“Future Plans” Job Interview Questions

This week’s topic deals with interviewers asking about your future plans. As we’ll see in addressing the question a subscriber wrote in with, interviewers use the “future plans” question to screen people out. Read on to find out how to make sure you’re not eliminated from consideration with a question like this.

Question from a Subscriber:
I’ve had a lot of interviews lately, and they all go well until the interviewer asks about my plans for the future. I reply by explaining my hopes in obtaining an advanced degree. Then the interview suddenly turns sour. What I saw as being ambitious and trying to illustrate my worth has instead had a reverse effect. Jobs now see me as “temporary”. Even though graduate school would not start for another year or two and I could manage a job and classes, interviewers assume I will leave early and don’t give me the chance, even though I am a loyal worker. Any advice for this predicament? Should I no longer appear so ambitious? Should I seem more “under qualified” than I am? Thanks so much.
S. M.
Dear S.M.,

It is admirable that you’re planning to go to grad school. It’s obviously something that’s important to you and your sense of who you are. But for the purposes of job interviews, you need to become a little more objective about who you are and what your qualifications are.
Here’s the bottom line: whenever you see a particular thing you’re saying in interviews is turning people off, stop saying it. If you were selling Cadillacs and you discovered that telling people about the OnStar system to get help in the case of a catastrophe was turning customers off, the sensible thing to do would be to stop talking about it. There are lots of other great things about the Cadillac you can talk about. Who knows why talking about the OnStar is a turn off. Maybe it’s because people don’t want to imagine themselves in a catastrophe. Likewise, maybe an employer doesn’t want to think of the possibility that you could get a degree that would make you eligible for better jobs and leave them with the disaster of having to hire a replacement for you. There are many types of positions where getting an advanced degree would be in both your interest and the employer’s. It seems like in your case they don’t see it that way.
You have no obligation to tell employers about your plans for grad school if it wouldn’t interfere with your job duties.

Employers Not Really Looking for Ambition (Per Se)
It’s important to keep in mind that the goal of an interview should not be to show an employer how ambitious you are. The goal of an interview is to discover what the employer is looking for and then to show them how you fit that. Being someone who is passionate about doing a good job is a quality employers generally look for. Loyalty is a quality most employers look for. Ambition is not necessarily something employers look for — it’s often a side-effect to the qualities they want. An employer wants someone who’s motivated enough to accomplish their job duties, but not so ambitious that they’ll get up and leave at the first opportunity.

Don’t Say Things in Interviews for “Selfish” Reasons
You need to take a look at your own motivations for telling employers about your grad school plans. Is it just to illustrate that you’re a motivated person, or is it also because you want to get their blessing/approval to show up late for work after taking a test or studying, potentially missing work when there’s a big paper you have to turn in, etc.

Employers may interpret your mentioning you grad school plans as another way of saying “hey, if you want to hire me, you’re going to have to put up with the side effects of someone who’s preoccupied with something more important than their day job”

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