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Stupid Human Resources Watch: Dumbest Question Ever


By Ken Magill

Anyone who’s spent any time in corporate America knows the weeniest department in every company is human resources.

They’re the ones who force us to watch sexual-harassment and corporate-conduct videos that are so bad, they make us wonder what the hell kind of videos they passed up.

For the record, I used to watch human-resources videos on my home computer while slugging straight vodka so I could feel like I was making good use of my time.

In any case, the latest bit of human-resources stupidity came to me second hand from the wife and an old colleague, both of whom are in corporate America and both of whom were asked one of the most dumbassed review questions ever: “Where do you expect to be in five years?”

How about: “I don’t know where I expect to be, but I hope to be somewhere where I don’t have to sit in a room pretending the department that created this review is nothing but a bureaucratic productivity vampire whose very existence is a desperate cry for trial-law reform.”

Or how about: “In five years, I expect to be not regretting giving a truthful answer to this obviously loaded question.”

Where do we expect to be in five years? What, suddenly we’re in Chairman Mao’s China?

“In five years time, I expect to triple my grain and steel production, Dear Leader.”

Yeah, yeah. I know. Dear Leader is North Korea, but it sounded better than Great Helmsman.

There are only two things that can result from honestly answering the five-year question: Nothing, or something bad.

“Where do you expect to be in five years?” is also a common job-interview question. So common, in fact, that a Google search with the phrase in quotes last week brought back 388,000 results addressing how to answer it.

Let’s start with a premise: The only person who gives a rat’s ass where an individual wants to be in five years is that individual.

So obviously, the question is designed to get at something else.

In an interview, the question is most likely aimed at gauging the candidate’s ambition. But the interviewee can’t possibly know what the interviewer will consider too ambitious or not ambitious enough.

So anyone with a brain will answer something along the lines of: “I hope I will have taken advantage of all the opportunities presented to me so I will have made the best contribution to the company I could have.”

In the case of a review, an honest answer might be something along the lines of: “I want to get promoted straight through your sorry ass,” but the safe answer will be the same as above: “I hope I will have taken advantage of all the opportunities presented to me so I will have made the best contribution to the company I could have.”

In either case, the only useful information that can possibly be gained from the five-year question is information that has a negative effect on the answerer.

In an interview, the only useful information would be that which eliminates the candidate from consideration for the job.

In a review, there is nothing good a boss can do with any answer to that question that he couldn’t have done without asking it.

However, if the boss sees a threat to his job in the answer, he could make his perceived threat’s working life hell. offers three examples of what its editors deem to be good answers to the five-year question:

• First and foremost, I want to contribute as much as I can to your company in the position I'm applying for. Once mastered, I see myself in a supervisory or management role. I'm a good leader and enjoy managing people and projects.

• Although my initial focus would be to work to my full potential in the job I'm applying for, I would very much like to move into a supervisory or management role in 3-5 years...or less. I enjoy supporting other team members, and strive to set a good example for others.

• My first goal will be to meet or exceed your expectations in the position I'm applying for. After that, I would enjoy the responsibilities of management. I'm patient with others and like the challenges of leadership.

Notice each of the answers is evasive, kiss-ass nonsense. But all three are reasonable answers to arguably the most dumbassed bureaucratic—dumbassed bureaucratic being redundant—employment question in history.

My advice: If an interviewer asks the five-year question, stand up, shake his or her hand, thank them and leave. The fact that they would ask that question tells you all you need to know.

If a reviewer asks it, realize you are in a soul-crushing corporate prison where mediocrities who view talent with suspicion get promoted. Otherwise they wouldn’t ask that question. Either put your head down and try not to get noticed, or get out as soon as you can.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Dan
Date: 2012-08-15 09:30:36
Subject: opinion

Are you suggesting that "Sitting in your chair doing your job for 20% more than you're earning today" isn't a safe answer?
Posted by: Bill
Date: 2012-08-14 17:14:15
Subject: thanks

I just got a reminder to fill in some review forms today so I was able to copy and paste your safe answer in. Thanks!
Posted by: DrData
Date: 2012-08-14 16:38:52
Subject: Dilbert

This sounds like the script to an entire Dilbert series. Can't wait to see the strips.