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10 Years Back Instead of 10 Years Forward

In the 2015 movie, “The Intern,” Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro) was a 70-years old retiree who was applying to work for an internet start-up as an intern, is asked during an interview, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” There is a moment of silence and...
Black and white analog clock that reads 12 AM on the hours side and is changing on the minutes side.

In the 2015 movie, “The Intern,” Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro) was a 70-years old retiree who was applying to work for an internet start-up as an intern, is asked during an interview, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” There is a moment of silence and then Whittaker responds, “You mean when I’m 80?” 

It was obvious that the interviewer was working from a predetermined set of questions, which ironically didn’t at all take into account the professional or life experience of the candidate that they were interviewing. As a candidate, it is important to know exactly what you bring to the table.

Instead of focusing on where you see yourself in five or 10 years, what previous experience or challenge can you offer that sets you apart from everyone else?

“Tell me about yourself.”

It’s the most common interview question.  The interviewer is trying to get a sense of you as a person and if you would be a good fit for their company. Do not wander down the rabbit hole of personal anecdotes. (Perhaps you start by discussing how you feel that there aren’t enough breakfast foods at your last company’s staff meetings, or how you feel that flannel isn’t used enough as professional attire.)

Like a guard at a crosswalk, I’m going to ask you to stop right here – while the interviewer is indeed interested in you as a person, they are more concerned about what you as a person can professionally bring to the company – what your skills and experiences set you apart from other candidates. 

Instead of discussing your professional goals, consider answering this question by answering instead, “What have you overcome in the last 10 years?”

We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

History can show us not just where we came from, but it can also give us a deeper understanding of ourselves. History also gives the experience and tools to judge situations wisely and make informed and educated decisions to help us become better people.

If you are struggling to consider what you might say, here are a few examples of questions to get your thoughts rolling in that direction.

What goals have you set for yourself that you have accomplished?”

This is not about your New Year’s Resolution at all. Think about challenges in the past that you have professionally overcome and how that was accomplished. Did you set new standards for the company? Did you invent any new processes? Were you able to save the company money?  

What problems were you able to resolve at your previous position?

This isn’t about personal conflicts that you might have had with a coworker, we’re talking about problems like a missed deadline, unforeseen issues with products, or some kind of budget crisis. Were you able to find a fix that was previously not considered? Did you find a solution to a crisis that saved the company time and money?

Consider how your experiences can help that specific company.

Remember, all of these examples are meant to show the interviewer that not only are you a professional but also that you took the time to consider how these experiences will benefit the company that you are applying to.  They will be grateful that you took the time to think of the company’s needs, and not just your own.

“Strange, what being forced to slow down could do to a person.” Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song

Life is hectic and the pace seems to be an unforgiving rush to the next event. As a society, we are constantly looking forward, always trying to figure out how to squeeze in one more hour, one more goal to work towards. Instead of spending more time focusing forward, what would happen if we took some time to evaluate where we have been or what we have learned?

Workwise, understanding and learning from our experiences can make us even stronger professionals – which is why your experience on a resume is important. Companies want to know the education and experiences that we can bring to the table. Important tools like strong communication skills, problem-solving or even strategic planning are called soft skills. The development of soft skills takes time and experience to grow and are invaluable in the workplace today.

So, when you are preparing your resume for an important interview, consider not just what you are looking for from this position or company, but also consider what you, as the employee, can bring to the table. 

Consider what battles you have overcome in the past 10 years. What conflicts did you witness or even solve? What hurdles have you overcome? Having this deeper understanding of yourself will set you apart from your peers.


One interview can change the entire course of your professional life. Be prepared – schedule a consultation for career coaching today.

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