Preparing for a Job Interview: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Where do you see yourself in five years is one of the trickier job interview questions, and it can tell the interviewer a lot about you. 

It does seem like a trap at first glance, doesn’t it? If you say you’d be happy in your current role, you look unambitious; if you say you’ll be in your superior’s position and you’re a bit too ambitious; say you don’t have anything planned that far along and you’re someone who’s “too directionless” for the company. So… what do you do?

Understand what they’re really asking

Of course, the interview isn’t really asking where you’ll be in five years. You don’t have a crystal ball, nor do they expect you to. They simply want to see what your plans are and what drives you. Recruitment requires an investment of time, effort, and resources, and prospective employers want to make sure they pick the right candidate.

What recruiters really want to know are your long-term career objectives, your plan to achieve your goals, as well as how you see the current position framed against your long-term goals.

Will you stick around or leave?

Depending on the job and the development stage of the company, the recruiter might want to know how long you intend to stay in the company. Do you see it as something long-term, or just as a stepping stone? There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but it lets the company know in what roles they can utilize you and how to plan your employee journey.

All of this is valuable information an employer needs to know before hiring you.

Do your ambitions align with the company goals?

This is another important bit of info you’ll be providing to your prospective employer when answering where you see yourself in five years. They want to know if they’ll be able to provide you with the growth opportunities you want. If you see yourself in a more senior position and the company actually doesn’t have any plans to increase the size of the team, they might not be a good fit. 

Alternatively, if you want to move laterally into a completely different field, the company may or may not be able to provide the required training, depending on its own capacities and needs.

How to answer “where do you see yourself in five years?” in an interview

It’s usually a good idea to prepare for the interview, so this question should definitely be on your list of things to think about. That way, you’ll provide a considered and thoughtful answer and get the point across. This doesn’t mean you should spout a canned response, but some practice won’t hurt.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Tie in your goals with the job description

Firstly, take a good look at the job description and see if you can find any skills or talents you want to nurture. While you’re at it, take a look at the company structure and hierarchy and do the same. That way, you’ll be able to relate your goals with the job itself and possibly open up career opportunities.

Be clear about your career goals

If you don’t have them already, take some time and think about them. Do you want to learn new things? Move into a leadership role? Are there any projects, fields, or industries you want to work in? If you’re applying for a 1st line service desk job, do you want to advance to the position of an IT manager?

One hack is to take a look at your resume and check what you’d like to see on it in five years. Are there any certifications or job titles you want to put there? Make a list and provide explanations when asked.

Consider your own interests independently

Honesty will ensure everyone is on the same page and that your prospective employer can get you what you need. Perhaps you’ll be happy with the same job because you want to spend more time with your family or to work on your hobbies.

If you don’t see yourself at the company in five years, you can give more general answers like “developing leadership skills” or “building strong relationships” with high-profile clients.

Final thoughts

As you can see, this isn’t a simple question with a clear cut answer. The interviewer can glean a lot from your answers, and you need to prepare accordingly.

Here are some final tips:

  • Structure your answer, and don’t be afraid to practice in front of a mirror – outline why the job interests you, what your goals are and how the company can help you achieve them.
  • Research the company – a no-brainer but by examining the company’s philosophy, its mode of operation, and its structure, you can see how to tie in your goals with them.
  • Be confident – while you may not have a crystal ball, the interviewers want to see that you’re sure of your career path and speaking with confidence will ensure you sound honest and forthright.

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