There are lots of questions you may be asked in an interview that aren’t easy to answer. However, among all these, the question “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is one of the most difficult.
Read more about The 10 Most Common Job Interview Questions.
Why do interviewers ask ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’
There may be several reasons why you are asked the dreaded question “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”.
One of the most obvious reasons for why an interviewer might ask you this is that they want to know if your long-term career goals are in line with the job you are applying for. If your long-term plans don’t really match what the company has to offer, the hiring manager may have doubts about how long you will be able to work for them.
In short, managers often ask this question to feel safe and make sure you will bring in a good return on investment. With that, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employee tenure was just above four years.
Onboarding employees is a very expensive process. And it is understandable that employers may want to hire someone who will be with the company for the long run.
A hiring manager may also ask this question to see how you want to grow professionally and whether their company will be able to offer you suitable opportunities for career development.
What do hiring managers want to hear when they ask this question?
There are a number of things hiring managers typically want to hear in response to the question.
- First, they may want to know that you’ve thought about your professional future and that you care about growth and development in your line of work. They may want to see that you are a driven and ambitious person and will be proactive in the workplace.
- Your answer to the question will also help the hiring manager see that you are interested in the job and aren’t applying simply because you don’t have other options.
There are lots of things employers look at when making their final choice. And your skills and qualifications are just one part of the big picture. In most cases, employers will also want to hire someone who is motivated and passionate about their career.
Tips for answering the ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’ question
Here are a few best practices for answering the ‘five year’ question.
- The first thing you will need to do to prepare to answer this question is to know the answer to it for yourself. From here on, you will be able to adjust and tailor it to the job you are applying for. However, unless you know the answer to this question yourself, you probably won’t be able to give a convincing reply. It may be hard to think this far ahead, especially if you are just starting out. If you are having a hard time answering this question for yourself, simply try to think of what you imagine as the climax of your professional career and then “count down” from there. Think about what skills you need to develop to get to that point and make your five-year plan based on that.
- Tailor your answer to the job you are applying for. This doesn’t mean that you have to lie or make things up. But you may want to highlight the connections between where you see yourself in five years and what you will be doing in the role you are applying for. For instance, if you are applying for a managerial position, you may want to mention that you plan to develop your leadership and team building skills to become a director or top manager one day. This means that you need to research the company and the job you are applying for carefully. In fact, according to Twin Employment Training, 47% of job candidates fail interviews because they didn’t do enough research about the company they were applying for.
- Don’t be too specific. Career coaches usually encourage candidates to answer job interview questions in detail. However, when it comes to the question of what you will be doing in five years, it may be better to keep things general. For example, instead of referring to a specific position or salary, you may want to focus on the skills you want to develop the most within a five year period.
- Be realistic. Make sure the goals you are voicing to the job interviewer are realistic. Sure, you may believe that in five years you will be the next Elon Musk — but it’s best to keep these thoughts to yourself and your vision board. To your potential employer, you may say that you see yourself “reaching new levels of expertise in your field”. This will send the right message about your professional ambitions but also won’t sound too wishful.
- Build connections between short-term and long-term goals. The job you are applying for may not give you a straight route to your long-term professional goal. But it may help you develop the necessary skills. Talk about what you want to focus on in the position you are applying for and how the skills you will acquire or improve will let you attain your big goals.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years: sample answers
Example answer #1: recent graduate
I’ve only recently graduated from San Diego University. My major was business administration but I would say that within the next five years I would love to improve my sales skills. One of my long-term goals is to be a sales manager. But in order to get there, I need to first learn how to work directly with clients, make sales pitches and learn from my competition. This job will offer me the opportunity to obtain first hand experience in sales and, hopefully, develop new skills and grow together with the sales team.
Example #2: mid-management
In the next 5-10 years, I hope to become a team leader and be in charge of a small team or department. I enjoy my current work but for the past two years I’ve also been working on developing my leadership skills and I believe that in five years I will be able to take on new responsibilities. This is why I found your job offer particularly interesting as it mentions leadership opportunities.
Example #3: startup
As you can see from my resume, I spent the past three years working as a project manager in a larger company. I’ve enjoyed my work immensely but I have also found my role to be quite limited. I hope that by working in a startup, I can take on more responsibility and gain more independence when it comes to being in charge of projects.
What not to say when answering the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question
There are several things that are better not to say when someone asks you about your long-term plans.
- The most obvious no-no here would be saying “I don’t know”. If you say that you don’t know what you will be doing in five years, it may send the wrong message to the employer. They may think that you haven’t given much thought to your career. And this may lead to them deeming you an “uncertain” candidate who may change this mind, switch to another career and more. This is especially true if you are not a recent graduate and already have experience in the workplace.
- Another answer that may raise red flags for the hiring manager is saying that you are looking to get promoted quickly and in a senior role. This may signal to the employer that you won’t be satisfied in the role you are applying for and may request getting promoted instantly.
- Saying that you are after a specific job that already belongs to someone else in the company may also be a questionable idea. To some managers, it may sound bold and ambitious. However, to some, it may seem over-confident and rude.
How to answer “Where do you see yourself in five years?”: key takeaways
There are several key takeaways from this article.
First, it’s a good idea to prepare at least an approximate answer to the question before the interview. Think about what you want to be doing in five years, go over the job description again and make sure your answer aligns with the position you are applying for.
Avoid going into too much detail about how you see your professional future. It may be best to focus on the skills that you want to develop and how the job you are applying for will help you develop them.
Don’t say “I don’t know”. Saying that you don’t know what you will be doing in the future may send the wrong signal to the hiring manager. They may take it as an indication that you are undecided about your career path and may not stay in the job long.
Keep in mind that you can also ask questions during the interview: here are the best questions to ask an interviewer.