It’s a stupid interview question. There is no remotely honest way to answer this question in an interview that will please a hiring manager. I always went with something like: “Working in a challenging role in a fantastic company like yours!” Which is a total BS response, but always seemed to satisfy interviewers (Do you have a better answer or a really unwise answer that you regret? Please share.)
But have you ever REALLY thought about where you see yourself in five years? Most of us haven’t — especially in the corporate world. We move from opportunity to opportunity without much thought about the future beyond wanting to keep advancing and making more money (and avoiding the layoff fairy). That’s probably because it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen during five years of reorganizations, mergers, and other fun corporate games.
However, if you’re feeling stuck in a career rut (and even if you’re not), it can be extremely valuable to take the time to visualize who you want to be in five years. Putting aside where you are now and what you think is realistic (at least for the moment), what would you truly like to be doing in five years? Will you be running your own successful business? Will you be selling your own successful business for billions of dollars? Will you be teaching yoga on a beach in Maui?
I don’t pretend to understand all of the mysterious forces of the universe, but I do know that visualization is not just for Oprah and Tony Robbins. Once you can picture what you want, it becomes a lot more likely that you’re going to get it.
Some would say that visualization allows you to attract opportunities (and new cars and other valuable prizes). Others believe that visualization just gives you the clarity to recognize opportunities that are already there (or are right around the corner). All I know is that many of the corporate escape artists that I interviewed spoke about how the right jobs, mentors, or solutions seemed to suddenly appear to them once they could picture what success would look like.
If you don’t decide where you want to go, you run the risk of having that decision made for you. For years, I allowed my career to just kind of happen to me. Yes, I worked hard and had a vague sense of wanting to move forward, be happier. But because I didn’t believe that what I really wanted was possible, I allowed myself to settle for the best of what was in front of me.
For years, I had a vague notion of wanting to “work for myself someday.” But it wasn’t until I figured out a specific vision for the future that something clicked. It was only a few months later that I packed up my desk and left cubicleland to pursue my dream. And I can’t tell you how many similar stories I have heard from successful career changers.
So the moral of my story is: stupid job interview questions can help you change your life. So think about it. Where do you see yourself in five years? Or three years? Or one if you’re feeling really antsy? Can you picture yourself walking into work with a big, stupid grin on your face?
If you’re having trouble imagining the specifics of your deliriously happy future, check out Chapter 3 of Escape from Corporate America for lots of exercises and techniques for finding your true calling.
There’s also a fun and free tool called GigZig that allows you to enter your current job title and generate a list of job titles currently held by people who were doing your job five years ago (along with the average salary for each). It’s fun to play with, even if most of the titles that come up are for corporate jobs.