“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
It’s a common enough question in an interview. Some of what might come to mind aren’t things you’d want to say in an interview, such as “I’ll have your job!”, “running this place,” “working for myself,” or “retired lottery winner”. None of those are a good way to answer this tricky question.
What They’re Really Asking About Five Years
The hiring manager is trying to figure out several things at once:
- What are your long term goals?
- Do those career goals align with what’s possible at the company?
- Are you open to staying here long-term?
- What part of a job is important to you?
Does It Require A Five Year Career Path?
In order to really answer this question, research a reasonable career path that will come from the one you’re applying for. What are the next steps? You may have to do some research and reach out to some contacts to see if that’s feasible at the company you’re applying to. Not all positions have clear career paths inside a company, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear career path.
Some positions are self contained and aren’t leading to new positions, such as sales, counseling, or programming, and mastering that position is a perfectly appropriate response.
Does It Have A Natural Career Path?
There’s a few jobs where people are only expected to be there a few years before moving on. This includes some analyst positions in investment banking and consulting, and legal and scientific research assistant positions.
In this case, you’ll have more options for your answer, but you’ll still want to bring up how you could handle the job at hand with the skills and experience you have.
Consider the Job Description
Re-read the job description when considering what you’re looking for in the future. Make sure your answer aligns with the goals. For instance, don’t reveal your plans for getting your novel published if you’re applying for an accountant position. Instead take the time to research a reasonable career path that could come from the position that you’re applying for and follow that line of thinking.
Honesty is Best
If you’re just starting out in your career or starting at an entry-level position that doesn’t require past experience, hiring managers are much more likely to appreciate an honest answer.
If you don’t have a goal or set career timeline, it’s easier to reply with “As an entry-level candidate, I want to learn as much as I can, and in a year or two I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do next.” This answer is important because it stresses both ambition “learn as much as I can” and that the candidate isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so the hiring manager doesn’t need to worry about them leaving for the next job around the corner “in a year or two”. Both of these aspects are very important when you are telling them that you don’t have a plan.
Consider the Size and Culture of the Company
If they’re a new start-up, you want to express lots of ambition about how you’re going to dominate the industry. If it’s a large corporation, you’ll need to be realistic about how far and how high you can achieve in that environment, and have your answer reflect that.
Discuss Your Five Years Goals As Results
This is a great sales tactic when selling yourself. Since it’s usually awkward to work your goals into your conversation, discussing your goals as results makes it sound like a definite. For instance: “Within five years, I’d like to be known as an expert in program development and lead a project on my own.” or “In five years, I hope to be an expert in product knowledge and have expanded my clients in my region.”
If you’re going to go this route, it’s best to have a plan in place about how you’re going to achieve those results.
It’s important to be natural in your interview. You will be more comfortable if you practice and prepare ahead of time. Here’s some other likely interview questions: