Yesterday, I received a very interesting message from a contact on LinkedIn. Responding to my last article the “where do you see yourself in five years” dilemma, Jane (not her real name) sent a long list of interview questions she dislikes and why. She ended her message by nicely asking what my answer would be if the table was turned around and the “where do you see yourself in five years” question posed to me. I sent Jane a reply, which I am more than happy to share and elaborate on.
The summary of my reply was – I really do not have a five-year plan, not even a two or one year plan… When I tell people this, they struggle to accept it. After all, I am a Recruiter and should know better.
A little about me…
While in primary/secondary school, I wanted to be a Medical Doctor, so I was encouraged to and took science classes. Even though I passed my exams, by the time I was done with secondary school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, but knew medicine wasn’t for me. Growing up with a loving mum – a Nurse, meant that I had access to and read lots of medical books. It also meant that I had my fair share of hospital visits (even when I wasn’t ill). I was lucky to realise early that my interest in medicine was because of over-exposure to a medical environment from a very young age and innocently thinking that taking care of the sick was the only way to “help” people.
In reality, although I liked maths, physics, biology and chemistry, I did not really connect with them. I found them (except for biology) slightly abstract and social sciences a lot more engaging. As a result, upon graduation, I decided to pursue a university degree in Sociology and Anthropology. The only reason I was able to do a career switch was because in addition to the science classes I took, I also took a couple of social science classes – mostly out of interest. I was really lucky because the switch wasn’t planned.
Any graduate of Sociology, Anthropology or other social sciences will tell you how broad they are. I went through all my years of university education not knowing what path I would follow when I graduated. I however knew the courses I was interested in and went with them. I enjoyed my socio-psychology, psychology, industrial sociology, social institutions, social stratification and mobility as well as sociology of personality and motivation classes. But I was not done with studying after four years. I went on to pursue a masters degree in International Development a few years after my first degree.
While studying for my masters degree, I pretty much fell in love with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Upon graduation, I got a job as a CSR Resourcer at Justmeans. Anyone who knew me at that time would have thought that I was destined for a CSR career. One of my core responsibilities was liaising with university career services and ensuring their students/alumni had access to information on CSR and sustainability-related jobs. This was the turning point for me, the beginning of my recruitment career, but I didn’t see it coming.
So what is the connection to the five-year career plan question?
If anyone had asked me questions relating to a five year plan at any point from primary/secondary school to when I completed my masters degree, I would have given answers that may not have reflected where I was five years from the time of the questions. Similarly, if anyone had asked the same questions after I joined Justmeans, I would have given inaccurate answers. Fast forward to 2013. More recently, I would have given wrong answers if anyone had asked me similar questions just a couple of months ago. I am in a different place from where I was only two months ago.
Precise plans work for some, but not everyone. It is important we keep in mind that not having a plan at certain points in a person’s career does not always equate to not having interests, aspirations, passions or motivations. It certainly does not mean a person will not be successful in a role. I have come to realise that the main thing that kept me going throughout my studies was my genuine interest in what I did. Today, the passion for what I do keeps me going as well. I am following my interests and passions first and building a career around them as I go. This may not work for everyone, but somehow it does for me.
A lot of us can clearly remember our lives without mobile phones and the internet, simply because major technological changes in Africa only recently took (and is still taking) place. Who would have accurately predicted that Africa will top the mobile money map or be an emerging force to reckon with in e-commerce today? Things change and these days, very quickly.
To me, having a plan set in stone means not giving myself room to adapt to unpredictable changes or even new challenges. It does not mean I am not aiming for specific things, it just means I am creating a flexible environment to ensure I achieve my goals. It means I am preparing myself for and willing to walk through multiple interesting and challenging career paths, not a straight, narrow and somewhat boring path.
Even professionals who enjoy career planning, do not always have clear cut visions of what they want to be or do at all times, but as long as they have something that drives them – a passion or an aspiration that links directly to their dream or current jobs and employers, then they are on the right track.
So if I was interviewing for a role today and asked where I see myself in five years, my answer would probably be:
- I see myself continuing in the path I have always taken – striving to be the best in what I do
- I see myself in a challenging and engaging role that has some links to one or more of my passions and interests, especially Africa, recruitment, international development and corporate social responsibility
- I see myself effectively using the skills I have gained, but also exploring opportunities where I can gain a lot more at the shortest possible time
To me, for as long as all the dots connect in my head (and heart) today, I will not worry about where I will be in five, four, three, two or even one year. The future is very unpredictable, but I know that every creative step I take towards a passion today, is a positive step towards where I will be in five years.
All I need to do is keep an eye on what the market is saying. Keeping abreast of future market predictions mean I can continue focusing on gaining the most relevant sets of skills…