that others have been held to for years, and if they make an exception for you they have to make an exception for everyone else. Or risk pissing off everyone else who knew it was a policy and didn’t apply to openings because of this.

      1. anon-2*

        Or, it could be defined as “being progressive” and “doing what’s right for the company.”

        A policy can change. At any time. If the company sees fit. If someone works his way into a promotion and a “Berlin Wall” is torn down, it means “we’ve changed.”

        We are not talking a discrimination clause, we’re talking allowing an individual who’s qualified to advance to another position. An unwritten policy designed to hold people back probably should be kicked down.

        1. ThatHRGirl*

          Unfortunately, even though “being progressive” and “doing what’s right for the company” are nice things, someone who was negatively affected by the policy in the past is not going to see it that way.

          And it could absolutely open the company up to discrimination claims – especially if the person who wasn’t allowed to be promoted before was female and the person that’s now allowed to is male… or black/white, pregnant/not pregnant, over 40/under 40… You get my drift.

          If a hiring manager came to me for a recommendation on this I’d seriously recommend against it – because as AAM has stated frequently, it’s not my job to advocate for the employee (even if they have a decent point), it’s to protect the company from risk.

    2. Dataceptionist*

      Ideally, in the couple of jobs I’ve left due to going nowhere, I started making it an issue in job discussions with my bosses do by the time I quit it was a foregone conclusion and my boss would be saying “I totally understand I’m sorry we couldn’t find anything for you”
      These discussions aren’t always great, and you frequently need to be setting them up, rather than waiting for performance. Reviews or whatever, but at least you e got a clear conscience.

      1. Temp*

        That would not work in my case. I’m actually trying to leave, because it is a horrible, horrible work environment in addition to being a dead end, but you’re not allowed to say that to prospective employers.

        My supervisors and I do not have a good relationship, and I know from my experiences here that they would not be open or helpful if I were to go to them saying I’d like better opportunities.

        In normal circumstances, that is a very good idea, though!

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