Bogus Interview Question? Need Recruiter Input

by Michael Haberman on June 22, 2010 · 0 comments


There is an article on answering tough questions that I read today. Since I am providing some advice to a friend I read it just to see what it had to say. Generally some good info. However, one question that they said you need to be prepared to answer is “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” My initial gut reaction was “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! PEOPLE STILL ASK THAT?” They said it is an easy one to answer and allows you to communicate your ambition, show that you want to be a pro, etc.

After some thought I realized that you do need to be prepared to answer that question, especially if you are fairly early in your career because INEXPERIENCED INTERVIEWERS who don’t know squat about interviewing will ask you this. And this is totally inappropriate to ask anyone with more that 20 years of experience. I think you can ask much better questions to determine what someone’s ambition is by investigating how they got to where they are today. (Yes, I am a big believer in behavioral interviewing.)

Now I am the first to admit that I don’t interview people on a regular basis anymore. So I am asking you experienced recruiters and interviewers out there. Do you still ask this question? If so what are you looking for in getting an obviously rehearsed answer?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Cyndy Trivella June 22, 2010 at 11:09 am

Mike–As a hiring manager, I DO NOT ask this question. Unless someone has a crystal ball and can predict the future, what is the sense in asking. Frankly, I think this is the type of question that makes the job candidate think they have to provide an answer the interviewer wants to hear. Further, I don't think this is the type of interview question that provides any good insight into the person sitting before me. I am more interested in knowing what he/she has done and how that can translate over how it makes sense for the position.

You are right when you say that inexperienced interviewers (recruiters and hiring managers both) might use this question. But that begs the question: From whom / where did they get that question?

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Cathy Missildine-Martin, SPHR June 22, 2010 at 11:21 am

Mike:

I could not agree more with yours and Cyndy's comments. I am a BIG believer in behaviorial/situational interviews. I also hate the question what are your strengths and weaknesses, and I hear they still ask that as well.

I want to know what you have done in the past that relates to my need today. I want to know mistakes and what you learned. I want to know how you solve problems and how you react to multiple projects…..not what you want to be in 5 years….

come on!

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Cyndy Trivella June 22, 2010 at 11:29 am

Good one Cathy! Yes, I hate the question on strengths and weaknesses too and DO NOT ask that question either. That's another question that makes the job candidate say what we want to hear. I would rather have an interview that is give and take. We both ask engaged questions and develop a rapport based off of our responses. So much more impactful.

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jessica lee - fistful of talent June 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm

i don't consider myself an inexperienced interviewer since i've just hit my 10 year mark as an HR gal – but i do ask this question with a slight twist. i want to know how and why the position we're interviewing someone for fits into where they want to be in the long run.

behavioral/situational questions – great. but how do you know what the motivational fit is going to be? if the job is just another job, that won't cut it for me. i need to know your motives for wanting this job, and wanting to work for my org are right.

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Cyndy Trivella June 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Jessica–Good input. When you address the question in relation to the position and what motivated the candidate to apply, that brings the relevancy of the question to a whole new dimension.

I don't want to speak for Mike, but I interpreted his initial comments to mean that there are folks who just arbitrarily interject that question into the interview process when it really doesn't have any relevancy.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR June 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Cathy and Cyndy.. great input. I don't like questions where people can have pat answers.

Jessica, you are definately not an inexperienced interviewer. And I like your twist on the question. That makes it relevant. In essence you have made it a behavioral question. Rather than saying "what do you want to be?" (a hypothetical) you have changed it to be "Why did you want to interview with us and how do you think it will benefit you?" (I know a bit of a stretch. But it makes people think beyond the generic "what do you want to be doing?"

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GCohen June 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I think the question is fine it is what is the depth of the answer that matters. I will use myself as an example. When asked where do you hope your book Just Ask Leadership (McGraw Hill) will take you? I simply say, I can not know where it is that the book will take me I have no specific outcomes in mind. I do know however that I would like to have a seat at the table. When asked what table? I respond I don't know and I will know it when I am sitting there. Almost nine months after the book was published, August 2009 I was sitting at a table I leaned over to my wife, Chris, and said I think this is the table I was talking about.

My point if it is not clear is that the candidate does not have to say a specific role in addressing the interviewer they simply need to provide narrative that represents their point of view. Notice that I don't say a specific answer because a great interviewer should be open to all answers and look at them in the context of the role being hired for, the culture of the organization and the leaders, peers and followers that may be impacting the environment.

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