It’s the right question.
Are you asking the wrong person?
Where do you see yourself in five-to-ten years?
It’s become an interview cliché, yet most hiring managers can’t help themselves so they ask the question anyway, even as the internet is full of “approved” canned answers, video tutorials and coaching sessions designed to help nervous young candidates navigate the corporate evaluation process.
At the same time, this line of questioning allows the interviewer to maintain the comforting illusion that he or she is probing the candidate’s priorities, loyalties and ambitions as a way to assess the likelihood of a long-term fit.
After all, finding and hiring “early talent” is key to stability, scalability and profitability, right?
Or is it?
Early talent recruits are, by definition, still in career-exploration mode. Because most have limited-to-no real-world experience in a corporate environment, their five-year vision is likely more presumption than plan. While they may have every intention of becoming a team player, working their way up through the ranks, and staying with the company for many years, the post-interview reality is somewhat different.
Traditionally, about a third of new hires start searching or a new job or quit within their first six months. Almost a quarter leave within their first year.
Sure, you take a certain amount of risk in any new hire – from poaching by your competitors to disappointing performance to dissatisfaction with the role – all of which are magnified by the costs of onboarding and development as well as the need to refill an unanticipated job vacancy.
And that was before the 2020 pandemic.
Now that 42% of the U.S. workforce is working from home, many new hires face an even more daunting onboarding experience. Without opportunities to interact, brainstorm and bond with peers, they may feel isolated and disconnected from corporate culture. With limited in-person engagement with managers and company leaders, they may struggle to gain the visibility needed to attract mentors and earn recognition. In such a vacuum, especially for inexperienced early career talent, it can be difficult to sustain motivation and momentum, leading to dissatisfaction with both the job and the employer. (SOURCE:
Consider this: In September 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the number of “job leavers” – people who quit or voluntarily left a previous job and immediately began looking for new employment – reached 801,000, an increase of 212,000 from August.
These are not problems that are going to go away. According to Forrester’s just-released Predictions 2021, “Eighteen million US workers will work from home in the wake of the pandemic, from knowledge workers to cubicle workers.”
So, in this “new normal,” does it make sense for companies to continue to contort themselves to attract, support and cater to early talent? Is the ROI there to justify the singular focus?
I’m not at all suggesting that hiring and developing early talent is a bad thing – but maybe it shouldn’t be the only thing, especially now. What if you’re putting too much focus on the wrong end of the talent pipeline?
Are you being short-sighted when it comes to the value of your long-term employees?
Retaining, respecting and rewarding experienced personnel – established talent – can pay huge dividends, not only in terms of business continuity but also through increased innovation, improved customer satisfaction, and even better career development pathways for the early talent you do choose to hire.
So why is established talent so often an afterthought, if it’s thought of at all?
After all, these multi-year employees are a known quantity, with proven track records, deep product and industry knowledge, strong customer relationships, and broad professional contacts. They are used to being top producers and creative problem-solvers. They’re proud of the jobs they do and the company they work for. They are committed to their peer group, their team members and their customers.
And unlike generations past, many of these driven, competitive personalities have no desire to retire, at least not in the traditional sense.
Instead, they prefer to remain engaged, perhaps with greater flexibility. Rather than necessarily seeking advancement, their focus shifts toward fulfillment. With years of service, they naturally have a vested interest in the company’s ongoing success and market reputation, and they want to continue to add value. As their lifestyles change, they are more open to changes in their roles and responsibilities and, sometimes, even their locations.
Too often, businesses take established talent for granted, or worse, equate experience with stagnation. Once you shift your perspective – focusing on skills and strengths rather than age and tenure –your vision of established talent changes entirely.
Established talent has accumulated a depth of knowledge and breadth of understanding that can fuel incredible business insights. With a wealth of valid experience, established talent has the potential to be your best brand ambassadors, management advisors, recruiters, teachers and mentors, customer liaisons and more.
Just as early talent longs for a planned career path, experienced talent craves a suitable “wind-down” plan – an open, honest discussion about options and opportunities, to help them discover ways they can continue to make valuable contributions to the business, the next generation, themselves and the community.
Do you have a clear picture of where your top performers – your established talent – see themselves in the next 5-10 years?
Maybe now is an excellent time to ask them.
Previously published on forbes.com, November 2020.