Careers in Progress:
“Where do you see yourself in the next three to five years?”
This is often a difficult question to answer for those entering the workforce or attempting to build a meaningful career from an unsatisfactory job. You may feel uncertain about your answer or craft a scripted response to repeat over and over that echoes the status quo. When coaching young professionals through interview preparation, I think this an important question to practice for two reasons: (1) for preparedness and (2) to understand what you are passionate about.
Describing your entire career journey from an entry or even mid-level position may feel daunting or abstract, whether you are asked to do so by a recruiter or a parent. When formulating any response about your career goals, I would tell you to remember your authenticity more so than focusing on giving the “correct” answer. Said differently, make sure to weave yourself into what you say. Although sometimes easier said than done, there are ways to prepare yourself so any questions that require strong self-knowledge or a mindset about the future feel comfortable and honest.
Preparing for the Interview
At Tolleson Wealth Management, I am the Chief Talent and Learning Officer and that means I have the privilege and responsibility of developing our internal human capital strategies. I also work alongside our advisory team to help clients address family dynamics – how to plan for succession, improve communication and enhance decision-making strategies. I’ve developed a deep passion for young professionals because I provide career coaching and mentorship to the rising generation of our employees and clients. Before joining Tolleson Wealth Management, I was the Chief Human Resources Officer at Southern Methodist University and Adjunct Faculty at the Cox School of Business. For 20 years, I was immersed in many facets of talent development from staffing and career path planning to coaching young adults on career management. My tenure at the university not only fueled my passion for working with future leaders but allowed me to bring unique experiences to my role at Tolleson Wealth Management.
In college, you probably checked off all the right boxes. You took the right classes, gained relevant working experiences and graduated with your degree. However, entering the workforce and developing a meaningful career is a whole different ballgame. Sometimes, college doesn’t prepare you for the more qualitative measurements that employers demand. When starting a new job search – either for the first time or during a career change – the process is just as much about the work skills as it is about the qualitative skills: being prepared, having good work ethic, understanding your body language and everything in between. In my industry, we call this “emotional intelligence” or EQ. It is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships effectively and empathetically. I would say it’s also being resilient and adaptive, no matter what age you are. Strong EQ comes from a deep sense of having clear values and being confident enough to live them out in every situation — including interviews. It is feeling comfortable in your own skin, a cool confidence.
When I meet with young adults for the first time about career planning, especially after a post-college hiatus, they are often nervous, displaying signs of uncertainty or lack of confidence. Knowing this, I start the conversation with basic questions – about interests, values and meaningful experiences. It’s okay to be vulnerable and feel the pressures, whether from job competition or a parent who frequently checks in. Maybe you feel over-confident or not enough. Managing your EQ is one sure way to come across as authentic but strong in the interview process. That’s why I find it so important to practice interview situations with a coach or mentor. I recommend building support in this area. Normalize the scenarios and build upon your innate strengths. Do you like to work with systems? Express that you are process-oriented. Do you like to work with others on teams? Emphasize your collaboration. Knowing your strengths and how to package them in a way that’s honest and relaxed can make you a stand-out candidate. Widen your circle and schedule mock interviews. Work on your responses and delivery. Being prepared for an interview doesn’t take an advance skill, it takes practice.
Career Planning Based on your Strengths
Before going on an interview, you probably want to feel excitement for the role you are interviewing for. How do you find a job that matters to you and benefits your career? I would say that you should feel empowered to insert your strengths and interests into your career exploration. When beginning to work with a new client, I often prescribe taking two essential assessment tools: DiSC® profile and StrengthsFinder. Both are aimed to increase self-awareness about your strengths and talents. These are not psychological tests or career assessment tools. Rather, they can help you refine your interests, understand what motivates you and see what you are naturally talented at. I find they are great complements with ongoing career coaching and something we review together to make meaningful decisions in your planning.
Every employee at Tolleson Wealth Management uses both assessment tools. I lead exercises to debrief results, sometimes with large groups or by department, to help employees better understand their working environment, their role on a team and overall professional development at the firm. The internal training model we have implemented is one that combines traditional with contemporary practices for career enhancement. We balance technical skill training with progressive methods in coaching, cross-training and collaboration. This allows us to develop well-rounded professionals to help serve clients with all things financial.
I often tell the young professionals I work day-to-day with: “lead with respect, follow with courage.” I emulate this same method in working with clients who have engaged me in their career management process. We start by first learning about your strengths and interests, which helps evaluate what type of work is rewarding and a natural path for you. Combining this knowledge, along with your skills and interests, can help steer your job search in the right direction. On top of that, we can add interview preparation to help refine your style, so you come across confident and self-aware to recruiters and employers.
The successful model we have used internally for employee development is something we are proud to extend to our client families. You don’t have to feel discouraged about entering the workforce or even making a career change to find something more suited to your passions. When you combine preparation with the development of your EQ skills, you can feel increased empowerment while conducting a job search or looking for your next career move.
To parents, I would say to transition into a coaching role. Try to avoid playing the role of “reminder” or “facilitator,” even if you feel that it is right or needed. This is an important stage for young adults to gain confidence and experience with trial and error. Become a steady source of encouragement, not someone who is critical or places too much pressure on the end-result. Your adult child must desire their own career goals and success, even if you have their best interest at heart – this is another phase of letting go. Otherwise, we may unintentionally reinforce a dependence that will only delay confidence and maturity.
To young professionals, I would tell you to know your talents through assessment and then practice how to interview to build your EQ skills. Be aware of your body language. Show up to your appointments early and sufficiently prepare yourself mentally, emotionally and physically. Cramming, procrastinating or an unbalanced lifestyle may come through in your energy level, alertness and ability to focus. Practice responses to questions that reflect your character. Emphasize your strengths. Feeling prepared will do wonders for your confidence level. When the hard questions hit, you’ll have an authentic response.
In three to five years, I see myself… How would you fill in the blank? With self-knowledge and practice, you’ll have the answer that fits just right.