What do you want to be when you grow up?

07 Dec 2012 | Naomi Marshall

Throughout your childhood do you remember the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At that moment in time most of us wanted to be ballerinas, footballers, firemen or astronauts and where are we now? One thing’s for sure I’m certainly not a professional dancer….

In interviews today you are asked a more “grown up” version of the childhood question – “where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” and a worthy answer is often hard to muster. The problem is these days your childhood dream of being a dancer isn’t so well received (unless you are interviewing for Dancing with the Stars!).

I always ask a variation of this question in an interview and too often I am greeted with a long silence… Finally I hear the three dreaded words “I don’t know” coupled with a confused look. Before stepping foot inside a recruiters office you must prepare yourself for this question – if you don’t know where your career is headed I assure you that I don’t either. We are recruiters here to help you secure your perfect role not your career guidance councillor.

Your answer to this question shows us your ambition, realistic goals and self-motivation. By answering that you are unsure, what message does that send to us? Think back to the confidence that you had at ten years of age and learn from it! If you really have absolutely no idea what industry, company, or position you want to be in five years from now then think back on what you have thrived on in the past – what is it that has brought you here today? Maybe you thrived in a previous role when you had two directs reports then perhaps management is for you? Sit down and have a good hard think before going for an interview!

If you see yourself moving on after two to three years, keep it to yourself during the interview. This type of answer is a little too honest. An employer isn’t going to hire you and train you up for two years for you to take off, so avoid revealing this if it’s your true intention!

Answering to a hiring manager “in your job” as you can imagine, may be a little brazen-and awkward- if you tell your interviewer you want to replace him/her. Likewise “married and a stay at home mum/dad” isn’t the best of answers either. Stay away from talking too specifically about personal goals in your answer. Interviewers generally want to hear about career plans, not life plans.

So before you go to an interview THINK about where it is you want to be in five years and how this particular job is going to achieve that goal. Plan your answers and tailor them to the job, the company or the industry that you have applied for. This may all seem incredibly logical but believe me you would be surprised at the amount of “I don’t knows” we hear every day. Who knew we would be still answering the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when we grew up!

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