"Where do you see yourself in five years?" When you are hit with this interview question, let’s face it — you probably have no idea how to answer it. Even if you do have a clear plan, you most likely second guess yourself before sharing your raw, honest plan (or lack thereof) with a stranger you’ve just met at a job interview.
What's the meaning of the question?
Let’s be real: The job interview question "Where do you see yourself in five years?" is a difficult one. You can’t possibly know where you’re going to be in the future or what your career will look like in five years. Within that time frame, jobs will exist that you don’t even know about yet, and your long-term career plan could completely shift.
You’ll end up framing your answer carefully, but unfortunately, you probably won’t be honest about what you really intend to do. You’ll answer in a way that doesn't risk threatening your interviewer or the prospective company (for instance, by implying that you might want their job or position — even if that is your true ambition).
I love Liz Ryan’s take on this question. Liz says, “It takes guts to ask ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ when a hiring manager isn’t committing to keeping you employed five months or even five weeks from now.”
So, how do you respond in an authentic way that will satisfy employers?
What employers want to know
I’m going to show you two answers to this question. Remember that your situation and personality type are unique, so what you feel comfortable saying is up to you.
Employers and interviewers want to hear certain things from candidates when they ask about your five-year plan:
- You plan to be at the company long term.
- You’re on board with the company goal, and you're not already thinking about this job as a stepping stone to move on in your career path.
- You’ll be happy working hard for them for as long as they need you in that role.
Tips for responding to "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
1. Tie your long-term goals to your position in the company.
Remember to emphasize how your goals align with those of the company. For example, if you're interviewing for a marketing job, describe how you want to create marketing plans for the company or a product the company produces.
2. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the company and position.
Explain how your position at the company will help you achieve your goals (while not implying that the company is a stepping stone); emphasize how you want to be furthering your own goals and the company's.
3. Keep your response general, rather than naming a specific role or tasks you want to perform.
Being too specific can be dangerous, since you may not be able to perform the exact responsibilities you name. This could indicate to the employer that you won't be satisfied in your role.
4. Emphasize your commitment to the company.
Again, make sure your relationship with the company is emphasized throughout your response. Don't just say you want to be a marketing director; say you want to be a marketing director there.
In five years, I see myself...
1. "...mastering the role of [insert job title you’re interviewing for]. I intend to immerse myself in the position, understand the areas and processes that can be improved upon and really get to know the ins and outs of the business. I love to look for opportunities to make the department as efficient as possible."
2. "...as being a key person in the department and a liaison to all the other teams in the organization. I want to be able to extend my expertise and skills and offer to help other departments (whether it be sales, marketing, finance,or operations), using the skills and knowledge gained in my role."
3. "...being an integral part of this department and organization, serving as the go-to problem solver and mentoring others on my team. I intend to take courses and act on feedback I receive to advance my skills and grow as an employee."
4. "...continuing to build on my foundation in [skill or career], while helping [employer] become a global leader in [industry]. I'm excited to use my [skills] to help you develop new strategies and ideas, and I think that in this position, I'll have the opportunity to exercise my creativity and innovation."
Alternative approach: Creating a response that satisfies you.
The question you ask yourself about your five-year plan sounds like this:
"What if I have life and career goals that may or may not fit into what this employer might want? Should I share my personal plans and a detailed outline of my intended career path at an interview with a stranger I just met, or should I just say, “I intend to be right here working for you for as long as I’m needed?”
If you don't feel comfortable spilling your guts and your life plans and long-term career goals to interviewers and hiring managers, talk about why you're already a good fit for the role, and then talk about what you want to learn or improve.
For example, you might say:
"I want to learn more about analytics, specific software programs, and methodologies that are used to improve email open rates etc. I would love to take some additional training on x, y and z to improve x, y and z within the marketing department."
Then, make sure to ask your interviewer, "Where would you see a person with these goals going in your organization in the future?"
You can ask them what their plans are in a tactful, subtle way, and if they are open with you and give you an answer that feels honest, that’s a clear sign that you’re interviewing with a good organization.
How not to answer the question.
There are, of course, some topics to avoid and responses not to give. They include:
• Personal goals, such as those concerning a relationship or family
• Answers that suggest you don't intend to stay with the company long-term
• Answers that suggest that you're ambitious
The bottom line
You need to actively decide for yourself how you answer this question. Once you do, you’ll feel more empowered than ever, and your confidence will come through in your interview.
Natalie Fisher is an enthusiastic HR Generalist who loves her job! She’s been on over 50 interviews and received 48 job offers. Download her Free Guide: How to Nail an Interview You’re Unqualified For.