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Sunday, May 01, 2005

On answering the inevitable job interview question

At some point in the distant past, all the HR interviewers throughout the known universe held a secret meeting. During this caucus, they decided that there could be only one QUESTION that would reveal a prospective employee's abilities, attitudes, and potential. Anyone who has ever sat through a job interview has faced this “Where do you see yourself in five years?" question. Of course, some renegade interviewers have developed clever variations on this timeless classic. The “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” is a masterpiece of improvisation. Not to be outdone by the cheeky “Where do you see yourself in two years?” variation on the theme.

I have been through my share of job interviews. I always prepare some safe stock answer to the QUESTION so that I will seem enthusiastic, yet practical. Like a fine wine, I want to suggest a hint of ambition, but not so much that I seem impudent. Inevitably, as soon as I am asked the QUESTION, I suffer from a terrible moment of temptation. Infantile answers like “in a mirror” spring into my forebrain. Bizarre answers like “I don’t see myself at all, I’m just not my type” hover at the edge of my consciousness. So far, I have been able to control my more self-destructive instincts. I would like to propose to all future interviewers and interviewees that we formalize the verbal exchange that the QUESTION initiates.

Like an ancient tribal ritual, we would greet each with handshakes. Then the Interviewer would raise her eyes to the heavens and intone the great and powerful QUESTION. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” she will ask. A solemn Gregorian chant playing quietly on the office CD player would accompany her. The interviewee would then bow his head only slightly to signify the proper degree of respectful humility. He would then recite the carefully rehearsed ANSWER.

“I (insert name here) see myself being a valued and productive member of the (insert company name here) team. If given this opportunity to be the (insert position title here), I know that during the next five years I will make a significant positive impact on the work done here at (insert company name here).”

After an “Amen” softly mumbled in unison, everyone could sit down and begin the real interview.


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