“Now, where do you see yourself in five years?”
When asked this question, a lot of very specific thoughts might pop into your head and some of those are things that you definitely shouldn’t mention in an interview. Like…
“Well, I see myself running this entire company.”
“I plan on owning my own business in Honolulu!”
“I’ve always dreamt of coaching a college basketball team.”
“In your seat.”
So, what kind of response are interviewers looking for here?
Mostly they to get a sense of how your career aspirations align with the company and position. So keep these two questions in mind as you craft a response to the question:
The goal of every interview answer is to show how you are the solution to the company’s problem. A proper answer would go along the lines of this:
“In the past, I’ve had [an experience that’s relevant to the problem at hand]. I want to continue to build on that experience while solving additional challenges as they arise in this position.
I want to demonstrate that I am able to take on additional responsibility and can deliver results. In this particular case, I think I can [solve your problem doing the following].”
Follow along as we take a dive into why you’re getting asked this question and more of the theory behind the response.
This question is very similar to:
There are two major perspectives you can answer this question from, and they don’t really overlap.
Either the career path you’re on right now is fairly solid and easy to define, or it’s not.
Neither of these perspectives is right or wrong — for the most part, no one cares if you’re in a job because it’s what you really want or if you’re in it because it seems like the right thing to do.
However, each of these perspectives requires an altogether different tactic when it comes to giving a successful answer.
So, in general, the interviewer is asking with the following in mind.
They want to know all about your career goals. Does the job you’re interviewing for aligning with those career goals? Can this job and company help you achieve those goals?
Check to see how motivated you are. Do you have the right characteristics for the job?
And last, but definitely not least, to know if you are you going to stick around? Is succeeding in this position important to your long-term career strategy, or are you going to jump ship as soon as another job offer comes along?
Employers expend a ton of energy and time interviewing potential candidates, they want to ensure they’re hiring someone with the honest intent of staying with the company for an extended period of time.
This is almost impossible to guarantee, but they are looking for that honest, serious intent.
Generally, you want to make sure that you would be happy doing that job you’re applying for. This is an interview for this job, after all, not the one you hope to have in five years.
So bear in mind that while your answers should suggest that you have goals, a good rule of thumb is to treat your answer to this question as if it’s “Why did you enjoy working here for the past five years?” to the future you.
Another option would be to consider this as an opportunity to announce what your goals for this position are, such as what you will hope to have accomplished by the five year mark in this position.
Make sure that you describe a situation that is realistic within the company as it stands now.
You can usually figure out from a company’s website what they value and how many employees they have, and if not then take to LinkedIn — use this to gauge how likely it is that you’ll be able to truly be happy here, then make that part of your answer.
You might find that this company values sending its employees abroad or on philanthropic trips — even if this is something you only sort-of value, describe it as part of your future:
“I hope to be able to find opportunities to apply the skill set I develop here in a way that gives back to the community.”
The focus here is to be able to position yourself as an ideal candidate at this very moment in time — which for the hiring manager, means one who’ll be there five years after they’ve spent time and money hiring you.
You just successfully answered the infamous “So, tell me about yourself” question in an interview. Your confidence is running high and you know what’s coming next.
The interviewer clears his throat, “Where do you see yourself in five years, Johnny Bravo?”
Little does he know that you’re ready to blow this question out of the water too. You have a few responses prepared.
“I’ve had experience dealing with customers and clients over the phone, and in person, during internships, and at several retail positions.
I see customer service representatives as the frontline brand ambassadors for the company — we are most people’s first point of contact with a human for the company. As such, we need to make a great first impression and help people solve their immediate problem – I’m really hungry and my food is late.
Long term, I’d to take what I learn in this role and apply it other parts of the company as I progress in my career. Being an advocate for the customer could help in marketing, product, and other areas of the company that I’d love to contribute to over time.”
Why It’s Good
This kind of response acknowledges what needs to get done in the current position — answer people’s support problems — but shows how you have larger career aspirations to help the company.
Hiring managers realize that most entry level jobs are that — an entry to a career. Think of how you can excel at the current position in a way that sets you up to make larger contributions to the company five years down the line.
“Firstly, I want to be one of the best at what I do, and I won’t stop until I achieve that.
My first career goal is to find a workplace somewhere where I’ll have daily opportunities to develop my skills as a business analyst. I want the responsibility of taking on interesting IT projects and collaborating with people that can truly help me learn.
I know, based on some research, that several of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work for IBM and that’s one of the huge reason why I would love to build a career here.”
Why It’s Good
You are able to show desirable characteristics like willing to work hard to achieve success.
You were also able to mention the company directly and keep it simple.
Be broad and general. Give a general answer that doesn’t pin you down to any specific career path because you don’t know what the promotion track or career path is at this company.
But whatever your goals are, you should always:
Make sure you emphasize it is at that company. Neither you nor your interviewer knows what’s going to happen in the future, but you want to frame your answer in a way that assumes it will be at that company.
Indicate you’d like to progress, but don’t insist upon titles. You’re not that funny, so don’t try to make a joke about having their job or something stupid like that. Suggest that you’d like to advance and grow with the company, but don’t focus on a specific title or trajectory.
Make it believable for your resume. You may be taking this job because you don’t have another choice. Your dream of making it as an athlete, comedian, or (even more outrageously unlikely) a tenured professor didn’t work out — this is not the time to tell them that.
Instead, it’s time for you to honestly ask yourself what good you’ll be getting out of this position. Is it stable? Reliable checks? Established history?
Whatever the case may be, you must make a list of these things, because these are the things you do not want to discuss — instead of giving them reasons why you have to take this job, tell them what the future you values the most about what the current company has to offer.
“I’m considering getting my MBA, or even going to law school.” Even if you know that this company sponsors business school or law classes, the first thing you shouldn’t do is indicate that you don’t expect to be here that long, or even that the job they’re hiring you for isn’t directly in line for where you hope to be.
If your promotion path require an MBA or graduate degree, you can just say you’d desire such a position — it’ll be assumed, without you explicitly discussing a leave of absence.
“Why?” First, it doesn’t matter why an interviewer asks you any question, barring something inappropriate or raunchy.
But to the point, don’t let this question throw you off. It’s an opportunity for you to be honest, and knowing the true answer to this question before you interview will solidify your decision when you get the offer.
“Celebrating the fifth anniversary of you asking me this question.” This isn’t original.
You’re the guy telling the waiter “I hated it” as they clear your empty plate.
You’re not that funny.
“Polishing my CEO plaque before I call in one of my nine direct reports to pull my company-provided town car around.” You don’t want to indicate that your expectations are too high or unrealistic, as the hiring manager knows you won’t stick around for long if it becomes apparent that they won’t meet them.
“I don’t know, it’s the future ya dummy.” Similarly to the “Why?” situation, don’t be hostile and don’t let yourself be caught unaware — you also should know this, as it suggests about your character and what type of person you are.
But even that’s better than, “Doing your job.”
Having interviewed a bunch of people in my time, the most important aspect to these questions is just being prepared.
And you’re already ahead of the game by reading this.
Just remember NOT to ramble on — these questions aren’t the heart of the interview, just the introduction.
Answer them sufficiently and succinctly and move on to the more fun parts of the interview.
You know, like turning the table and getting to ask the interviewer some questions.