October 8, 2008 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I've been going to a lot of job interviews, and the Human Resources people always like to throw in "What is your ideal dream job?" In the past I have slipped up on this trick question, by ACTUALLY ANSWERING IT and telling them what my ideal dream job is. Now I'm older and wiser, and I think I'm beginning to catch on. They want some kind of a neutral, politically-savvy, bland response. Right?

I am supposed to say something not too pie-in-the-sky, ideal or dreamy, yet something demonstrating that I do have ambitions and aspirations? Actually, I am quite confused. Why the hell DO so many HR types like to ask this question?!?

I know there are several "job interviewing" and "self-help" books out there, and one or two of them must have a thorough and deep explanation of the "ideal dream job" trick question phenomenon --- can anyone recommend a book with such a chapter?
posted by shipbreaker to Human Relations (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I heard this discussed at a interview workshop once. A safe answer is something customized to you, along the lines of:

My dream job would place me in a position that utilizes my unique skills and challenges me. The job is with a company that recognizes my effort, pays me fairly and values me as an employee.
posted by mintymike at 3:36 PM on October 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

The vast majority of HR people probably don't know why they're asking it, either, other than it was on a list of "Questions HR People Should Ask". And then they get answers an interviewee gleaned from "Answers You Should Give in Job Interviews" and really, the whole thing turns into some bizarre formalized dance that contains no information.

I'd probably give an answer that, as you say, shows ambition but also realism. Something like "A job where I can feel a real sense of accomplishment that I've made a difference at the end of the day." or "A job where I know people are counting on me."

Also, you're probably overthinking that you "slipped up" on a "trick question". There's a whole industry run around how to get a job, but there are so many human factors and soft issues around what's essentially a series of unrelated, individual experiences that trying to turn it into some logical A-to-B skill is bound to be frustrating. You'll be the best applicant and lose. You'll have the best interview and lose. You'll think you bombed spectacularly but get hired anyway.

Trying to "make sense" of it too much is bound to drive you insane. Just be the best you possible, and when you find a good job it doesn't mean you DID A PERFECT INTERVIEW, it means you found a "match" between company, interviewer, interviewee, and (maybe) skill-set and resume.
posted by rokusan at 3:43 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]

(Sorry, I should add that a lot of my contract work in the last decade has been in helping firms hire better creative people by rethinking evaluations, interviews, and talent-identification. I've sat in on, I don't know, like 3000 interviews in the last decade.)
posted by rokusan at 3:45 PM on October 8, 2008

They want to know if your dream job differs in important respects from the one you're interviewing for. If it does, they're concerned that you'll be unhappy working at the latter, and will leave after a short time, in which case they'll have wasted money hiring you and training you. You should give an answer that emphasizes your dream job's similarities to the one you're trying to get hired for, or to one you might grow into from that job.
posted by bac at 3:47 PM on October 8, 2008

Ideally it would be something you could get promoted to from the job you're interviewing, not something you would need to quit for.
posted by smackfu at 3:50 PM on October 8, 2008 [7 favorites]

Don't tell the truth in this instance. I mean come on, whose dream job wouldn't be some ridiculously unrealistic scenario?
posted by zhivota at 3:52 PM on October 8, 2008

I'll further say that you should pretend that what they really asked was:

In the context of this job you are interviewing for, what is the best way it could all turn out for you down the line if everything went really well?
posted by zhivota at 3:53 PM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

They want some kind of a neutral, politically-savvy, bland response. Right?

Oh hell no.

For example, I want to know that I'm not interviewing a potted plant. Is there a person in front of me? You know, a real, mature person, with relevant hopes, dreams and aspirations? Someone that wants to grow in their career?

I don't want to interview the following kinds of people:

* Someone that can't communicate.
* Someone that wants to run away and join the circus.
* Someone that is dead inside and has no ambition whatsoever.
* Someone that thinks they're entitled to the corner office on Day 1 of their career.

When you hear this question, in your mind, replace it with "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Ideally, the answers to both questions are very nearly the same.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:21 PM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

A coworker of mine responded to that question, "Bikini model spritzer."

He got the job.

Granted, he knew how to read the personality of the department he was interviewing for, and it was appropriate, as the wishy washy "correct" responses are a real turnoff for that department manager. But yeah, only do this if you can see that they can take a joke.
posted by olinerd at 4:22 PM on October 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'd avoid giving a specific job title, rather a list of qualities that the job would have: I'd get to help people every day, I'd constantly learn new things, I'd feel that my individual contribution really helped the company succeed, I'd get to solve problems, I'd know that it was important for me to be available every day as a dependable resource, whatever's true for you.
posted by amtho at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2008

Or do what Sarah Palin would do, and say: "Thank you so much for that interesting question. What I really want to talk about now is how [I can help your company] [we can beat the competition] [whatever you feel is your strength]".

This is semi-kidding, but if you hate the question, you might consider it.
posted by amtho at 4:45 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Usually I mention something positive I like about the corporate culture or atmosphere of the company. "My ideal job is working for a company where I'm challenged and the work is exciting or new. I want to work on interesting cutting-edge projects. I really want to work for a company that is socially conscious.", etc. And maybe it's not quite my "ideal dream job", but any job that doesn't involve those things is definitely NOT my ideal dream job.

In general during interviews I actually avoid neutral/bland responses, and it's seemed to work for me so far. But know the company. If you're interviewing at Greenpeace you might say one thing, if you're interviewing at Dow Chemical, you might say something different. I've discussed projects I've been involved with that help teach principles of evolution, social justice projects, etc. You might be taking a chance that the person interviewing you shares some of your beliefs, but to me it's worth taking that risk. I'm interviewing them as much as they're interviewing me.
posted by formless at 5:00 PM on October 8, 2008

You can also think of it as an opportunity to demonstrate how you are a good fit for the company. "In my ideal job I'd be doing X, Y, and Z in a place where I feel valued etc. One appealing thing about this job is that while I'd focus in X and Y areas, I understand I'd be able to do some Z as well."
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:15 PM on October 8, 2008

Have an answer. Nothing worse than someone who has no ambition - makes an interviewer think that they're applying for a job, any job, don't really care what it is or who it's for - and that's not a good impression to be making!

Tailor the answer to the job that's on offer - if it's customer focussed, "a job that enables me to deliver what customers need", if it involves strategic planning, "a job that enables me to help the organisation change to meet its goals", etc etc. Also, tailor it to you - use it as an opportunity to sell your skills and experience - "a job in which I can use my existing project management skills on bigger projects".

And look to the future - a failsafe is something along the lines of "working for an organisation that believes in developing its employees and recruiting from within". You want the opportunity to develop your skills and experience. Every organisation wants to think that they do this - not all of them do it, but they all think that they do, which is all you need in an interview!

And then explain why the job on offer ("that's why I applied for this post"), and the organisation you're applying to ("you have a good reputation in X"), meet your requirements. It's a nice rounding off which focusses the interviewers' minds on the fact that you understand the requirements, and want the job, and want to work for that particular organisation.

Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 5:15 PM on October 8, 2008

When I used to get the 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' question, i would reply, quite honestly, that I had no concept that I would be where I was right at that minute five years previously, and that I hope to be open to learning and growing and opportunities to improve myself.

Which, at least, was true.

Echoing above that they just want to see if you have a plan. The people who say that they want to make sure you have a personality are few and far between. Unless you're interviewing at a really progressive or interesting place, yes, HR wants to hear some kind of safe, politically correct answer. It's a shame.
posted by micawber at 5:42 PM on October 8, 2008

nthing anybody who suggests you answer in the abstract, based on your skills & personality. nobody wants to hear that you'd rather be a helicopter pilot or lion tamer instead of fulfilling some role in some organisation (which is what 99% of jobs are, really).

in my own case, for example, it would be something like "any job in which i have a reasonable amount of autonomy to set my own goals & schedules, in which good verbal & written communication are essential, involving a mixture of interaction with others & private time to work alone & reflect, a mixture of analytical & concrete thinking" (etc etc).

that's based on my personal belief that any particular role (not requiring very specific technical or creative skills) can be done well by people of whatever experience & education, as long as it's a good personality fit. i'd like to think that any HR person worth their salt would also recognise this.

another approach might be to think what other role your personality would be suited to, eg I could probably just as easily have gone with journalism or architecture, ("because [quote personality stuff mentioned above] but as things turned out i chose another path in life...")
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:17 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since there have been a lot of attempts to translate this question, let me add one more: what it means is one of two things, or both.

1. "We want to find out if there's some trait you're looking for that will make this job a terrible fit for you, so that we can avoid a situation that is mutually disastrous. Will you identify a need we can't fulfill?"

The gist of your answer should be "No." Avoid saying anything that will be out of sync with the interviewer's perceptions of his or her company.

2. "We want you to say something that will allow us to sell you on our company. Will you help?"

The gist of your answer to this aspect should be "Yes." Mention something that you know they take pride in. Don't be too overt, so that you're pandering, but to a degree being found out is fine -- that signals to them that you are intelligent and genuinely interested in being hired.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:49 PM on October 8, 2008

Answer as if they asked, "As you spend your entire career with our company, what is the position you would eventually like to reach as you work your way up the ladder?"
posted by winston at 7:01 PM on October 8, 2008

I always use this question to sort of set boundaries on what I am and am not willing to do. For example, I might say something like, "Well, in my dream job I would be more involved with creating new projects, tackling problems in different ways, and coming up with ideas. I don't deal well with repetitive work."

But really smackfu has it 100%.

My ideal job would somehow involve working very little, reading books that I found interesting, making gobs of money, and then flying off for several-week periods for travel. So yeah, a totally honest answer would not really serve me.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:56 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

This question could be usefully resummarized as "Do you color inside the lines?"

Mintymike's answer equates to "yes." Anything else, like "I'd like to be paid exorbitant amounts of money to snort coke off hookers' asses all day and trade exotic currency hedges on foreign markets all night" means "no."

Unless you're interviewing at Goldman Sachs.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:55 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it depends on the company and the interviewers.

For a lot of companies - especially more traditional companies with a less flexible corporate culture - blander answers that reflect a lot of the position you're applying for might be the best way to go.

On the other hand, I once got a job by being really honest. I said my dream job was being a rock star, but not very many people got to do that. My second ideal job would be teaching, probably high school, but I wasn't sure I could handle the bureaucracy. My third choice, though, would be computer consulting with a lot of variety and an opportunity to really help clients understand how to make their software work for them.

I got the job, and they told me later that my answer here had a lot to do with it - it was honest, and it wasn't more of the same they had heard from other candidates.
posted by kristi at 9:27 AM on October 9, 2008

This question could be usefully resummarized as "Do you color inside the lines?"

Nah, I've asked similar questions of candidates during interviews, and generally I genuinely want to understand how ambitious the person is and frankly, how large their vision is. I don't want them to say "my dream job is to just be in this one gig forever!" and I don't want them to say "I want to do something completely unrelated to this entire industry!". Once or twice I've had people lose out on what otherwise would have been a good offer by basically saying "In six months, I'm hoping to be out of here", but generally I ask this because I want to evaluate a candidate for how their personality fits into the company culture with a team of people who are very driven and ambitious and focused.

That means an answer that is clear, even if it's broad, is way better than some politician's platitudes, and if you can articulate how the immediate position on hand is a key step towards your larger goals and your dream job, that's perfect.
posted by anildash at 5:21 PM on October 11, 2008

« Older How important can one little vent be?   |   How can I get a macro program to know when a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.