Think about the quintessential interview question and “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” probably comes to mind.
I personally have been asked variations on this question many times in my career, never knowing exactly what the “right” answer was (thought I suspected, “Sitting on a beach with an umbrella drink and a copy of Us Weekly” wasn’t quite what the interviewer was looking for).
So in this installment of Conversations from the Corner Office, I talked to master interviewer and ID Plans CRO Seth Garber to get some insight on this often-asked question. Why is it so common? How should you reply? And what is the person asking really getting at?
SG: I remember early in my career going through interviews and being asked all the standard interview questions, and one was “Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?” I wanted to answer big and bold because I did the research and I felt like that’s what they were looking for and so I said something like, “In 10 years I’m going to be the number-one salesperson and then become the CEO.”
SG: I felt it brought a lot of energy in that instance. Looking back, I remember seeing stars in the eyes of the interviewer. They were pumped up, I was pumped up. It was a good answer in that case, but I can also see how in some instances, an interviewer could see a big, bold answer like mine as a threat. Like I was going to come in and take their job or something.
SG: It’s not my favorite type of question to ask, but I think it’s OK for a lot of positions. It does challenge people to visualize where they’d like to see themselves in the future, but sometimes it fails because they answer in a way that’s not authentic. They’re just saying what they think the interviewer wants to hear and not what they actually feel.
SG: It would depend on the role. If someone wants to be a sales leader, I’d be looking for them to say not only where they see themselves in 10 years but also to explain how they’re going to get there. If someone were to say, “I want to be the executive vice president of sales,” I’m looking for a plan. I want them to say, “This year, my goal is to come in and prove myself to be a top-performing leader and continue on that track.” Things like that, statements that focus heavily on personal development and a commitment to learn the next position. The end goal isn’t as important – I just want to hear them articulate their plans.
The other thing I like to ask about is the human side. How does their career, should they achieve their desired trajectory, impact their personal life? I’d like to hear them say, “The reason I want to do this is because it will give my family a better life or give me more free time.” Whatever their motivations are, I’d like to hear about them because it gives me a better idea of what their goals actually are.
SG: We live in somewhat of a search, cut and paste environment today. When a person comes in for an interview, we ask “inside the box” questions and they’re prepared for them because they’ve done their online research and they feel like they’re giving the perfect interview answers. It really is better for them to say what they truly believe.
That being said, 10 years is a really long window of time. Depending on how old the person being interviewed is, 10 years could be, say, a third of their life if you’re talking to a 30-year-old. They don’t necessarily have the same perspective that someone in their 50s has. That’s something an interviewer needs to think about when asking this type of question to make it more meaningful.
SG: I’d say something like, “If you could paint the picture of your perfect life down the road, either personally and professionally, what would it look like?” That would tell me a lot about the person and it would net a lot of different types of answers, more than just what they found in a Google search.
Another great question I was asked once was, “If someone was giving your eulogy, how would you want them to describe you?” When I ask that question, I always encourage the other person take a moment and think about their answer before reacting.
A third question I’ll ask, especially when I’m talking to someone more senior is, “Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you wish you could have changed and how would it affect you if you were still with that company?” I’ve discovered that people answer that question incredibly honestly. You’ll never get, “I’d never change anything.”
SG: The first thing I would do is to be real with myself versus thinking about how I can give the “perfect” answer. Then, I’d keep diving deeper. If I wasn’t good at goal setting, I’d do some research on how to set goals and the methodologies behind them and find the one that works best for me. Some people do vision boards. If you go that route, make one up and take a picture of it. Then you can show it to your interviewer should they ask about your future plans – that will blow them away.
SG: To whoever is asking, I would say, “That’s a great question. What is most important to you to learn in asking it?” Put it back on them, and then follow the path and answer the question based on that path. Show them who you really are and remember, it’s not just about you being a good fit for them, but you also want to make sure they’re a good fit for you.
Have you been asked this question in interviews? How did you answer? Leave your comments below.
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