Following a recent job interview, I left feeling off about the experience. More specifically, the feeling was that I no longer wanted to work for the company I applied to. I felt disappointed in them and frustrated in myself for wasting my time. However, after a bit of reflection about the experience, I would like to share exactly why I had that feeling about this encounter with this organization. Additionally, I would like to share the 3 main reasons you should run from businesses that ask the played out interview question, “Where do you see yourself in [SO MANY] years?”
To begin, I would like to explain that I worked as a 9-1-1 operator and police dispatcher for over 10 years before becoming a police officer. I only mention this to relay how important questions are to me; I asked them for a living. My life, the lives of the people I was serving, and the lives of my family, were reliant upon my ability to ask the right questions, within the right amount of time, to people in absolute crisis. Failing to ask the right questions could have left someone hurt or worse. Even still, for a very long time, all I dealt in were questions and the all too important information that those questions unlocked. Now, I am in a phase of life where I am testing the waters of employment. I must admit, I am not impressed with the organizational representatives I am encountering largely because of the questions they are utilizing as their screening tools.
For the sake of this article, let’s think of questions as tools; they are constructed from symbols, and used to quench the thirst for information. However, not all questions are asked out of sincere or genuinely inquisitive curiosity. In fact, some questions are used as weapons. For instance, if an attorney were to ask, “When did you stop beating children?” There is no right answer to this question. This is a trapping question. This is a false question. Furthermore, this question would be objectionable on grounds that it implies the person being questioned ever started beating children. Additionally, even if the question is objected to, the damage will have already been done through planting the seed of doubt in the minds of the jury that they are dealing with someone who started beating children.
You may be thinking, that’s interesting in case someone tries to accuse me of beating children during a job interview, but how does this address the question, “where do you see yourself in [SO MANY] years?” There are so many questions to choose from and just as the candidate, the employer only has one chance to make a first impression. When the employer elects to make their first impression one where this question is present, know that they asked it for a purpose, and it may not be why you think. Regardless, find comfort knowing that questions also reveal the intent of the person asking it. As in the example of the trapping/false question (above), it was designed to damage the credibility of the person being questioned. It also demonstrated that the person asking the question does not have genuine or sincere interest in finding the truth. Instead, they are bent on making the questioned wear a mantra of guilt and shame. Bottom line, when a person uses a question for any other purpose than the face value query, you are dealing with someone who likes to work and deal with manipulations of the truth.
Nevertheless, our question in question is so popularly asked, even the Glassdoor Team chimed in to leave their two cents about it, explaining that employers are trying to find out 1.) If you’ll stick around with the company for at least [SO MANY] years and 2.) If your goals match what the employer is able to offer1. This leaves me wondering, if an employer wants to know those things, why don’t they just ask?
When an employer asks you to explain your visualizations of the future, they:
- are scared by change,
- want to have a “sure thing” (i.e. want someone predictable), and
- like playing it safe
As if asking one thing while meaning to ask two other things (deception and lack of transparency) isn’t enough of reason to not work for someone, let’s dive into the 3 (other) reasons you should run from an employer that asks, “Where do you see yourself in [SO MANY] years?”
Reason Number 1. They think inside the box and like it that way. An employer that asks this question operates off the naive assumption that individual hard work pays off. Furthermore, they also believe that goals could/would be achieved if the individual is more assertive, more organized, more confident, or had better communication skills. In essence, they blame others for their lack of success. According to Geraldine K. Piorkowski Ph.D.;
“The problem with most success strategies is that talent and hard work alone aren’t enough to succeed. We need to be in the right place at the right time. We need to have friends who can help us along the way. We need the kind of personality that endears itself to the decision-makers in our world. As the Irish would say, we need a little bit of luck to get where we want to go.”2
Forgetting that teams, networks, and communities of people are where support is derived alters mental perception to begin believing success is all happening because of the individual. This paradigm fosters selfishness. The notion that it is the individual who accomplishes, not the community, is highly toxic thinking because it runs counter to teamwork.
Within environments such as this, one may easily find institutionalized hazing as well as statements such as, “we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way”. Also, there will be a distinct hierarchy, chain of command, pecking order, and new hires will not be treated well as they must earn their stripes. These kinds of businesses will have leaders that carry an attitude of arrogance and will have managers who constantly violate Rule # 41 of business: Remember Where You Came From3.
Furthermore, the managers at a business like this has heard/seen/read bad advice, such as this question, and incorporated them into their mantra without understanding how it makes them look from the outside. This also means, they’ve done this with other things and in other areas of the business, too. This classic Baby Boomer business candidate colander is so unimaginative and over-used that there are actually Google results to help you provide a safe answer to appease the fearful Boomer mind. Use of out-dated interview questions shows the employer lacks the courage to be creative and more than likely is seeking someone who is that same way.
To this employer, work is about playing a game of fitting in a box, being/thinking predictably, not ruffling any feathers, and working hard to live up to the label you are given. This employer does not want someone who has ideas about anything outside of what they dictate. Finally, this employer will consistently apply old/out-dated/bad ideas to “fix” modern problems. What’s worse is they will expect you to act as though they are more informed than you, even though you will find that they are not.
Reason Number 2. They are bias. As already established, this is a false question that makes fickle/shallow assumptions. Using deceptive questioning demonstrates someone not wanting to ask real questions ; instead, trying to cut corners4. According to Jonathan Keane, the increasing redundancy of resume language creates a sort of nebulous array of terms. To cut through the jargon, recruiters and hiring managers try to streamline things. In this process, as hiring managers employ tactics to shortcut the hiring process, “it creates catastrophic problems for the team and that’s because you will start looking for things that your brain understands, which is ‘does this person sound like me?’, ‘does this person look like me?'”5. In seeking shortcuts, a breading ground for bias is simultaneously created.
Reason Number 3. They have created what they project. In human psychology, there is an interesting thing called The Ironic Effect. According to Wegener DM, et al., when you suppress a thought or emotion it only amplifies them6. Additionally, Wegener continued explaining, when you try to think of something, you’ll think about it less7. According to David Hanscom MD, no matter how cautious you are in trying to stop this from happening, the brain will still trigger a feedback mechanism that will ensure it occurs8. What happens is, the conscious mind is influenced by the unconscious mind which takes focus upon the ways you may not achieve the goal. An example is someone in search for happiness will never find it. This is because when a person defines themselves as someone who is searching for happiness, they are (by definition) not containing the thing they are searching for. Therefore, if an employer is asking questions from a place of fear and dishonesty, they will create/possess environments of fear and dishonesty. Even though this employer may think they are working hard to find a “good” employee, thanks to The Ironic Effect, they will sabotage themselves before they reach their objective. Use of this questionable question displays, this particular organization became dishonest to find the honest. This is because you can only attract what you are or have already; i.e. when you speak in dishonest language, you will attract people who use dishonest language.
In summation, during this job interview, I was asked where I saw myself in such n’ such years, and my heart sank. I instantly knew that I didn’t want to work with/for them. I felt as though I was on a professional blind date I no longer wanted to be on and everything in my mind was screaming, “run”. To me, this employer tipped their hand with this question and revealed that they desire to play word games, mind games, and at the end of the day, they will just be flat out dishonest. If an employer wishes to leave a good first impression, the best advice I have is to be honest and transparent from the beginning. What’s so wrong about that approach? After all, when you possess goodness and honesty you attract good and honest people.
- Glassdoor Team. (n.d.). How to Answer the Interview Question ‘Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years’ Like a Pro. https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/guide/where-do-you-see-yourself-in-5-years/
- Piorkowski, G. K. (2021, August 31). Talent and Hard Work Aren’t Enough to Get to the Top Luck or chance makes the difference. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-pipe-dreams-and-platitudes/202108/talent-and-hard-work-arent-enough-get-the-top?amp.
- Tormey, A. (2014, April 23). SUCCESS RULE #41 REMEMBER WHERE YOU CAME FROM. Govloop. https://www.govloop.com/community/blog/success-rule-41-remember-where-you-came-from/.
- The Conversation. (2016, December 9). Telltale signs an employee likes to cut corners. SmartCompany. https://www.smartcompany.com.au/startupsmart/advice/telltale-signs-employee-likes-cut-corners/.
- Keane, J. (2021, August 23). The old-fashioned resume may no longer be the tool for hiring a more diverse team. https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2021/08/23/the-resume-may-no-longer-be-the-tool-for-hiring-a-more-diverse-team.html
- Wegener DM, et al. Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1987); 53: 5-13.
- Wegener DM. The Seed of Our Undoing. Psychological Science Agenda (1999)/ 10-11.
- Hanscom MD, D. (2021, August 22). The Curse of Consciousness: Trapped By Your Thoughts The universal human need for mental control disrupts our quality of life. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-another-name-pain/202108/the-curse-consciousness-trapped-your-thoughts?amp