‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ is one of the most common, yet one of the most frustrating, questions you can expect to be asked in a job interview. Rarely will someone be able to predict exactly where they’ll be in five years time and it can feel like your interviewer is trying to trick you.
You might also find that your completely honest answer is something that you’d never want to say to a hiring manager, such as ‘at a different company’ or ‘working in a different industry’. Whatever you do, don’t tell them that in five years time you see yourself in their job, even if that’s the truth. They are unlikely to find this sort of response impressive or even amusing.
It’s important to understand that your interviewer is not asking you to accurately predict where you’ll be in five years. Instead, they are interested in finding out what your current goals for the future are. It is also useful to note that this question is more common in interviews for entry-level positions or if the candidate has a history of changing jobs frequently.
So what is the right way to go about tackling this question? The good news is that there is an easy formula to follow which will make sure that this question won’t sabotage your chances of securing the job.
This article will help you understand exactly why interviewers ask this question, how to prepare your answer, and what to avoid saying. We’ve also included a few examples to get you started.
Why do interviewers ask?
While many interview candidates consider this question to be out of date or even a lazy question for interviewers to ask, there are several very good reasons it still gets asked regularly. It is important to remember that a hiring manager’s ultimate goal is to find the best fit for the role available.
If their company is going to invest time and money training new employees, it is important that they get it right. It’s no good for them if they hire someone who only plans to be around for six months. As a hiring manager, their success will be measured by how good an employee you turn out to be.
To make sure that you are the right fit for the job, they need to find out if your career goals and aspirations align with those of the company. If your goal is really to start your own company or eventually pursue further education, they will know straight away that this role is not your priority and you are unlikely to hang around for long.
However, if you seem genuinely excited about the role, it fits in with your long-term career plan, and you seem proactive about following that plan, they will be much more likely to think that you will perform well in the job.
The answer you give will also give your interviewer an insight into how your mind works. Are your thoughts organised and can you provide a coherent and logical answer? Or do you blurt out the first thing that you think of even if it doesn’t relate to the role?
They will be particularly motivated to ask this question if your previous jobs have been in a different area and you are about to embark on a career change. They will want to know that you are committed to this new path. Equally, recent graduates should expect this question, as should those whose work experience or qualifications are in a different area to the job they are interviewing for.
How to answer
With most interview questions, you will need to make sure that your answers are specific and detailed in order to demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest in the role.
This is the one question where you will want to keep your answer very general, especially when it comes to exactly which position you’d like to be in by then. It is sometimes better to focus on the skills that you’d like to have developed by then. The following tips will keep you on the right track:
- Keep your answer broad: Make sure that you don’t trap yourself by laying out a very specific career path, especially if that might not directly align with what the hiring manager might have in mind.
- Be realistic: While it is important to show that you are ambitious, you must be careful that you don’t appear unrealistic. Claiming that you see yourself as the CEO in five years time is unlikely to get you very far with your interviewer, even if you are just joking.
- Align your goals: Make sure that you have done the leg-work and have researched the long-term goals of the company. Ensure that the personal goals you share with your interviewer compliment these. They need to know that you are looking to progress and grow with the company.
- Demonstrate your enthusiasm: It is essential that you express your excitement and interest in the current roles as well as the opportunities it could offer you in the future.
If you are prepared, your answer has the potential to demonstrate your strengths, a positive attitude, personal motivation, and that you are worth investing in. We suggest that you start preparing your answer by cross-referencing your career goals with the ambitions and values of the company.
You will usually be able to find this sort of information on the company website. This might even include the kind of training that they offer their staff. Think about how this could relate to the role you are applying for and your personal goals.
A good way to structure your answer is to start by expressing why the current role is perfect for you right now and how it will help to develop your skills so that you can progress in the future. Make sure that this progress is in a direction that will benefit the company.
How not to answer
Don’t try to predict the future: Remember that they aren’t expecting you to look into a crystal ball and offer a completely accurate answer. They want to know where you would like to be in five years time from your current perspective.
Don’t say something unrelated to the role: If you tell them that you think you’ll be working in a different industry, they are unlikely to believe that you are actually interested in the current role.
Don’t give multiple options: Make sure that you don’t say you’d like to be the manager of a particular team and then contradict this by saying that you might be working for a different company or that you’d like to be self-employed by then. This makes it seem as though you haven’t really thought about the future and that you’re indecisive.
Don’t make jokes: As this is such a common question and has been around for a while, the hiring manager will have heard it all before and is unlikely to be amused. Take the question seriously.
Don’t avoid the question or say that you don’t know: You will seem unprepared or even unambitious.
‘I was really excited when I saw the job description for this role because I could see straight away that this will help me develop my mechanical knowledge of Boeing 767s. In five years time I want to be seen as an expert in this area and as your company has recently expanded its fleet of 767s, I will have the opportunity to do this. I was also very interested in your training opportunities for employees in areas of management. This would allow me to develop my business skills alongside my technical knowledge of the industry and help me reach my goal of managing a team in the future. I have been inspired by some of the managers I have had in the past, so I am very excited about the prospect of becoming one myself.’
Why we like this answer: This candidate has aligned their goals with the direction that the company is heading in which signals to the interviewer that they are genuinely interested in the role and are looking to stay with the company for an extended period of time. The comment about management training is also a positive sign that this candidate is looking to progress through the business without being too specific.
‘As I’m at the start of my career, my goal is to find a company that will allow me to develop my skills and offer me new responsibilities as I progress. In five years time, I expect that some of these responsibilities might involve managing others which is the direction in which I’d like my career to develop. That’s why I was particularly excited to see the training that you offer your staff on the company website as the business training you offer will help me achieve this.’
Why we like this answer: This answer clearly indicates to the interviewer that the candidate is looking for a long-term role where they can develop their skills. There is also a clear indication here that they are thinking about the future and working out what steps they should be taking in order to progress. The mention of the internal training makes it clear that they would like to develop their career within this business.