We’ve all been there. Successfully advanced through the stages of recruitment, a potential new job just within reach and then the dreaded make-it-or-break-it moment happens when the interviewer asks: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Insert: Awkward silence.
Body says, “Run.” Mind says, “Oh, no!”
I know what you’re thinking: Will what you say be used against you? Are they reading your body language? Can they sense that you’re newly married, have babies on your mind or planning to expand your family?
Wait! Have you been thinking too long about it? Should you cough? Ask for a glass of water? Excuse yourself for a washroom break to buy yourself more time?
I’ve been there — and likely been sweatier than you!
The good news is I’ve survived this dreaded interview question and I’m here to tell you how you can, too.
But, before you deliver the winning answer that will get you the dream job, it’s useful to understand why the interviewer is asking you this question in the first place.
Basically, what a new employer is trying to determine is if your career goals match what the company can offer you.
Here’s what they’re thinking:
Are you excited about this job or is this just a stepping stone until something better comes along?
Do your goals fit in with our company culture?
Will you work hard and be committed?
Do you see a future with this company?
It really comes down to this. Recruiting, hiring and training for a new role is a long, time-consuming and costly process. A company is not interested in hiring candidates, no matter how great they look on paper, who won’t fit into the fiber of their organization. They also don’t want someone who likely won’t stick around.
Add that you’re a woman at the “marrying” or “mommying” age and this becomes an even more delicate matter.
Make no bones about it. The bias is implicit. Sure, companies can’t legally discriminate against women who are about to get married or become mothers, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Here’s what you can do about it.
Honesty is always the best policy.
That’s mainly why you’ve gotten this far along in the hiring process. You’re being considered for the job because of your proven skills, previous experience, references and interviewing success.
Here’s the thing, though. As specific and honest as you’ve been about everything career related, it’s okay to offer a general response. A good one to start with for this question: “I see myself here.”
Back it up with professional goals
Remember this is a job interview, not a life interview. Your marital or family situation don’t need to be considered here.
Stay focused on your professional aspirations and career goals for the next five years. Then share how they align with the company you’re looking to join. Also consider how this company will help you attain them and why they are important to you.
Focus on your real life today
We all have hopes and dreams for our lives – professionally and personally. But, here’s the tricky thing about life: we don’t always get what we want. Circumstances change, we grow, and the things we may want today may not be in the cards for us later on.
Instead of worrying about how your future marriage or family situation will affect your career goals, be sure you base your goals on your current, very real situation as it is today, not as you wish it to be someday.
With all that said, consider emphasizing the following:
Your long-term career goals as they relate to the company’s objectives.
How this role can help you pursue those goals for the benefit of the company.
Your interest in growing within the company.
And, by all means, if the "where do you see yourself in five years" question (or any follow-ups) make you feel uncomfortable, remember, you don’t have to answer them.
Questions asked during an interview should focus on your qualifications for the job, not personal matters. Most Human Resources professionals know which questions are legal to ask during an interview, but others in the hiring process might slip in a personal or inappropriate one.
If you're not sure, you gauge your sensitivity to a question by asking yourself if a man would be asked the same questions. No? Then, take a deep breath, maintain your composure, look your interviewer in the eye, and if you're so bold, tell them why you won't answer their question. Otherwise, pivot by asking a question or making a statement that will deviate the conversation back to the task at hand.
No matter how you handle the situation in the moment, if you're uncomfortable with any line of questioning, you may want to consider if the company is worthy of your talents.
Good lucky, lady! And, remember, you got this!
Lisa Durante is a working mama who believes in the power of AND. She offers strategies and insights, as well as resources and programs to help you design a career and life that works for you as a working mama. Get new tips and free resources every week at LisaDurante.com.