In the course of my career, I have been on a number of job interviews, and there is one question that nearly every employer asks.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
This also happens to be the question I hate answering most. I don’t like this question because the time period of five years is misleading. The number five is a small number, but five years is actually quite a long time (60 months, 260 weeks, approximately 1,820 days, etc). This discrepancy makes it hard to conceptualize goals that can be reasonably accomplished in that time period.
Also, when you ask people to speculate about their ideal future, it is really easy for people to portray themselves as more dependable or ambitious than they actually are. They’re not lying perse, but they might be envisioning a future in which they are the “perfect employee.” This is not goal setting. It is fantasy, and therefore irrelevant to the interview.
Instead, I think it’s much more beneficial to start by asking “Where were you five years ago?” Everyone can answer it, and seeing where people have come from to where they are now is a lot more informative than asking them to predict (or invent) the future.
So…where were you five years ago?
In my case, I was just about to give my notice at the software company where I was working as a technical writer so I could enroll in the video motion graphics program at Madison Media Institute. I completed the program in sixteen months. After that I was a teaching assistant for two semesters, followed by about five months of freelancing before I took my current position as an editor and assistant producer for Tweedee Productions, a job I have held for two and a half years.
Five years ago, my only video production experience was making short films with my friends that (let’s be honest) were a couple steps up from home movies. Outside of my college friends, I knew no one else in Madison, and especially no one else who made films. Now, in addition to the work I’ve done through Tweedee Productions, I have co-produced two web series and several short films. I have competed in three 48 hour film projects and won awards in two of them. I have had a showcase as a RAW artist, several screenings at local venues, and I have made an entirely new group of friends through the growing Madison film community, most of whom I had never even heard of prior to November 2009.
Five years ago, none of my friends were married and all of them were alive. Now, two of my friends have passed away. I have been a bridesmaid three times, and a bride once.
Five years ago, I hadn’t tried anything. Between then and now I have tried more things than I can even name. Some things worked out, some things haven’t. There are many things I am proud of and many things I wish had gone better. I wish any of the submissions I’d made to film festivals had been accepted (0 for 7!). I wish my endeavors would have caught on more with the public. But despite these desires, I don’t have any regrets, because I’ve learned something from everything I’ve tried—especially when it felt like things were completely falling apart.
By looking at five years ago, it’s a lot easier to figure out what kind of life I can reasonably hope to have five years from now. I want to continue my video production work, but with more focus on writing and on-set work, perhaps as a camera operator or gaffer. Ideally, I will make money doing this. I want to see at least one project of mine make it into a festival or win a contest. I hope all my friends stay safe and find happiness in whatever kind of relationship that works for them. And I want to buy my first house and have my first kid.
I guess when you look back, it’s a lot easier to think about moving forward. Don’t you agree?