No interviewer expects candidates to be able to describe exactly what they’ll 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’ll 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 the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” interview question 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 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?
Keep in mind that the interviewer is not looking for a precise answer, but is basically asking “What are your career goals” – the short and long-term targets you’ve set for yourself to achieve professionally.
Here are some examples of career goals, broken down into categories.
- Professional development – goals related to your efficiency, technical skills, work performance, and increasing performance metrics.
- Education – goals that prove that you have a growth mindset and value the importance of continuous learning and expanding/diversifying your skill set.
- Leadership – goals that show that you have the ambition and discipline needed to advance to higher, more responsible positions.
- Personal development – goals that place an emphasis on soft skills that are not strictly related to work only (e.g. networking, negotiation, teamwork).
And here’s how you can use these examples of career goals in real interviews:
“As a freelance writer working with several major tech companies on blog and website content, I feel like my knowledge of SEO is still limited as I often require assistance. That’s why one of my short-term goals is to complete an SEO course and become fully independent in SEO tools like Moz, Semrush or Ahrefs. That will also allow me to enhance my service portfolio.”
“After changing jobs for the last three years, my biggest career goal right now is to gain some career stability. I really enjoy my work in [Company] – I think it’s challenging, exciting, and fun. I also have the perfect work-life balance, which I greatly appreciate now that I’m in my forties and have a growing family.”
“One of my biggest career goals is to improve my presentation skills and master public speaking. I think there’s an imbalance between my technical knowledge and the way I organize and verbalize my thoughts. Getting good at speaking in front of a group would help me with some of my long-term career goals, such as getting a leadership position.”
“My top career objective is to become an expert in QA Testing and progress to become a thought leader and mentor to others.”
“One of my priorities when it comes to my career goals is to streamline processes in the Sales department in order to improve productivity, have clearer data to work with, and have everyone in the team using the same CRM.”
How to Answer The “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?” Interview Question
It’s true that interviewers are looking for red flags too. Understandably, an employer wants to hire someone who is truly excited about the job and sees it as a great career move.
You may have already said that you’re interested in the job and why. But they are testing you further by asking, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. You could be unfairly eliminated if you answer this question in a way that even hints that you are only mildly interested in the job.
Hiring managers don’t generally enjoy recruiting, hiring, and training new people. It can be a time-consuming, difficult and expensive process. Your interviewer does not want to invest time and effort in someone who they can tell is already planning to leave as soon as something else comes along.
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’re 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.
The bottom line is – you should never lie in a job interview. However, that does not mean that you have to be 100% candid about all of the directions that you are investigating.
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’re 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
Here are our top 5 ways to answer the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question, followed by explanations on why we like them.
“I’m looking for a role with a company that I can grow with and continue to take on new challenges over the next five years and beyond.I’m not too hung up on titles, but I know that I want to take on more management responsibility and, ultimately, step into the product leadership position.”
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).
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.
“In the next few years, I’d like to gain more independence in developing, structuring, and optimizing email and PPC marketing campaigns. I’d be happy to learn the ins and outs of the major email blasting systems and Google AdWords and contribute more in the future.”
Why we like this answer:
The candidate is truthful and shows a willingness to learn and a genuine interest in expanding and solidifying their skillset. They seem to know which direction they’d like to take next and which career objectives are realistic based on their current role.
“I’m looking to deepen my skills in Project Management and become certified for Agile, Scrum, and Waterfall methodologies, as well as take additional courses in communication, negotiation, and presenting. This way, I’ll be able to advance to a leadership position in [Current Company].”
Why we like this answer:
The answer demonstrates that the candidate is not too generic and is aware of what they need to master in the future in order to attain their career goals. At the same time, the candidate shows motivation and willingness to put in some serious effort and keep learning (certifications, courses). They also clearly express a desire to stick with the current company.
How Not to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
1. Don’t overthink it
“Well, that’s a very hard question. I don’t know what I’ll be doing 5 years from now…hmmmm…that’s tough.”
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
“I plan to be a VP at a major firm with at least 7 direct reports, a company car, and a salary of 150K (plus options of course).”
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
“I’d love to be CEO in five years. Then again, I’d also love to be touring with my band if that takes off.”
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
“Well, I’m not sure. I’m thinking about law school or business school or clown college.”
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
Like all other interview questions, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” requires practice. While it’s good to have a prepared answer, memorizing a script won’t do the trick.
Firstly, having one sample answer to “What are your career goals” won’t work for all the interviews. Secondly, experienced interviewers will know if you’ve memorized your answer by heart – the idea is to stay as natural as possible and keep the conversation going.
You can put some of your short and long-term career goals on a piece of paper and try improvising your answer from there. Or you can use an interview-prep tool like Big Interview’s Answer Builder to help you structure and practice your answer(s).
Apart from having a few sample answers and tips available at a click, you can record your answer and then have an AI tool provide feedback on your answer and body language.
What to read next? Check out how to answer some of the other common job interview questions below:
- How To Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
- Why Should We Hire You? Top Answers To Stand Out
- How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
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