There are developers out there that not only write code and solve problems, but aspire to one day be an entrepreneur and run their own company. They may participate in open source projects, go to various networking events/meetups, or even write code to help shape/start their own business outside of work.

And, for example, an fully-candid interview with a prospective hire might go something like this:

Company: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

You: I see myself running my own software company in City Z, doing xx projects, solving yy kind of problems.

This might be a red flag to a company, who may consider this kind of developer a high risk for leaving, and that they would take with them the experience of developing a particular software or specific industry knowledge.

Should developers hide these kind of aspirations/traits from their current employers, or where they are interviewing? Is it unprofessional to mention these kind of things? Does it help or hurt their chance of getting hired?

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    When you become an entrepreneur, will you want to hire aspiring entrepreneurs? Asking yourself might give you some insight. Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:22
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    Which hire stays in the same company after 5 years anyway? I suppose only 30% of programmers will stick with the same company more than 5 years (any knows stats about this?)
    – dr. evil
    Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 12:38

14 Answers 14


This may not be the very most pertinent answer to your question, and in truth I'm not sure how I would answer the specific question of telling an interviewer about entrepreneurship, but I recently went through the job search process again, for the co-op I'm completing this summer, and I picked up something that's very important to me:

If I have to lie to get a job, I don't want the job.

This doesn't mean an obligation to full disclosure about every single aspect of my life when someone asks "How are you?" as I sit down for the interview, but it means that if I'm honest about who I am, where I'm coming from professionally, and where I'm heading professionally, and I don't get the job because of something I said, fine. I'd rather lose a job and be who I am than get one because I was dishonest.

  • +1: I agree, this is the fundamental principle for interviewing. If everyone followed it, a lot less time would be wasted on interviewing and sifting through resumes of clearly unqualified people. Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:19
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    I agree in principle, but I think the OP's question wasn't asking whether one is qualified or not, but rather if disclosing too much about their future career plans is a wise choice. It's not so much about lying, but rather being too honest (and revealing too much as a result).
    – Bernard
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:47
  • @Bernard I agree, which is why I prefaced the response with the caveat that it may not be the most pertinent to his question. However, I think the issue of honesty is still very relevant, so I posted it as an answer instead of as a comment.
    – asfallows
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 17:19
  • @asfallows: Fair enough.
    – Bernard
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 21:04
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    Plus, if you are an entrepreneur (but don't mention anything) then you will have to hide you work and guard your mouth for the rest of the time you work there for fear of someone finding out and it causing a problem.
    – Xeoncross
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 20:39

Normally I recommend honesty in interviews, but your future plans are none of the company's business, so I would simply answer the question by stating a position or rate of pay that would be consistent with five years additional experience. That tells the employer that you have an expectation of moving up if your work is good, and says nothing about your (hypothetical) future plans.

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    I agree with you. Your aspirations are your personal. It should not affect company work. This is not lying. One is not sure if one will be an entrepreneur. I think mentioning it is not important in interviews.
    – Sid
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 22:30

Depends on the company. When I took a job at Zillow, part of the appeal to them was that I had been running a small company; entrepreneurial attitude was desirable there. On the other hand, I interviewed for a contract gig at Google and the interviewer sounded positive about my (non-software-related) business, indicated he wasn't concerned about conflicting interests, and then spent two weeks stewing about it and getting back to the mothership before providing the feedback that yes, after all, they didn't want someone who hadn't fully consumed the Flavor-Aid, even for a contract role. Many of the Zillow expatriates that I worked with have gone on to other startups as founders, and probably about half of the people I was working with in 2008 are still there (and some even came back after a round of layoffs).

I'm now running an independent software consulting/contracting company, and it's just part of the landscape; companies expect that I'll have multiple clients, that I want to deliver good results for them but I'm not married to them.

The five year question is usually a softball question whose only wrong answer is "I hope that I never have to touch another computer again; I'm going to take the money from the first four years here, buy a beach house in Thailand, and drink the rest of my life away." If you answer it with something aspirational and they think they'd be better served by someone who never wants to leave their company, like some sort of insurance company IT department, you won't be happy there anyway.

(Not relevant, but I basically aborted the interview process at an insurance company once they told me their primary selling point was that no one ever leaves.)

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    +1, but your last sentence could mean anything. It could mean that the working environment, salary and benefits are above average for the industry. Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:18
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    Fair enough, though I drew that conclusion based on other cues. Mostly it seemed that people there grew comfortable with relatively undemanding work and I was left with the impression that some of them couldn't leave if they wanted to. (Insurance company in question to remain nameless).
    – JasonTrue
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 17:05
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    Isn't there a saying about that? Good developers move up the ranks or into better companies, so usually the ones who have been at the same company for years are the dregs who can't get jobs elsewhere. Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 13:36
  • Were they holding a firearm when they said "no one ever leaves"?
    – Aditya M P
    Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 13:40

In my experience, most companies will try to avoid any unstable profiles. Especially entrepreneurs that could leave with trade secrets or other private stuff.

That's why there is strong clause in the contract to prevent you doing business in the same field for the next 24 months.

I usually appreciate candidates with personal projects and value that a lot, but when I discuss that with other business owners, that is clearly unwanted.

Maybe you should not look for jobs as an employee, but as a freelance, that could match your objectives. In that case, entrepreneurship is actually what is required.

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    That's why there is strong clause in the contract to prevent you doing business in the same field for the next 24 months -- Employers put clauses like this in their employment agreements all the time, but they're unenforceable in California and some other jurisdictions. In places where they are acceptable, enforcement is generally done only to the extent that the employer must be protected from competition. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-compete_clause Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 17:17
  • @Robert Harvey: I don't know in California, but in Europe, I know a couple of guys that are still paying today big money because they ignored the clause.
    – user2567
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 17:18
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    I would seriously think twice about signing such an agreement if I thought it would limit my ability to work in my chosen profession. Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 17:20
  • @Robert Harvey: yes, this is one of the two clauses I required to be removed to any consultancy contract I signed. The other clause is termination notice that I required to be mutual.
    – user2567
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 17:22
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    California is a paradise for anyone who isn't a corporate slave and realizes that the employees should be protected more than the business. Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 13:35

It will largely depend on the company. I have worked at two places where that would be a very good answer.

I think the more important question is, "Do you want to work for a company that discourages entrepreneurial developers?"

I would answer honestly and if the company does not like it then you do not want the job. A good response from the interviewer is to ask, "How do you plan to get there?" Be ready to answer and incorporate the role you are interviewing for.

I interview a lot of candidates. I always like an entrepreneurial side to someone. It means they will take ownership of what they do. They will tend to be natural leaders. They will be able to express a vision and follow it up with a plan. So if they claim to be an entrepreneur and do not show any of those traits I don't believe them and I don't hire them. I try to differentiate between a fantasy and a realistic goal.


I would not mention any entrepreneurial aspirations during an interview. Keep that to yourself. Not only does it not benefit the company in any way if you plan on running your own company one day, but it could also hurt your chances of being hired by this company at all because they see you as a risk (as you have mentioned). I feel that in this case you shouldn't be too honest.


When an interviewer asks you where you see yourself in 5 years, they don't actually want to know what your plans are, they are more concerned with what type of higher level work you aspire to and where you seek to grow professionally and if the hiring company can accomodate where you want to grow professionally.

So giving an answer like this tells them nothing really, the best laid plans as they say...

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    I interview people all the time. I do want to know what their plans are. I wouldn't ask otherwise. I'm sure there are plenty of interviewers that do not want to know, but as a general statement that just isn't true.
    – Mike Two
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:05
  • @Mike, Why do you want to know this in the field of software development? The vast majority of software developers I have worked with professionally that stay with a company in the same position for 5+ years (in a constant SD role) were not worth the paycheck they received. Almost all the good talent either moves up or out before then. When I ask this question during an interview, I am looking to see where they want to grow professionally or what they want to learn or accomplish. If I don't feel the match is right then I might pass them up because they will just be unhappy and leave in a year.
    – maple_shaft
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:21
  • I agree with looking to see where they want to grow and what the want to learn or accomplish. I happen to work in a place where the good talent stays put because the company is moving up and out(expanding scope). So I want to know what the plan is. If it is to run off in 2 years to learn to dance that might still be okay. I always follow up with why? And how? If it's a good plan then perhaps we can help each other.
    – Mike Two
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:28
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    One good thing to ask, after responding the question, is to ask the interviewer where does he sees the company in 5 years as well, the answer can be surprising.
    – wildpeaks
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 19:00

Be honest. If you are interested in a future in business then this may even benefit the employer in case they are looking for an employee who can handle both "areas." Some companies, especially banks, even fund their employees if they want to do an MBA!


When it comes to very small companies, a lot of them love to hire entrepreneurial people. Other entrepreneurs see them as like minded folks who understand business. That I run my own company has been nothing but a positive when applying for positions over the years.


I've run my own companies in the past, they're on my CV and I don't think I've missed out on many job opportunities because of that. Companies that seem to be actively discouraged by someone who has an entrepreneurial streak usually seem to be very rigid and hierarchical and thus might not be a good fit for a developer who has learned how to get things done in a more entrepreneurial way.

I've met a bunch of people who have no problem hiring you even if you've run your own companies in the past and want to do so again, because you usually have learned how to get things done fairly efficiently just out of necessity when you're running your own business.

And no, I wouldn't be dishonest about my entrepreneurial leanings.

As an aside, IMHO the companies that are worried most about someone leaving their company with the "important trade secrets" in their head are usually the ones that needn't bother because their important secrets seem to be more of a business disadvantage.


Depends on the organization that's hiring you and the responsibilities you are supposed to take on.

I know for a fact that one of the reasons I was hired over a competing candidate, was that the competing candidate said he saw himself somewhere else after a year or two. (And I honestly said I would love job security, assuming I enjoy my work, am treated well, etc. A large part of the reason I left academic research is I wanted some job/location stability.) They wanted someone who could maintain whatever they developed and would learn the knowledge specific to the environment. But I was hired as a source of stability in a organization that has lots of students/postdocs passing through, and no other full-time developers who work directly for them.

Some companies would rather encourage entrepreneurial spirit, esp if the interviewer can see a bit of themselves in you. I wouldn't give a time frame when you expect to leave; maybe phrase it more encouragingly like, I'd love making my own side projects (FOSS) and maybe someday would love to start my own company, but can't see myself doing until at least 5 years from now.


I would answer tongue in cheek "where do you see me in 5 years?"

Most people forget that a job interview goes both ways. They interview you, you interview them.

What do they really expect from you? If they plan to spend a lot of time training you in view of a long term position, you are really not what they are looking for and you should be clear about your intention.

On the other end, not every employer is looking for employees that will stay on board for the next 5 decades either. Sometimes, hiring someone is a cheap alternative to hiring consultants for a long term project.

However, I have to ask the question: If you want to be an entrepreneur, why not just go ahead and do it? Do consulting jobs on the side if money is an issue and start building your business.

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    Consulting jobs require having a large network of contacts to generate revenue and business. Not everyone has that. Commented Jul 20, 2011 at 13:32

A smart company would understand people have ambition beyond "Help Mr. Smith [i.e. the owner of the company they're interviewing at] make millions of dollars". A smart company also realizes that ambition is a good thing.

A company that puts a mark against a candidate for saying they aspire to something more than working there for the rest of their life is tipping their hand and revealing they want someone with no ambition who will do the same job (for the same pay) for years; a drone.

Same thing goes for companies that hold it against you if you say in an interview that you are looking to advance to a management position in a few years.


If you have entrepreneurial aspirations, i would love to hire you.


  1. It tell me you are self driven. Probably you wont to solve the problem on your own.

  2. It tell me you are enterprising. Probably you will not come back saying it-cann't-be-done without trying enough.

  3. Most likely you won't come up with answers like it's-not-my-job.

  4. Most importantly, because you at least have some aspiration 5 years ahead of you, you believe in growth and inherently you are always keen to make best out of opportunities.

But yes, it will hint the recruiter some other things

  1. You may take time to appreciate heavy process driven approach

  2. You may not like a boss who is very much a micro manager.

I always ask this question in the interview for exact same reasons.

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