By Mike Simpson
So you want to know how to answer “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”…
Well to do that, we need to get back in our magical time machine and go to a time most of us remember fondly.
Do you remember as a kid playing with the Magic 8-Ball? It was always popular at sleepovers!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it…let us explain:
It was a goofy novelty toy; a giant pool ball filled with mysterious blue liquid.
You’d shake the ball, ask your question, and then flip it over…reading the answer on the bottom as it drifted up in ghostly white letters.
Regardless of the question you asked, you were only guaranteed one of twenty possible answers and odds were, if you weren’t happy with what you got…you’d shake the ball and ask again. And again. And again.
It was fun to pretend we had a window into the future by using the toy, but we all knew…it was just a toy and that there was no real way to predict the future.
So why do employers ask you to do just that?
Have you ever been in an interview and been asked the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Why do they ask this question? Do they think that at some point between putting down our 8-Balls and joining the real world that we’ve developed a bit of ESP?
Of course not!
As much fun as it would be to actually have these skills (can you say Lottery Winner?!?), no employer actually assumes you have those powers.
Their reason behind the question isn’t to test your precognitive abilities but rather to see how well your answer lines up with the company’s long term goals.
Now before you rush into a long winded explanation of where you think you’ll be and all the money you’ll be making at your new and fabulous job, let me stop you for a second and give you a serious word of warning.
THIS QUESTION IS A TRAP.
Unlike many of the other questions we’ve explored before including Traditional and Behavioral ones, a question like this is intended specifically to trip you up.
Why would an interviewer want to trip you up? Simple…
Because they want to get rid of you.
Wait…isn’t the purpose of an interview to hire someone? Why would they ask questions designed to get rid of applicants?
Yes, the ultimate goal of any good hiring manager is to find an employee to fill their vacancies, but they’re not looking for just anyone.
They want the Perfect Candidate and trick questions like this one are meant to weed out everyone but the best of the best.
How To Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years”
So how do you answer this question without falling into the trap?
By sidestepping it.
Rather than leaping directly over it and avoiding the question all together, we’ll show you how to work around it in such a way that you not only answer the question, but that you do it in such a way that your answer aligns with the company’s long term goals and values.
First off, let’s stop and look at the question itself.
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Seems like an easy question, right?
Amazingly enough, this question is one that most job seekers get incorrect.
Because they’re answering it just like you’d answer it if you were shaking that Magic 8-Ball and peeking into the future…a future where you see yourself as driven and motivated.
Answering this question with a demonstration of your ambition (“I see myself as CEO of the company driving a sexy new sports car and bringing in unprecedented profits!”) might seem like the answer a hiring manager wants to see, but in actuality…it’s not.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t answer with “Well, I see myself in your seat doing your job.”
No. No. No. That answer isn’t funny. It’s not ambitious. It’s a red flag…and you’re waving it right in an interviewer’s face.
If you’re interested in getting more word-for-word sample answers to this interview question then Click Here To Download Our “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years Cheat Sheet”
Top Tips For Avoiding the Traps While Outlining Your Future Goals
The thing you have to keep in mind is…they’re interviewing you for a job right now.
Not a job in the future…so why would they want to hear you wanting to do any job but the one you’re going for right now?
Rather than demonstrating your ambition and drive for future jobs…a hiring manager wants to see you demonstrate your level of commitment to the job you’re interviewing for.
They want to know what your career goals are for the career you’re interviewing for right now.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however…
They do want an answer to the question. Yes, it’s all fine and dandy to show them that you are committed to the position, but they are still looking for an intelligent and well-balanced answer to the question.
So firmly plant your answer in the reality, which is, doing your best to do the job they are hiring for. But make sure you show that you are a candidate that is ambitious and sees a future within the company, but is also a realist about what the future may hold.
What are your career goals?
Ask yourself this question, and research the company to find out what a potential growth path might be for you. This should be the foundation for your answer.
So without further ado, here are the tips:
Keep the job in mind: Yes, you’ve already demonstrated your desire for the position based on the fact that you’ve applied and are now interviewing for…but this question is meant to dig deeper than that and find out just how much you really want the position. Many job require training and no employer wants to hire someone and invest time and money into them if they’re planning on leaving. They want someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about the position. The hiring manager is looking for a hire that is also a good investment.
Be specifically generic: Remember how your Magic 8-Ball gave you somewhat vague answers? You’d ask it a question and the answer you got sometimes was just fuzzy enough that it seemed to apply? Think of your answer to this question in the same sort of light. First off…you’re not psychic so don’t pretend to be. Make sure your answers are broad enough that they don’t make a hiring manager question your dedication to the position you are interviewing for. Keep your answers tailored to the position and realistic in scope.
MIKE'S TIP: "Generic" can be a particularly dangerous interview strategy when not used properly, so only use it for your answer to this interview question. Job interviews are all about specificity and real-life examples, and being generic won't cut it anywhere else. Furthermore, as I mentioned above, you still need to show that you are ambitious so do your best to outline a realistic growth strategy using the next few tips.
Be enthusiastic: Like we’ve said time and time again….a hiring manager wants someone who is enthusiastic…not just someone who is looking to collect a paycheck and move onto the next adventure. Be genuinely invested in the position you’re applying for and do your research ahead of time so when you do your 5 year projection, you know what you’re talking about and your answer is realistic and grounded.
Be Realistic: Instead of pushing your future self into a ridiculous position of power that probably won’t happen…look at the job you’re applying for and take into consideration just how you might grow and develop within it and how that might also relate to the company’s needs and long term goals. Study the department you are applying to, including its structure and the previous path others have taken to get to where they are. If you can’t find the information, this would be a good question to ask the interviewer during your interview.
Don’t be funny: When confronted with this question, the first thing you want to do is avoid a knee-jerk funny answer. Remember, they’re looking for reasons to get rid of you…and if your first answer is a funny but not serious one, you run the risk of waving that proverbial red flag we talked about earlier.
Don’t make up a position: As I just mentioned, you’ve hopefully already done your research on the company and know what sort of chain of advancement is available for the position you are applying for. Just throwing out a random title (“I want to be the senior manager of sales and acquisitions.”) might seem like a good idea…until you find out the job doesn’t actually exist. Oops.
Make your answer 2 parted: The first part of your answer should focus on the immediate position you are applying for and how you are excited by that opportunity. The second part of your answer deals with your future plans and expectations. By making it a 2 part answer, you’re reaffirming your desire for the job while at the same time answering the long term component in a logical and responsible way.
So how do I answer this question? Is there really a right way or am I just doomed from the start?
Just as there’s a wrong way to answer, there’s a right way as well…and we’ll walk you through three different scenarios so you can get a feel for how to approach this well laid trap.
Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years Example Answers
“Let me start by saying that I’m really excited about the position we are discussing and my number one goal is to do the best job I can at this role. Having said that, if down the line there’s an opportunity for advancement and I’ve proven that I have not only the skills and experience needed to take on this next level of responsibility, then of course I would be interested.”
Well played there! You’re showing that you’re dedicated to the position and that you are ambitious, but not ridiculously so. But why not take it one step further and outline what you plan to do if and when that advancement becomes available?
“I’m also really passionate about the work I do and would love if there were opportunities for me down the line to also be able to mentor other employees or new recruits to be successful within this position, perhaps as a manager or supervisor.”
Well, well well…future employee…nicely put! You’re showing with this second statement that you are grounded enough in reality that you’re aware astronomical leaps forward in careers don’t normally occur within 5 years, but ambitious enough to know that advancement does happen…and when it does, it leave vacancies that you’re willing to help fill by providing training for potential replacements down the road.
“From the moment I read the job description for this position I was really excited about your company’s role in the community, and for this reason, am thrilled at the possibility of working with you for a long time.I’m very passionate about outreach and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be heavily involved in this area.”
First off, good job complimenting the company! You’re showing that you’ve done your research and that you’re also looking for a position that allows growth.
“While my main focus moving forward will be on the position we are discussing today, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to grow within this position to take on more and be a part of new and exciting projects in the community.”
Again, nicely done. You’re letting the employer know that you’re dedicated to the job you’re applying for right now but that you’re also committed to the long term growth of the company…and your role within that growth.
“I’m glad you asked! One of the reasons that I applied to this company was because of your company’s reputation for helping with its employee’s career growth as well as providing advancement opportunities. Long term commitment from an employer is important to me because it creates a sense of belonging and really brings out my desire to “go to battle” for the company.”
Again, you’ve done a nice job complimenting the company culture as well as reaffirming your desire to be a long term employee. A hiring manager loves to hear that you are a solid investment.
“I’m really driven to achieve both mine and the company’s goals, and it is my belief that this stability will allow me to do so as I grow within this role.Five years down the road I see myself growing into a supervisor or manager where I’ll be able to use my skills to support and influence others.”
Again, you’re dedicating yourself to the position but at the same time, letting the hiring manager know that you’re also interested in growing and increasing your level of responsibility.
Putting It Together
There you have it…three solid examples of how to answer the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” as well as tips on how to avoid the dreaded hidden trap employers like to spring on unsuspecting job applicants.
Keep in mind that the interviewer wants to hear what you plan to do with the job you’re applying for right now and that your answer should reflect reasonable and realistic growth… More than anything, you want your answer to reassure the hiring manager that investing in you isn’t risky and that you’re the Perfect Candidate for the job.
So put your Magic 8-Ball down; put your Ouiji board back into the game closet and leave the Tarot Cards at home.
You don’t really need ESP to see a future with a company…you just need a few easy to remember tips and a healthy dose of reality.
And above all…
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HOW TO ANSWER: Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
How to InterviewInterview Questions & Answers
Posted by Pamela Skillings
Where do you see yourself in five years? This interview question is not designed to test your psychic powers.
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.
So why do interviewers insist on asking this question?
Why Interviewers Ask, “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
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, and likely to stick around and work hard if hired.
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 one of these similar/related questions that are not quite as cliched as the old “5 years” chestnut:
- 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’s most important to you in you career?
How to Answer The 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 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’re interested in the job and why. But they are testing you further by asking, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
If your five-year goal is to become an investment banker, it’s 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’s a job that’s a better fit, grad school, or your own business).
After all, if she hires you and you quit after a month or two, she’s going to look really bad to her bosses.
In reality, you are probably considering a few different potential career paths. It’s 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 doesn’t mean that you have to be 100% candid about all of the directions that you are investigating.
Inside Big Interview, our complete training system for job interviews, we give you video lessons, sample answers, and an interactive practice tool for all of these different versions of “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Watch this brief video to learn a little more about Big Interview, and click here to take a quick look at the program.
So what should you say?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, I 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 for 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’re 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.
Example Answer to “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
Why We Like It:
The emphasis is on growing with the company (he’s a good long-term hire) and taking on new challenges (he’s goal-oriented, proactive), not on a specific title or job description (he’s flexible).
More Example Responses
1. “My goal right now is to find a position at a company where I can grow and take on new challenges over time. Ultimately, I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and get involved in product strategy. But most importantly, I want to work for an organization where I can build a career.”
Why We Like It:
This answer offers some insight into the candidate’s goals and interests (becoming a manager, being involved in product strategy) so it’s not too generic. This response also strongly expresses a desire for a long-term career with the company.
2. “I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”
Why We Like It:
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.
Special Scenarios: Make Your Narrative Believable
In some situations, your answer to this question will be particularly important. If you’re 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. It’s like dating someone who is using you for free dinners until someone she’s REALLY attracted to comes along.
Your response to “Where do you see yourself in five 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 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 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 Five Years?”
1. Don’t overthink it:“Well, that’s a very hard question. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 5 years….hmmmm….that’s tough.”
In my work with individual clients, I’ve seen this mistake a million times. It’s great that you take the question seriously, but you are not being evaluated based on accuracy of answer. Use your answer to reassure the interviewer that you’re 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).”
Ambition is good. 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’re not a good fit.
3. Don’t be flaky:“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’re focused and have a plan (even if it’s not the only plan you’re 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’s no need to share them with your interviewer, especially if you’re still weighing your possibilities.
Of course, if you’ve already committed to full-time grad school or another path that will conflict with your ability to perform in the job, it’s 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 question 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 your story about why you’re the best person for the job.
Here is CollegeHumor’s interesting take on this classic interview question.
Connect with Pamela Skillings on Google+
Photo Credit: MSVG
Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.