We’ve all been told that we need to know exactly where we’re going so often in the digital era. Most of you can relate to how disillusioning it can be trying to design a great career and great life, when you’re just not sure where tomorrow will lead. Today, I found myself thinking about my last official job interview.
My employer, who had spent 20 of his previous years managing McDonald’s Canada, asked me a question which almost made me laugh. This post is for those of you who spend a lot of time reading personal development advice online. Those of you who’re sick of being told a failure to plan is planning to fail.
“Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?”
I’ve struggled with this question over the years. The gurus all say you need to know, but after plenty of ups and downs over the last 40 years, I just don’t see the purpose. Don’t get me wrong, some people are extremely driven to achieve. For some, the outcomes they wish for just always seem to pan out in reality.
But, what happens if you get terribly sick for an extended time?
What if a family member dies and you suddenly become the caretaker of their children?
What happens when you decide 2 years from now that your 5 year plan just doesn’t hold weight with your ideals?
Stuff happens in life. How is it that so many successes out there resulted from bumps in the road they didn’t see coming? Bumps that completely changed the trajectory they were on in life?
Elvis Presley famously once said “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”
What if your plan is wrong — what then is the sense of planning so far in advance?
Truth is, when this particular business owner asked me this question over 10 years ago now, I basically told him what I thought he wanted to hear. I said “I see myself managing a small business and doing everything I can to make it successful,” or some such crap like that.
Stroke their ego, right? And, he put me on the spot by asking the question. I would have never lied had he not created a circumstance where a truthful answer would have screwed me out of a job.
Truth is, I had no intention of keeping this job long term and I didn’t end up sticking around past the 2 year mark. Who applies for any job these days with the intention of sticking around 5 years from now?
Don’t get me wrong, this guy was from baby boomer era of management and overall thinking. But, what’s everyone’s excuse circa 2018? It’s a ridiculous question. Ask a job-hopping millennial this question during a job interview and I’ll bet their answer won’t be even 50% truthful in most instances.
Why this is a dumb interview question…
Hey, if you know exactly where you’ll be in 5 years and nobody’s going to get in your way — great! Good for you. Continue on with my most sincere approval. However, most employers ask this question in a veiled attempt to determine if a job candidate is a lifer or not.
There’s nothing wrong with plotting your future out. I plan every day and every week out in advance. Do I have goals? Yes, indeedy!
If I want a job and someone asks this question, I’d have to be an idiot to say “I’m not sure…” or “I’d like to be sitting on a beach in Thailand, retired and sipping Mai Tais.”
Asking this in a job interview really doesn’t offer any insights at all. If anything, it tells you how good someone is at lying — perhaps how well they can think on their toes, at best.
Most of you out there reading know what I’m saying to be true. It’s a facetious question that needs to be expelled from every modern recruiter’s vocabulary.
A better question, in my opinion, would be “What would it take for you to see yourself working in this company 5 years from now. At least this is an honest question, that offers honest insights into a candidates long term viability in your company.