No interviewer expects candidates to be able to describe exactly what they will be doing in 1,820 days. In fact, a truthful answer about what you hope to be doing can easily sabotage your odds of landing a job offer.
You may be wondering “So why do interviewers insist on asking this question?” In this post, we will demonstrate why employers ask about your future and teach you how to craft an exceptional answer to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Why Interviewers Ask “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
Behavioral interview questions are standard in any job interview. They are important because your answers to behavioral questions say a lot about you as a person and professional. They are a good indicator for hiring managers to see if you would be a good fit for the job. Understanding why employers ask “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is essential for formulating an answer that will impress your interviewer.
By asking this question, the interviewer wants to understand more about your career goals and how this position would fit into your grand plan. They care about your career goals because they want to hire someone who is motivated, proactive, likely to stick around, and a hard worker.
If succeeding in this role is important to you as part of your long-term career strategy, you are much more likely to perform well.
You may also hear different formulations of “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” that are not quite as cliche, such as:
- What are your long-term career goals?
- What is your ideal job at this stage in your career?
- What are you looking for?
- How do you define success?
- What is most important to you in your career?
How to Answer The “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?” Question
In today’s competitive job market, interviewers are looking for any red flag to use as an excuse not to hire someone. So you could be unfairly eliminated from contention if you answer this question in a way that even hints that this is not the one and only job of your dreams.
Understandably, an employer wants to hire someone who is truly excited about the job at hand, someone who sees it as a great career move and will work tirelessly to do a good job.
You may have already said that you are interested in the job and why. But they are testing you further by asking, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
If your 5-year goal is to become an investment banker, it is going to be hard for them to believe that this position as an IT marketing manager is your dream job.
Hiring managers don’t generally enjoy recruiting, hiring, and training new people. It can be a time-consuming and difficult process. Your interviewer does not want to invest time and effort in someone who is already planning to leave for something better as soon as it comes along (whether that is a job that is a better fit, grad school, or your own business).
After all, if they hire you and you quit after a month or two, they are going to look really bad to their bosses.
In reality, you are probably considering a few different potential career paths. It is smart for you to keep your options open to a certain extent. However, you don’t have to advertise this fact in your job interviews.
Let’s be clear: You should never lie during a job interview. However, that does not mean that you have to be 100% candid about all of the directions that you are investigating.
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So what should you say about your career in 5 years?
1. Keep your answer fairly general, especially if you don’t know a lot about the typical career path at the company. For most interview questions, we recommend being specific because general answers tend to be bland and easily forgettable. This is the exception. Make your answer truthful, but broad enough that it doesn’t raise doubts about whether you would be a good fit for this position at this organization.
2. Stress your interest in a long-term career at the company (especially if you have short job tenures on your resume). Your interviewer wants to know that you are ready to settle in and grow with the firm. The truth is that anything can happen. The company could go out of business, they could lay you off, or you could be lured away by a better opportunity.
However, remember that the organization is going to be investing considerable time, energy, and money in hiring and training someone for this job. You must at least show an honest intention to stay long enough to be a good investment. If you have some “job hopping” on your resume, it’s particularly important to make the case that you are now ready for a long-term role.
3. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job as an exciting next step for you. Most importantly, make it clear that you are motivated to take on this opportunity right now.
“Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?” Sample Answer
Why We Like This Answer:
The emphasis is on growing with the company (he is a good long-term hire) and taking on new challenges (he is goal-oriented, proactive), not on a specific title or job description (he is flexible).
More “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Example Answers:
Why We Like This Answer:
This answer offers some insight into the candidate’s goals and interests (becoming a manager, being involved in product strategy) so it is not too generic. This response also strongly expresses a desire for a long-term career with the company.
Why We Like This Answer:
With this answer, the candidate is emphasizing her focus on learning, performance, and achievement. She is also complimenting the company and its reputation for hiring quality people (including the interviewer, perhaps?). The reference to “building a career here” indicates an interest in sticking around and contributing.
Make Your Narrative Believable
In some situations, your answer to the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question will be particularly important. If you are making a career change or this position doesn’t seem like an obvious next step based on your resume, your interviewer may be suspicious about whether you really are committed to this field or just need to make a few bucks until something better comes along.
Nobody wants to hire an applicant who is halfhearted about the job. Your response to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is your opportunity to sell the interview on your commitment to the career path and the position.
For example, let’s say you were recently laid off after working in academia for five years and are now changing careers and interviewing for a job in biotechnology management. To be seriously considered, you need to be able to describe why you are excited about making the switch and building a career in biotech. You don’t want your “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” answer to leave the impression that this would only be a temporary diversion until something opens up for you in your “real” field of interest.
This is also relevant for new grads. If your major and internships are in a totally different area, be prepared to talk convincingly about why you want to invest the next five years in this new field represented by the open position.
How Not to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
1. Don’t overthink it:
In her work with individual clients, our expert, Pamela Skillings, has seen this mistake a million times. It is great that you take the question seriously, but you are not being evaluated based on the accuracy of your answer. Our top tip is to use your answer to reassure the interviewer that you are invested in this career path.
2. Don’t be too specific:
The ambition is good. The goals are good. However, if you are too specific, you run the risk of stating goals that are not realistically achievable in the job available. From the interviewer’s perspective, that means you are not a good fit.
3. Don’t be too eccentric:
You can come across as flaky if you seem to have a million different ideas about what you want to do — or if you have zero clear ideas about your future. In reality, many good candidates are exploring different options or are still trying to figure it out.
However, a job interview is not a session with your career coach. You want to give the impression that you are focused and have a plan (even if it is not the only plan you are considering).
4. Don’t raise red flags:
Many job seekers have long-term visions of going back to school or starting their own business. These are admirable goals, but there is no need to share them with your interviewer, especially if you are still weighing your options.
Of course, if you have already committed to full-time grad school or another path that will conflict with your ability to perform in the job, it is only fair to be open about that.
Also, there are some career paths that require advanced degrees and/or other additional training. For example, many finance and management consulting career paths require an MBA. In these cases, it will be expected that your five-year plan will include more schooling.
One Last Word of Advice
Take the time to think about this where you see yourself in 5 years and prepare a response. Don’t memorize a script, but practice how you will describe your long-term career plans in a way that will be relevant to the interviewer and help you tell the story about why you are the best person for the job.
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