“Where do you want to be in five years?”

As a hiring manager, you might roll your eyes at the idea of asking that question. Every candidate expects to get it, so it’s not good for anything but the standard, by-the-numbers response. Why not forego the question in favor of something less clichéd?

An oldie but goodie
If you’re thinking that way, you’re mistaken.

The “five years” question has survived the test of time because in the hands of a savvy interviewer, it’s a great way to trigger a deep discussion about a candidate’s long-term expectations. And that discussion is the key to preventing one of the costliest mistakes you’ll ever make as a manager — hiring people because they’re a short-term fit but in the process creating a longer-term mismatch.

So how does the “five years” question help prevent short-sighted hiring decisions?

Used correctly, it can create alignment between you and your job candidate. When long-term expectations meet reality, people stick around and you get a high ROI. When new hires realize after a year or two that promises were made but not kept, they leave. And you’re stuck with all the costs that accompany rapid turnover.

So go ahead and ask the “five years” question, but listen carefully to pick up on issues that could cause goal misalignment down the road.

For example: If you have a job candidate who expresses a desire to be in management, do a quick reality check. Make sure the candidate understands that, while you’ll do all you can to help him realize that aspiration, there are no guarantees or promises.

In doing so, you clearly assert your own goals and expectations. Candidates who don’t agree (that is, don’t see alignment), will probably not take the job, which is the best outcome for you. If they do agree, you’ve got alignment and you reduce the likelihood the person will become disillusioned and leave.

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