Ink-Dipped Advice: Interview Questions We Hate: “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

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Hello, February! January seemed like it was about 27 months long. February is supposed to be a short month. We’ll see.

There are plenty tired old chestnuts in interview situations that need to be retired. Some are illegal, some are toxic, some are racist or misogynist or ageist, some are ableist, and many have nothing to do with the job and nothing to do with “getting to know you.”

One of these questions is “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

That’s a question your high school guidance counselor asks when they’re helping you prepare your college applications. It’s the kind of question that might come up, in a different format, with co-workers at the bar (in the years where we could actually go to a bar with co-workers without worrying it would, quite literally, kill us). It’s the kind of question you ask yourself on retreat, when you are trying to avoid or recover from burnout.

But in a professional interview situation? Inappropriate.

That question was dumb in 1985. After 2020, it’s even worse. It shows that the company asking has learned nothing from the pandemic. It sends up a big red flag.

You can type the question into an internet search engine and get a bunch of advice from corporate-leaning “experts” on how to answer it with vague softballs that don’t “threaten” the person interviewing you.

I tried those placating responses a few times, and the experience made me want to vomit. I was not being true to myself, to my core integrity. That’s no way to start a new working relationship.

There is a more direct approach.

Generally, as soon as I hear the question, I mentally cross that company off as an organization for a potential working relationship, and try to end the conversation as smoothly and pleasantly as possible.

I start flippantly. “That depends on whether or not you hire me.”

This is met with shocked silence, and then nervous laughter. Usually, some stuttering and backpedaling occurs. I let the interviewer twist in the wind for a few beats – after all, this was a “gotcha” question, with malicious intent (every “gotcha” question is designed with malicious intent), and my subtext makes that clear.

After a few beats of the interviewer flailing, I add, “Seriously, wherever I land, five years from now, I will be working with smart people who are passionate about what they do.”

They can decide if I mean their company or not.

It is a 100% genuine answer.  I seek out opportunities to work with smart people who are passionate about what they do. Some of those work relationships are long-term, some are short-term, and some are on-and-off. When I’m seeking new opportunities, everything else builds on that foundation.

Anything less wastes all our time.