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The Worst Interview Question: “Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?”

With all the wonderful words in the English language — the only language, according to the author Bill Bryson, that has or needs a thesaurus — why would job interviewers so often revert to the tired, lame and uncreative standard interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

With all the wonderful words in the English language — the only language, according to the author Bill Bryson, that has or needs a thesaurus — why would job interviewers so often revert to the tired, lame and uncreative standard interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” 

They can’t even rouse themselves out of their stupor long enough to change up the words and ask job-seekers “What’s your long-range plan?” or “What are some things you’d like to accomplish in your life, inside or outside of work?”

They stick to the exact same words in the same order that uncreative interviewers have been asking job applicants since before I was born.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a ridiculous interview question. For starters, it’s intrusive. The employer isn’t remotely suggesting that they’re about to make a five-year job offer to the job-seeker, much less commit to a five-year contract. Yo, bro, if you’re not ready to sign up to use my services for the next five years, what business is it of yours what I plan to be doing in 2020?

Beyond that, this question (which may indeed have made sense during the Mad Men era when I was learning to walk, since employment back then was definitely a longer-term relationship than it is now) is irrelevant to the point of idiocy now.

Anyone who is working off a five year plan in these tumultuous times is not someone who can read the weather patterns and respond accordingly.

The best kind of planning these days is to know what you’re passionate about, have some rough ideas about how to get closer to your passion over time and then react, react and keep reacting to shifts in the wind!

The old five-year-plan paradigm comes from a day when life was either more stable and predictable than it is now or we were all deluding ourselves that it was. I can understand why a corporation hiring a baby new-grad trainee and offering him or her a ride on the conveyor belt to the executive suite might ask “What’s your five-year plan?”

A kid who says “I want to work hard, get promoted and become a supervisor in five or six years” might be a great kid, but no one could say that they’re super-ambitious or fired up with career advancement fever.

The question “What do you think you’ll be doing in five years?” may have made sense in an era when walking into a company as a new employer was a strong predictor that you’d still be on the payroll five years into the future.

That is not a safe assumption today. The end of employment is already on top of us, whether we’ve noticed it or not. We are all entrepreneurs now. Sometimes we have just one client, and then we call our state “employed.” In some ways that state is riskier than the other state, the one where we have several clients at one time.

I have to assume that the hiring managers and HR folks who still use the goofy interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  have one of two possible issues:

  • They may be asking the five-year question because they don’t know how to get through a job interview without the help of a script, or
  • They may be fearful enough about the slings and arrows of fate that they automatically judge a person with a five-year plan Good and a person without one, Bad.

If you think about it, the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” has fear threaded through it. People who face the world cheerfully and courageously take what the world brings them. They may know exactly where they are headed or they may ride the waves to see what life can show them that they hadn’t thought of on their own.

In my experience, the more fearful a person is the more he or she needs bulwarks against that fear, and five-year plans make excellent bulwarks. We try to claim a little power over what can feel like an overwhelming force – the everyday challenge of navigating grown-up life on earth, to be specific — by writing up plans and making five-year forecasts into our own futures.

Five years is a long time. Did any of us plan or expect to be here, doing what we’re doing right now, back in 2009?

There are hundreds or thousands of smarter, more human and more useful interview questions than “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Here are five of them to get you started — keeping in mind that as you grow your Interviewing with a Human Voice muscles, soon you’ll find that you don’t need to ask questions of your job candidates at all!

  1. What questions do you have for me about the job? (Your candidates’ questions for you will tell you tons more about them than their answers to your scripted questions ever could!)
  2. As you read the job ad, you probably thought about situations in your own life and career that sounded like parallels to this job. Can you please tell me about something you’ve done already that might  be similar to what you’d be doing in this job?
  3. What do you know so far about our company? (You are learning about the research that your candidate conducted prior to the interview, and beyond that, about his or her ability to assimilate that research to get a better understanding of what your firm does and a sense of what the job might entail.)
  4. From what you know so far, what aspect of the job do you think would  be most interesting for you and most closely aligned with your talents?
  5. Based on your research and our conversation today, how would you approach the job — what would you plan to focus on in your first 30, 60 and 90 days?

It is a new day. We don’t have to ask brainless interview questions that don’t mean anything and don’t help us evaluate the fit between a person and a job. We can be smarter and more human than that. The Human Workplace is already here, and not a moment too soon!

This article was written by Liz Ryan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. SmartRecruiters is the hiring success platform to find and hire great people.

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