“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a surprisingly common interview question that not many people are ready for. It’s not a question you can answer without some preparation and an understanding of what interviewers are looking for.
This guide will make it easy to give a fantastic response to this question and make a great impression.
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Why Interviewers Like to Ask This Question
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a question that sometimes feels like a cliche. However, it actually reveals a lot about who you are and where you see yourself going in your career.
The first reason that interviewers ask this question is to see if you’re in it for the long haul. Companies want to invest in their employees. They don’t want someone who only serves short-term needs. It’s about picking people who will grow with the company and help it succeed.
The last thing a hiring manager wants to do is bring on someone who is only thinking about their next big career move. This question provides peace of mind that you don’t view this position as a temporary jump-off point. They want to hear you’re truly committed to excelling in this role and possibly moving up within the organization.
Your response can also highlight your expectations, giving interviewers more insight into how you align with the position and the company. It’s about seeing if you’ll be satisfied with the job.
Not only does your answer help them gauge if you might stay with the company longer than a year or two, but it helps them understand how you could fit into the organization moving forward. Employers respect ambition, and if your expectations align with the job’s career path, you will likely stay motivated as you further your career within the company.
Finally, your answer can show that you’re serious about your career as a whole. Having bigger aspirations in your life and career is a fantastic character trait that could benefit the company. It indicates that you’ll continue to push yourself, even within the role.
But let’s be honest, no one really knows where they’ll be in 5 years. The company could lay you off, it could be sold off or you might get a wonderful job offer somewhere else. As uncertain as work can be, it doesn’t mean you can’t set goals. Keep in mind, your interests and goals might change as you are exposed to new functions within the company and outside. With all this in mind, you still want to share what you think your goals are 5 years from now.
How to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years”
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is an interview question that can be answered in a number of ways. While it might seem like a filler question that isn’t related to your ability to do the job, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Your response matters.
Here’s how to develop an answer that knocks it out of the park and increases your odds of getting a job offer.
1. Do Some Brainstorming
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can answer this question on the fly. It’s much deeper than it seems at face value, so give it the thought it deserves! Before you ever step foot in the interview, take some time to think about it.
Think of your career as a story. Figure out where you are in the plotline today and how this position fits into the overall journey. Then, think about the end goal. What’s the climax of your story?
When you have larger end goals, you can easily think of the chapters you need to go through to get there. You might still be early in your career, but it’s never too early to think ahead. Five years doesn’t seem like much, but there’s so much you can accomplish in that time!
You might already have a particular area you want to focus on. That could be leading projects, taking on management positions, or learning new skills to boost your qualifications.
Research what’s possible within your career to see what path you want to take. With your interests, passions, and ultimate goal in mind, build a trajectory you’d like to follow. Once you start visualizing where you want your career to take you, confidently talking about where you see yourself in five years will be a cinch.
2. Be Honest
Honesty is the best policy during a job interview. Of course, it’s always smart to tailor your response to the position you want (more on that soon).
However, you should avoid lying just for the sake of saying things you think that interviewers want to hear. That can come off as inauthentic and will only hurt your chances of moving forward in the hiring process. Employers don’t want to hire people who appear fake.
Making things up on the spot isn’t a good look, so it’s important to consider this question before heading to your interview. Be honest with yourself. Authenticity is a trait employers want. Prepare your answer early and deliver it confidently.
3. Show That You Have Plans for the Future
It’s always a good idea to show that you have plans for the future when answering this question. It’s about showing ambition and proving to interviewers that you have larger goals for your professional career.
Saying something along the lines of, “I see myself in this position in five years,” isn’t a good response. While interviewers love that you want to stay within the company, that answer shows no plans to grow and develop your skills. Instead, it indicates that you are fine with complacency, and that’s something that many employers don’t want.
You should challenge yourself and use this question to show that you want to grow and learn. It doesn’t have to be out of reach or over the top. Obtainable goals are far better. Consider the career path you want to take and what milestones you want to hit in the next few years.
It’s important to remember that you must walk a fine line here. Showing that you have goals and ambitions is critical, but those plans shouldn’t be so grand or totally irrelevant to the job you are interviewing for that interviewers think this job is merely a stepping stone.
That’s why focusing on smaller, more obtainable goals is better. Focus on skills and professional development versus the position you want to have. For example, you could say you see yourself gaining more leadership responsibilities.
This type of skills-based answer shows that you want to improve your capabilities without hinting that you see yourself leaving the company.
4. Find a Connection to the Job You’re Applying For
The best way to respond to “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is to connect it to the position you want to land. It is a job interview, after all. Your answer should help you get a job offer!
That doesn’t mean creating a complete fabrication and saying something you think the interviewer wants to hear. Instead, connect the dots of how this position can get you where you want to be. Once again, emphasizing skills is the best approach.
Look at the job description and research the company’s structure and where employees have moved to. What’s the natural next step above this position? What skills would you need to get a promotion?
That’s a great way to look at your five-year plan. For instance, say that you hope to become a project lead. You could talk about the skills you can hone in this position to get there.
Consider explaining what you’d gain from this job and how your work could easily translate to your larger goals. If you’re working in marketing, you can say that this position will help you gain more experience contributing to projects and collaborating with others. That would make you confident to take the mantle and run projects yourself.
Find ways to connect short-term and long-term career goals while fitting this job into the mix. Find those similarities and understand how this job could play a part in helping you further your career without treating it like nothing more than a stepping stone. It’s about showing interviewers that you hope to use your experience to move forward.
5. Keep Your Answer Fairly Broad
Our final tip is to keep your response broad. Avoid sharing too many details or going into specifics about the exact jobs you want and when you want them. Again, you don’t want to come off as viewing this job as a stepping stone.
The more specific your answer, the more you can box yourself in. That’s not a good thing in the eyes of a hiring manager. They want people who are flexible and open to exploring new things while pursuing grander ambitions.
You should show you have plans without being so precise that you make hiring managers question how long you’ll be in this role.
The best way to stay broad is to focus on the skills you want to learn and the experience you hope to gain. For example, avoid saying you want to be in a senior management position within five years. Instead, say that you plan to expand your knowledge in your field, gain leadership experience, and get more involved in big projects to contribute as much as possible.
An answer like that hints at your ambitions to become a manager without boxing you in or making you say something that will work against you.
What You Should Avoid When Answering
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a question that can help interviewers gain more insight into who you are and what you want to do with your career. However, saying the wrong thing when answering can hurt your chance of getting the job.
Here are a few things you want to avoid.
Not Having a Plan
One of the worst answers you can give is, “I don’t know.”
Interviewers want to hear from people with ambition. Not having a plan shows that you haven’t given your career much thought. That’s a huge red flag because it indicates a lack of forward-thinking and vision.
It doesn’t matter what job you’re trying to get. Hinting that you’re fine doing the same thing for the rest of your life isn’t a good look.
Roles with More Seniority
It’s alright to say you hope to get into leadership or gain more responsibilities. But you should avoid saying that you see yourself in a specific senior position that’s higher up than the one you’re applying for now.
The reason why this is a faux pas is that it might make hiring managers think that you want to get promoted faster than what’s possible. It takes time to earn a promotion. While your work could certainly lead to a promotion in five years, you shouldn’t hint at it before you even get the job.
Another huge mistake is to say that you see yourself doing something completely unrelated to your job or industry in five years. For example, saying that you want to be in a different department or make a dramatic career change is a huge no-no. It’s a red flag that will likely pull you from the running.
Remember: Hiring managers want people who are actually interested in being there. If you’re already saying that you want to get out of this job before you even land it, why should a company hire you?
Some candidates say silly jokes like, “I’ll be sitting where you’re sitting,” or, “I’m coming for your job.” It’s a cliche joke that some people assume exudes confidence, but the reality is that it’s usually a turn-off for hiring managers.
You don’t know enough about the person you’re interviewing to make those jokes. You don’t understand what their job entails. While it is a bold move, it comes off as you jumping the gun.
In the worst-case scenario, it could offend the interviewer. Avoid that drama and leave these cliche answers behind.
Responses That Indicate You’re Overqualified
Avoid saying anything that makes you look overqualified when you provide your answer. For example, mentioning that you already have years of experience and hope to be several positions higher is a big mistake.
You’re telling the interviewer you know you’re above this job, which means you’re more likely to become bored and unmotivated. They’ll think you will be unhappy until you get a promotion, which isn’t good.
Everyone’s response to this question will be different, but we have a few examples to guide you in the right direction.
The first example is simple and broad. It works because the candidate shows initiative and ambition without going into too many specific details. The response focuses on skill-building and how the candidate hopes to keep contributing to the company’s bottom line.
“In five years, I hope to start leading teams in an informal or formal capacity. I’m excited to gain more experience working with product and event teams, and I’m eager to collaborate with others while finding ways to streamline marketing processes. I have much to learn, and I’d like to continue developing my skills and absorb as much as possible until I’m ready to lead projects.”
In our next example, the candidate focuses on how to use their skills to help others. It’s a good response because it emphasizes their goals to gain more experience and share knowledge to benefit the organization.
“I’ve just started my career, but I see myself significantly improving my sales skills in the next five years. My long-term career goals are to get involved with sales training and become a mentor for people who are in my position now, maybe as a corporate trainer or manager. However, I know I have much to learn as a salesperson.
My goal now is to continually improve my sales figures over the next several years while getting comfortable with different sales channels. I see myself being more confident in closing deals online, in person, and over the phone. That’s something I hope to do here at [COMPANY].”
Our final example is about taking on more complex jobs to expand the candidate’s experience and capabilities. This is a top-notch answer for many reasons.
First, it shows initiative and emphasizes how eager the candidate is to hit the ground running. Secondly, it’s a flattering answer for the company and proves that this individual did their research. Third, it’s broad and indicates that the interviewee hopes to grow with the organization.
“Over the next five years, I see myself taking on as many complex assignments as this position allows. One of the reasons why I found working at [COMPANY] so compelling is your approach to training. I love opportunities to work with mentors and invest in learning new skills.
I’m hoping to gain tons of experience while learning new techniques that will help me grow as a salesperson. In five years, I aim to have many projects under my belt that I’m proud of while building lasting relationships with clients. In the long-term, that may translate to mentoring or moving into a leadership role that motivates and pushes others.”
As you can tell, knowing how to answer “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is all about being prepared. While this question shouldn’t be too challenging, it’s important to think about it before your interview if you want your response to impress.
Sit down and think about what skills you want to develop and what you want to learn. Once you’ve done this it will be easy to develop an answer that works!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.