If you think this is old-school interview question nobody uses anymore, you’d be wrong. Some HR managers are still ending their questioning with it, perhaps waiting for an original answer, as probably, in their experience, they heard all the political correct ones. You may not be endowed with medium talents and visionary powers to actually answer that, so most recruiters are feeding on your wishful thinking here. Everybody taught you to trade carefully when this question comes up, because you can’t be so astute to answer “I see myself in your place”, nor so irresponsible to say “Having my own business”. So where do you see yourself, really, in five years from now?
Designing personal career plans: Pros and cons
Since you were in college, everybody told you should have a personal development plan and a career plan. A master design where you write down your career goals, your set of skills and talents and a series of detailed steps to take in order to reach your objectives. A plan you should stick to and a life mission you should not only be proud of, but helped with by your employers. There are countless resources which help the young in building the plan and almost all of them start with advising you to project your job profile that you believe suits you best and then start building from there. But is it a good idea to have such a plan?
Recruiters, talent hunters and managers agree that such personal career plan is a good tool for every person to stay focused, motivated and engaged in your own personal development. On the other hand, there is a common practice in serious companies that managers or HR representatives to work together with each employee in designing and implementing a professional development plan inside the said company. From this point of view, things are going into the right direction and many managers helped their staff grow, learn, change and progress, in accordance with the employees own vision of how his or her career should be.
So are there any cons to this?
Experts from Forbes Magazine change the angle a little and consider the personal career plan, as it is defined and still envisioned today, as being obsolete and even detrimental to a person, not as a concept, but implementation – wise. They say, and they are not wrong, that the world is changing, is unpredictable, and is subjected to earthquake – like shifts, so it is irresponsible for a person to build a 5 years career plan based solely on a job they dream of or a personal entrepreneurial venture they would like to develop. In the words of Paul B. Brown, “a career plan can lead you into a false sense of confidence, where you fail to see opportunities as they arise and or miss (or discount) major changes in the industry where you planning to succeed.” Along those lines, let’s just admit that people change too. If you asked them ten years ago what was their 5-year plan, many will confess it didn’t look anything with the situation they are into as we speak. Maybe you set a goal and made a plan of forever having a job in HR ad become a HR manager in a large corporation, only to realize along the way that you just can’t take it and now you are so much happier working in marketing. Everything changes, and the last years of a broken economy showed people exactly how bad things can change.
Should we give up completely on career plans?
Definitely not, and this is not the point in question. The point is that if you’re young or at the beginning of your career, seeing yourself in 5 years from now can’t be narrowed down to a specific industry, a position, a job or a broader field of activity. It should start from your desires as both a person and a professional. But what if you don’t know what you want or what if you change your mind sometime next year? True, it is likely that change occurs, opportunities come and go, you wake up one morning and realize this is not who you want to be. That is why, when designing personal career plans, in the alternative manner suggested by the Forbes expert, you should start from determining your desire, as a general goal, work towards that accomplishment, make a few steps, evaluate, make more steps, evaluate again, make the necessary changes, learn everything that is to learn from your experience and repeat this growing process until you get there.
What is the difference?
If you set traditional personal career plans, the kind that say in five years you will be a HR manager in a large corporation and are not there yet, the level of disappointment will be devastating, not to mention the opportunities you lost along the way for being blind to them. If you set a flexible career plan that says that in 5 years from now you want to own your online business, things can move in different directions.
More to the point, Paul B. Brown says “you don’t commit to a plan (starting a firm); you commit to a goal (in this case, “starting a business of my own that would be fun and successful.”). It’s not career planning. It’s acting your way into a future you want.” And we can also add, you don’t commit to a piece of paper, you commit to yourself. And you are a subject of change, of reprioritizing, of vision – shifts and of constant opportunities knocking on your door.