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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Is this a pointless question at a job interview?

There have been a few discussions lately about one certain classic question that almost always shows up in job interviews. If  you haven't guessed it by now: "Where are you and what would you be doing in X years?".

This question has a theoretical purpose but no practical point.

From the English "The Office" in case you went "WHOOT?!"

Theoretically it is a good question to ask

In theory this question is good to ask to find out if the candidate is ambitious or not. If he/she might threaten your own position or if the candidate simply have no ambitions what so ever. It is simply good to know what kind of person you would be dealing with.

In my opinion, the perfect answer would be: "I will be in whatever position I can do the best possible job for the company I am working in.".

Of course, that comes of a bit cheesy. I have used it myself and the person interviewing me wasn't really satisfied with the answer (even though i.m.o. she should have been since it was quite clever :P).

Practically there is (mostly) no point asking it

Most people who do interviews don't know how to process & analyze the answer or even why they are asking it in the first place. Some people might understand it though and try to analyze it, but the chance of misunderstandings and failure to understand the point of the question from either side will probably sabotage the interview more rather than doing the opposite.

The exception?

I would like to ban this question from any interview that doesn't include a very experienced person who does the interview who has complete understanding of the question and how to analyze & process the answer it. It should also only be asked to people that are being hired for position deep down in the chain of command. It would be good to know where you have your "grunts". Will they need advancement to stick around or not? To ask candidates for higher positions is useless. If they were not ambitious they wouldn't be applying for that position anyway.

Instead you might want to ask...

Instead of asking this (in my opinion) useless question, the one who gets interviewed should instead be asked: "Where do you see this company in X years and how would you have contributed to the result?". Anyone I would hire should have his/her focus on the performance of the company rather than any "gold digging" dreams of his/her own.

NOTE: This only applies if you can't make an exception like I described above.

Also, this is how you alternatively could do your interviews (how I would prefer to do it) :P


  1. i quite agree that it is a bit useless. i told you before (i think) that my mum's friend who helped me prepare for the interview actually said: "if they ask you this question just be honest with them."
    like: in 5 years i see myself having a family, having a good job and a good life. i mean, many people would want that at some point, right? so if they ask this question the way they are asking it, you have all the rights to actually answer like this, since this concerns your future. however, of course, this is not the answer they expect from you, you always have to say smth like "i ll be the president of a company and i ll be kicking your asses then ;)"

  2. Yeah in many cases it is useless, but it all depends on who is asking it. Many times the person who is asking this question doesn't know why he/she is asking it or how to react to the answer.

    An example is when I was asked the question and answered with my little clever answer: "wherever I can contribute most in the company at that point", meaning that I am not in it for the money or the glory, but simply to be vital part of the great results or the future. The reaction was that they didn't understand my point, got dissatisfied and actually started pushing me into finally saying that I want to be the CEO of Blizzard, after suggesting other roles (like head of communications). This is a good example of when people should NOT use this question when interviewing people. ;)

  3. I think it matters at what stage of your career you're at. If you're just starting out, maybe it's worth lying. If you're more established, honesty could be good. For example, I can't imagine myself working for a company for 5 years, it's just not me.

  4. Good point there Andie. If you are asked the question, and that is how you are feeling... I doubt it would be beneficial for you to mention it, but at the same time this would be one of those things that the company would really want to know before hiring someone.

    The interesting question here is: Would anyone ever say that they aren't planning to stay for very long, when being interviewed?


Would be awesome if you let me know who is commenting ;)

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