What’s a good way to answer stupid interview questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Answer: “Gee, will your company be in business in 5 years?”
The “5 years” question is silly. I think my suggested answer is not, even if it might get you kicked out of the interview! The point is, the employer cannot see 5 years out, or predict what crises or opportunities might arise. Nor can a job seeker or employee.
You’re in the interview to answer questions, but it’s your duty to yourself to make sure the questions you answer are meaningful. We’ve discussed the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions at length. This question — let’s call it #11 — is yet another example of just how broken the employment system is. It reveals how much time and energy is wasted in job interviews — especially in today’s economy.
Who cares about stupid interview questions?
Depending on what survey you look at, between 23%-73% of current workers are considering or planning to quit their jobs. Over 15 million have already quit in the past year. So, you could reasonably respond: “What are the odds you or I would still be at this company in 5 years?”
The interviewer might argue they want to know about your plans and aspirations. And you may bear the same curiosity about the employer. But I don’t know one corporate executive who would bet $100 on their company’s pie-in-the-sky 5-year business plan — much less explain it to a job applicant! So why do employers ask stupid interview questions about your unknown future?
Perhaps the best, most business-like answer to the “5 years” question is “Who cares? We’ve got real fish to fry!” Then get down to real business.
The interview question we should care about
If employers weren’t wasting your (and their) time with side trips of fancy, they could focus on the reason they’re trying to fill a job: to get work done.
If my suggested answers to the “5 years” question worry you, do what skilled politicians do. Ignore the stupid question and talk about what you believe the subject should be:
“How can we work together to get this job done?”
Please think about what I’ve said, then try this as a response.
How to Say It
“It depends on where the business goes and what our customers need. I like to think in milestones that I can actually control. I like to think in terms of concrete deliverables. What do you expect your new hire to actually deliver to you in this job in the next month, 3 months, 6, 12 and 24? I’d be glad to walk you through how I will deliver on your expectations. Then you’ll see where I see myself in a year and two years. Of course, we have to roll up our sleeves and work closely so we’re both on the same page about our future.”
Get the idea? The employer is lucky if they can plan a job out to 12 months! If the manager cannot define the expected deliverables from the new hire at 3, 6, 12 and 24 months, then how can you tell where you see yourself in 60?
You must do a lot of work to prepare for such an encounter. If you are not willing to do that kind of preparation, then I think you have no business in that interview. Or, it’s the wrong job and the wrong interview for you.
The purpose of this approach is to maneuver the manager into a working meeting, in which both of you roll up your sleeves and talk shop to define and plan for those milestones. This changes the job interview entirely and makes you stand out from all other candidates — especially the one that answers, “In 5 years I see myself in your job, of course!”
In today’s economy, I think it’s crucial to break the conventional interview script. Help the manager define what they need, so the two of you can work together to decide how you will deliver it successfully if you’re hired. After all, we get paid to deliver, not to fantasize.
I cover this and related interview challenges in Book 6 of the Fearless Job Hunting Collection.
If you try this approach, I think you will be the first candidate your boss has ever met that shows up ready to talk shop and ready to create the real future.
How do you answer the “5 years” question? What other Stupid Interview Questions have you been asked? How do you control a job interview to maximize your chances of getting an offer? Is there a single interview question that you think every employer should ask above all others?