You know most of the reasons why the question is so bad: It begs a lame joke (“When, Ms. Manager, do you think you will be moving on?”), or brown-nosing (“I hope to be well along my career within this fine company”) and it assumes that you are going to indeed like working at “this fine company” and that they are going to enjoy having you.
The answer to that question might be relevant if the world were static and things were guaranteed not to change.
If five years ago you asked people who worked in mortgage banking, real estate, or journalism or at Blockbuster what they were expecting to be doing in 2012, we guarantee you the answer isn’t what they are doing now.
So is career planning is waste of time? Yes, much of the time it is, at least as it is typically taught.
Let’s deal with the exceptions first. If you want to work in an industry which is fairly predictable—say nursing — then plan away. The courses you need to take to gain an entry position are well known and so is the career path and the things you need to do to advance. So, simply figure out where you actually want to be in five years, and work backwards, just like all the career planning manuals tell you.
But increasingly, the world is not this predictable. And it is in settings of high uncertainty where traditional career planning is both a waste of time and potentially dangerous as all those Blockbuster managers learned the hard way. A career plan can lead you into a false sense of confidence, where you fail to see opportunities as they arise and or miss (or discount) major changes in the industry where you planning to succeed.
So then, what to do. What to do. Try this:
Instead of envisioning the perfect job and planning out the perfect path to get there, begin with a direction, based on a real desire, and complement that with a strategy to discover and create opportunities consistent with what you want you want to do.
In an uncertain world you can’t even come close to saying what a specific job might be, but you can say what’s valuable and important to you. Is it working in a specific industry?Managing people or not? Work-life balance? The answers will point you in productive directions.