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‘Where do you see yourself in five year’s time?’

19th May 2017
"A former member of the Bank of England’s MPC suggested that Bank Base Rate could rise to 2 or 3% by the early 2020s, which might be correct but it also might stay at its current level"

Whoever thought that particular interview question up should be barred (in my opinion) from ever being in charge of hiring for the rest of their career. Whatever answer you give to it, I’ll warrant, it makes you less employable. For example, you might say, “In your job”, which comes across as overly-ambitious, or you might say, “Well I don’t like to plan too far ahead”, which makes you look like you have no clear idea about your career goals.

Even opting for a middle-of-the-road answer along the lines of, “A couple of rungs up the career ladder”, seems somehow wishy-washy and without enough merit to get you through to second interview. It’s a career-ending question before you’ve even had the career, and seems utterly useless anyway because (let’s be frank) who has any real idea about what they’ll be doing in five years’ time. Circumstances can change so quickly and so fundamentally that looking that far ahead appears to be futile.

Which of course doesn’t stop commentators and, particularly economists, imparting their wisdom on how the markets and various other sectors might develop over any future time-span. Just this week, a former member of the Bank of England’s MPC suggested that Bank Base Rate could rise to 2 or 3% by the early 2020s, which might be correct but it also might stay at its current level until then. Who would have predicted BBR would be 0.5% (and now lower) for so long back five years ago? Not that former MPC member I’d suggest.

Then we had the head of EY’s head of its digital advisory service pronouncing that most of the new breed of challenger banks would be defunct over the next five years simply because their propositions won’t be successful. Again, he might well be right, but it takes a significant leap of faith to get there and, even if he is right, does it actually change anything?

I ask because while it’s natural to look to the future and wonder what you might be doing and where you might be in five years’ time, it’s not particularly useful for the here and now, or indeed the more short-term needs for you both professionally and personally. Planning that far ahead might seem like a good idea but the smallest of changes can push the most meticulous of plans off their chosen path.

I’m always reminded of Michael Heseltine who is famously said to have sketched out his entire future career goals on the back of an envelope when he was an undergraduate. It may be a political myth but by 25 he is said to have wanted to be a millionaire; by 35, an MP; by 45, a Minister, and by 55, Prime Minister. And we all know how that worked out – or rather didn’t. He could perhaps never have imagined that his plans would be subjected to the dustbin of history by a certain Mrs Thatcher.

And therefore, while it makes complete sense to have goals and ambitions, perhaps they should be closer to home and couched more in reality. For advisers, I often say not too look too far ahead in setting out what they would like to achieve; much is made of firms having an exit plan but it needs to be flexible enough to work in all manner of markets and adaptable should there be major changes to the working environment, or indeed, the relevance of their own proposition.

What we can preach is that adopting an ‘all eggs in one basket’ approach is unlikely to yield the short or long-term results you are looking for. A fully-diversified proposition appears vital – one that is able to survive should an advice sector (or two) fail to perform, and one that can look after many client needs such as conveyancing, protection, GI, and the like, alongside (and separate) to their mortgage advice needs.

It would be nice to have a crystal ball to gaze into and be absolutely certain about what might be coming over the horizon – we’d all be very rich – however despite the attempts at such sooth-saying they cannot be relied upon. Instead, the important part is to couch yourself in reality and what you can achieve and change, rather than waiting for an industry Mystic Meg to tell you what will happen, only to be inevitably wrong some way down the line.

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