Where do you see yourself in five years?

A couple of days ago I was talking to my next door neighbor, Carrie, about a job interview she’d just been on. “It went pretty well … except that: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ question. I didn’t know what to say. I’m just trying to get through the next week … five years – who knows!”

I couldn’t agree with Carrie more. Isn’t it time we move on as employers – and once and for all, and throw this archaic interview question to the scrap-heap.

Being a recruiter for over fifteen years, I have found that most interviewers ask this question only because they were asked it and it seems they would be committing heresy if they didn’t ask it too. Aside from nixing the candidate if they say – “I want your job,” or “I want to learn everything I can so I can start-up my own firm and compete against you” … nothing is gained from it.

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Imagine if an interview went like this. Upon the appointment confirmation, the candidate was emailed these questions: Where do you see this company in five years? What role do you see yourself in it at that time? And what steps do you believe you need to take to get there?

First, as an employer, you just might get an interesting outside perspective on your firm. One you wouldn’t get as an insider.

Second, you would find out what the true goals and ambitions of the candidate were – not just what they thought you wanted to hear.

And third, you would find out whether the candidate could think creatively and critically. Most CEOs say the their biggest challenge in hiring these days is to find critical thinkers. Some even say they prefer candidates from oversees because of this factor.

As a candidate or even as a networker, it would force you to face your possible future in that firm. It would also give you an opportunity to gauge the response of the interviewer, your prospective boss. Does their vision align with yours?

The world has changed from the time this question can into our lexicon. Why hasn’t has it?


I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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“The Death of a Salesman,” circa 2011

In 1949, Arthur Miller released his iconic play, “Death of a Salesman.”  The sales landscape of sixty years ago is eerily similar to that of today.  America, and world for that fact, isn’t creating sales jobs like before.  Of course you’ll see ads for them in newspapers and on job boards – but the position is not nearly as prevalent as it once was.

Willy Loman

Why is this and what are the ramifications?

Up to about ten years ago every product and service to be sold by somebody. You had to have either a “face to face” or at least “phone to phone” conversation to make a transaction, a sale.  This isn’t the case anymore.  With the internet you can buy virtually anything online.  You can even buy a house in another country by just going online and making an offer, let alone ordering a book or getting a picture developed and delivered to your house.  And all this happens with no salesman … just bits and bytes.

By cutting out the salesman, companies can hawk their wares cheaper.  In many industries, if you don’t compete online … you don’t compete.  Having a rock bottom price seems to be the basis to doing business these days.  But when your business competes on price, there’s little room for anything else – and that anything else is sales and service.

Anyone can tell you that customer service in 2010 is nothing like it used to be.  It’s not that companies are intentionally instructing their staff to treat their customers like trash. They just don’t have resources to hire the more and better people needed to perform better sales and customer service.  Try going to a big box store like Home Depot or Wal-Mart.  You have a better chance finding Bigfoot on the floor than a salesman.

This preoccupation on price has created a void of sales and customer service expertise.  The middle class used to be filled with salesmen and saleswomen of all types, all striving for the American dream.  Not so much anymore, these jobs just aren’t out there … or at least in the numbers they were.

What does all this mean?  Are we as consumers relegated to an existence of interaction with our computer screen for our fix of consumption?  Maybe not.

As a business person, you can take one of two paths.  You can follow the lemmings to the cliff, as most do.  All it takes is structuring your business around keeping costs low and selling low.  Hopefully enough people will see value in this strategy and you’ll make a “go of it.”

Or in the words of Robert Frost, you can take the road less traveled.  This road might very well revert back the business values of our parents – before the internet.  Now I’m not condoning getting in a time machine and going back to England in 1810 and joining the Luddites.  Technology is wonderful and it has it’s purpose.  But maybe the pendulum can swing back a bit.  Maybe there is a place for the salesman in today’s economy.  In fact, maybe this is actually what can set your firm apart … and make it remarkable in the eyes of your customers.

Ironically, the company most known for its customer service in today’s world is also at the forefront of technology, Apple.  If you go to an Apple Store, you’ll find no shortage of sales reps to help you (the blue shirts).  And no they’re not just customer service reps – they sell.  My daughter spent two years on the floor at an Apple store.  Their sales training is excellent and thorough.  And their service goes beyond just their retail stores.  You can actually talk to a person for tech support on the phone also.  How’s all this working for Apple.  At the penning of this post their stock price was $288, an all time high.

Again, what does all this mean.  In the case of Apple and its products, you pay a premium.  You pay for the service.  You pay for getting sold by a top-notch sales person.  You pay for better design.  You pay for being a member of the Apple tribe.  And all this costs Apple money.  But why can’t your firm do it this way. Is there anything saying you must have rock bottom prices – and with that the lack of the amenities … amenities like sales and service.  Don’t tell me you can do both – because with any consistency you can’t.

But undertaking a strategy of “taking the road less traveled” and providing a premium offering first means starting with a product or service that is worth paying a premium for.  Apple has, so they can build on it.  But building on it means creating an environment of  excellence throughout your firm where nothing else is accepted.  It also means hiring the best, paying them accordingly and making sure they stay.

I can’t tell you how to attack your market using the Apple methodology.  Only you know your market.  And it probably means only part of the market will actually be your market.  But considering the size of the “lemming pack,” your market should be big enough for you to not only survive, but thrive.

Just remember – you probably can’t do it without Willy Loman.  And if you look, he’s still out there looking to sell … and just maybe your customers want to see him.


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What are you going to be when you grow up?

I ran across an individual,Sabera, in a networking group I belong to called the Brazen Careerist.  This young lady wanted advice on how to brand herself.  Her dilemma is that she has multiple interests.  She is a marketing consultant and feels that is where her income potential is.  But she is also a food enthusiast and even has a food blog.

I am going to be ...

Should she present herself, brand herself, in two separate ways?  Should she have two separate business cards and have two separate elevator pitches depending on what niche she is pursuing at the minute?

I went through the same thing.  My business the bleedingEDGE is a database marketing company, but my other pursuits include and will include everything from wind energy development, to education reform, to recruiting, to my ultimate goal of constructing an Idea Farm helping entrepreneurs implement their Perfect World goals.

Ultimately, when you determine whether you want to do business with someone … what determines that decision? We are all complex beings.  We all have multiple parts to ourselves, multiple interests.  This is what makes us who we are.  People have relationships with other people, not inanimate corporate entities.

I believe that the more multidimensional, more colorful we come across as – the more attractive we will be and more people will want to associate with us.

The central point of my identity and presentation is this blog, “On the road to your Perfect World.” I’m all over the board on what I write about … but that’s who I am.  While I’ll write about marketing and business, I’m just as likely to write about parenting and generational analysis.  In fact, my business card, or should I say my personal card, just has my name on it.

Who I’m I to know what will be somebody’s hot point.  Maybe it’s just database marketing or maybe it’s also alternative energy or life as a single parent (which I was).  If those other aspects of me don’t surface – would I even get the marketing business?

My advice to this young lady is be who you are and who you want to be … and present yourself that way.  It sure makes things less complicated – and more fun.

So, what are you going to be when you grow up … everything you want.


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Twitter is just for kids … NOT!

I just started Tweeting on Friday of last week.  I’ve had an account for about 18 months but … but I was too scared.  I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what purpose it had.

My choice

I now know. I read a blog entry early last week talking about the top social networking sites and their effectiveness and value.  In the end the author said if there was only one, only one that he would use to further his business, further his life – it would be Twitter.

Not Facebook, not LinkedIn, not MySpace (unless you’re a musician) – but Twitter.  At the time I’d never Tweeted, again I was scared … I wasn’t in the game.

As I mentioned in my last post, “Who’s batting 3rd in your line-up,” I’ve been hanging at Alex’s house.  I have converted.  I am spending time with the kids … should I say, the future of our world.  Apple Geniuses, video game developers, etc.  And if as a 50ish year old, I can’t get my brain in gear in this environment, then I don’t deserve to have a brain.  And they all Tweet, and they’re schooling me.

Twitter is not about telling the world what you had for breakfast and whether your eggs were scrambled or over easy.  It’s the conduit for all that you want to relay to the world:  What you’ve created or written, what you think is important (what you link to) or just a basic 160 characters of what’s on your mind.  It’s also all the world wants to relay to you (under your own terms by who you choose to follow).

But more than that … it is a matrix (if I can use that word without sounding like Keanu Reeves, no offence Keanu) .

I spent fifteen years of my life as a headhunter.  Building a database of people in the electronic prepress, printing and digital printing arenas.  8,000 contacts … all talked to.  With Twitter, it’s a year.  Granted, it’s not the same, but’s it’s damn close.  I had a meeting yesterday with Kent (if you had a Twitter account, I could link to right now), an old friend of my friend of mine.  We talked about this exact fact … what if we had the technology yesterday (20 years ago) that we have now.  Imagine the effect it would have on my business.

Get a Twitter account, have your kids help you if you you’re scared.  And most of all Tweet.  Tweet about what you find is important to you, notify the world of your blog, link the world to sources of information they may not be aware of (we’re al in this together).

And best yet … pave your highway “on the road to Your Perfect World.”

Happy Trails. But make sure you use Twitter as your navigator.


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Are you talking Swahili to a Frenchman?

Updated July 5, 2013: This post was written three years ago, but it seems especially appropriate right now. In the last few days we’ve seen the successful coup by the military in Egypt. The military with the help and overwhelming support of the youth, the Millennials – ousted former Egyptian President Morsi in non-violently, in only a few days. What I find interesting is way the two apparently disparate groups (the military and the youth) communicated. It was via social media. The military posted their position and intentions on their Facebook. In other words, they communicated with their allies in their language (medium).

The famous quote by Marshall McLuhan seems especially appropriate at this time: “The medium is the message.” This is something our American President Obama should take a lesson from. Standing behind a podium on network television will not endear nor communicate with the younger generations … the social media generations.

That sounds absurd, right.  Who would try to communicate to a Frenchman in Swahili?  Actually a lot of us do the equivalent of that – a lot of the time.

Communication is essentially “getting a message through to somebody,” with, in many cases getting them to act (i.e. take out the garbage, buy my product, etc.).

I don’t understand Swahili?

Communication can be broken down into four components:

  • Language: This is self-explanatory.  If someone doesn’t linguistically understand what you’re saying … what’s the point in saying it in the first case.
  • Content: A little more tricky and the fundamental issue in marketing.  Would you market diapers to a twenty something single guy?  It actually happens all time with mass media.  The key is to get the right message to right person.  Data base marketing can be the solution to this issue.  Grab the data and structure a message to reflect the characteristics of the recipient.  You market a crib to someone who has a kid on the way.  Presentation is also crucial (when dealing with the sight sense).  For example, the graphics have to correspond to the target.  A message targeted to a twenty year old has to look radically different from one directed to an AARP member.
  • Timing: Do you market Valentine”s Day cards in July … of course not.  But what you do do is get out a message to trade show attendee concerning the product or service they looked at, and getting it out the next day.  Or if you are a hardware store – you should know, for example, your plumbing clients, so you can notify them when you get a good deal on PVC pipe so you can pass it through to them.
  • Delivery mechanism: This is easily the most overlooked of the four.  If you send out a piece mail to someone and you nailed the above three components, your in, right.  WRONG!  If you”re twenty years old, you may not even check your mail every four days.  So much for timing.  Hell, I can’t even get my daughter on the phone … a text or a Tweet, she’s on it – and on it right now.

I read a blog last year, I wish I could still find it – but let me try to paraphrase the message.  This web page designer, excited about his newest project, forwarded the link, via email, to his sixteen year old son to look at.  After two days, he asked him what he thought of latest creation.  His son hadn’t looked at it.  He didn’t even know about it. “Dad, I don’t check my email, if you want to get hold of me … text me.”

Enough said … Swahili is still not the universal language.


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Lady Gaga and the Heroes of Normandy Beach

What do Lady Gaga and the soldiers that stormed Normandy Beach have in common?  It’s something that will change the way you look at society.

Twelve years ago, the book  ‘The Fourth Turning,’ by William Strauss and Neil Howe hit the streets.  Written by two generational analysts – ‘The Fourth Turning’ will change the way you look at the future. The vast majority of people view time as kind of marching on with no rhyme or reason, just at the whims of random events.  This may not be the case.

The premise of the Fourth Turning is that time moves in a circular fashion … in other words, “it repeats itself.”

Strauss and Howe, after studying history back to the 1500’s, developed an algorithm featuring four generational archetypes each lasting between twenty and twenty-five years.  These archetypes also repeat in order each time and have different characteristics.  The archetypes in order are as follows with birth date range and cycle nickname:

Hero (1901-1924) – soldiers of World War 2 (G.I)

Artist (1925-1942) – country re-constructionists (Silent)

Profit (1943-1960) – protesters of Vietnam War (Boomers)

Nomad (1961-1981) – the outcasts (Generation X)

Hero (1982-2004) – the internet generation (Millennials)

I repeated the Hero generation for a reason.  The boys of Normandy Beach were born around 1922 making them Heroes.  Their generational archetypes is all about cooperation and teamwork.  Being a rogue, like their predecessors, the Nomads, is not their mindset.  That’s why we won the war.  The Vietnam War featured the Boomers (the Profit Generation).  Their generational archetype is known for their … well you know.  Can you say high divorce rate, the self-reflection movement, excessive consumption, etc.  This doesn’t work well in a battlefield.

Now to Lady Gaga, her birth date is 1986 … thus making her a HERO!

Lady Gaga Tony Bennett

Now to my point.  I cut my teeth in business promoting music, in the ’70s and ’80s.  The industry is wildly different today then back then.  Did you ever see Led Zeppelin collaborate with the Who?  Or the Stones and the Kinks record together?  No, they didn’t.  Examples of professional collaboration in the music industry were few and far in between.

Now let’s look at the music industry today.  The Number One viewed music video ever, “Telephone,” was a collaboration between Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.  We’re talking the top two divas in the entertainment world.  Working together … and loving it.  Jay Z, Beyoncé’s husband topped the charts with Alicia Keyes, and the rumour mill is riddled with who will be collaborating with who.  And look at the rappers – everybody is in bed with everybody else (figuratively speaking).  Approximately, 50% of the top songs on Billboard’s Top 50 are collaborations.

Thirty years ago Rush and Journey –  I don’t think so. 


The Millennials, the Heroes, are about collaboration.  I even seen a rash co-working sites pop up.  Now what can we do  to take advantage of this predisposition of working together? As employers what can we take from this.

Traditional thinking … at least from our immediate perspective is that everybody is competitive – and that competition motivates us.  That might be right for us fifty year-olds.  But remember, we are from the Profit generation (Baby Boomers).

But for our employee base, the foundation, the future of our future, the twenty some year olds … don’t think like us.  Don’t get me wrong, competition will always exist – but for that generation, the Heroes, it’s not the prime motivating factor – teamwork is.  To structure a work environment that focuses around pitting one against another may in fact be counter productive.

And on top of it Generation Y (the Heroes) is more interested than any other generation in development and feedback in the work place.  We saw that in the compliance among the troops in World War 2.  It’s a characteristic you as employers can use in your business … one you probably couldn’t have used ten years ago. The Heroes want to excel, but excel together.  It worked at Normandy.  And it’ll probably work now. 

You just have look past the iPods, texting and tattoos.


For more of my musings I can be found at Twitter @clayforsberg.


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Employee motivation – a case study

In the late eighties, I was part of a team that published commercial art and printing directories.  In 1986 our Twin Cities Creative Sourcebook’s tab pages were awarded PIA’s (Printing Industry of America’s) “best of” category for broadside printing.  Simply put, it was was the best print job in the United States in 1986.

I had the opportunity to press check the job at Source Litho in Minneapolis.

Employee motivation?

About three months after the the trophies were delivered, I went and checked in with the owner at Source.  As I sat across from him in his office – I noticed a trophy proudly displayed.  I knew exactly what it was since we had the same one in our offices.

After we finished, I went back to the press room to talk the press operator who actually printed the job to congratulate him.

He had  no idea that he had personally printed the best job in the country.  THEY WERE GOING TO DENY HIM THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF A LIFETIME.

At first he was surprised, then hurt and finally mad.  I don’t blame him.  I would have felt the same way.

I stopped back there three weeks later and he was gone … he had moved on.

Now that’s a case study in employee motivation.


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