Here’s a Curveball Question You Won’t See Coming

Pitching a Curveball

Jon Bischke, CEO of recruiting software company Entelo, asks candidates an interesting question during job interviews: “What do you want to do after Entelo?”

“That often throws people,” he told the New York Times. “It’s an interesting question because it helps people take off the lens of ‘I want this job,’ and to put on the lens of, ‘What do I want to do with my life? What do I want to do with my career?'”

He goes on to suggest that thinking about what’s next actually helps your current company, “because if [the candidate is] thinking about where they want to be in five years and preparing for that, then they’re becoming better at the job that they’re doing today.”

It’s a good point, and illustrates the kind of longer term view you don’t often find in job interviews. In those conversations, the fact that you might one day leave isn’t acknowledged. It’s what makes the question, “Where do you want to be in five years?” seem so dangerous. We think our focus during the interview is supposed to be on the here and how.

Bischke’s question puts it all on the table: the fact that candidates have aspirations beyond solving their manager’s problems, the fact that employers don’t expect people to remain in their current job forever, and the fact that it’s simply good sense to always be thinking about your next act. The question lets you know that the manager is working on a professional-to-professional relationship: He expects you to do good work, but knows you have other options. He understands you have value that other people recognize.

So how do you answer it?

With this kind of question, managers are looking to gauge four things: your goals, your ambition, your attitude, and whether your goals and growth path align. Through all of it, they want to get a sense of how realistic you are and whether your ambitions outrun your ability to work on a team. Answer in a way that shows that continuing to develop your skills is important to you, that you want to be challenged so that you can continue to grow toward that place where you want to be next. For example, your goal may be to start your own company in another part of the industry. In that case, the exposure you gain at the employer will be invaluable in teaching you about the sector’s dynamics.

But be careful: Even though the interviewer has raised the idea of your moving on, don’t make the job sound like a way station on the way to something better. Always bear in mind that the manager has a problem and he’s hoping you’re the solution—even if you’re not signing a lifetime contract.

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