The advice given in this article is provided by Victor Ng, Certified executive coach, contributor at Business Insider and former C-suite executive of a large global corporation. Now he shares lessons on professional development at newandimproved.me.
‘What was your dream job when you were a child and how close are you to it?’
Let’s break down the questions in to two parts: ‘Your dream job when you were a child’ and ‘how close are you’.
The first part lets me know WHAT excites the candidate at their very core (as a child).
When were children things were a lot simpler. We always knew what we wanted to be when we grew up, and it sure wasn’t decided by annual incentive schemes or corporate insurance plans. You were brave, so you wanted to be a fireman. You were kind and compassionate, so you wanted to be a nurse. You liked muscles and tights, so you wanted to be a WWE wrestler. It wasn’t complicated. It was the real you wanting to be the future you. It doesn’t matter if the candidate’s dream job was an actor playing a cowboy in the wild west. It does matter, however, that he’s inspired by heroism, creativity and showmanship.
The second is to know WHERE the candidate sees themself in their journey (as an adult).
Your childhood dream happens to be a long time ago. Along the way, life happened – family, friends, the economy, money – they somehow conspired to derail those dreams. We forgot what we wanted to be when we grow up, when we grew up.
Again, how far the candidate is from his / her childhood dream job is no indication of their hireability but rather, their confidence in the direction they’re moving in their career.
For example, she could be nowhere close to her childhood dream of being a wildlife explorer, but she can tell me how that dream taught her that difficult goals are worth pursuing, such as being the industry’s youngest CEO.
Why does this interview question work so well?
- It provides an opportunity for the candidate to show authenticity. This peels away the polished corporate veneer many candidates slather themselves with before an interview, inviting them to open up to show their true selves. Slick answers like ‘Ive always wanted to be an account manager since I was a kid and I’m this close to fulfilling my dream, if you’d agree I deserve the honour’ make my eyes glaze over and think how much longer should the interview last.
- It reveals how the candidate views aspiration. Not that I’d ever fault a candidate for not pursuing his childhood ambition, but it’d be interesting to hear how his dream has affected his worldview, his self-awareness, or his true calling.
- It lets me know if the candidate has imagination. As kids, reality and imagination have very blurred lines. Think border-crossing doctors saving impoverished villagers with his trusty medi-kit, or the world’s best singer who performs with her pet parrot. Hearing the candidate’s dream job as a kid gives me insight into her audacity and even pragmatism. But hey, if she says she had always wanted to be a tax collector, I’d be all ears to hear why.
- It allows the candidate to tell a story. A candidate might take the chance to share not just what their childhood dream job was, but why it was so. We are the ultimate authority on ourselves, and if there’s one story you can tell, it’d be a brief story of how you decided that you wanted to be a fireman when you were five.
- It lets me observe how the candidate describes something they used to be passionate about. You can tell a lot by how someone talks about their dream, even a childhood one. Do they smile wistfully as they remember their naivety? Does their voice betray a tinge of sadness or anger when they realised it was out of reach? Are they sitting there trying to make up something inspiring for the interview?
As with most interview questions, how you answer it matters more than what you answer. The best answers show authenticity, vulnerability and passion. Remember, an interview is the chance to show the person behind the professional – be one.
Click here for Victor Ng’s compelling story and how he can help you progress in your chosen career…