When faced with a job interview in many professional careers, this is a very common question and one you should definitely prepare for. It can be quite daunting, either because you are young, literally haven’t planned and want to remain open to life’s possibilities, or because sometimes it can feel like a trick question that is designed to catch you out for having too much ambition or having several options you are seriously considering.
This article will help with your interview preparation by giving you some excellent example answers to this question, and comprehensive lists of what not to say and what you should include in your answer.
The first thing you need to understand is why the interviewer is asking you this question in the first place. Just what is the interviewer looking for?
The basic answer is that hiring and training are expensive. Employers want to ensure they hire people who are a good fit for the company and who are motivated and will actually be committed to the position and stick around.
They don’t expect you to be able to describe in precise detail every aspect of your life, but they do want to understand how your grand plans and their company are aligned. They don’t want to see any red flags that might make them think you are going to jump ship for the ‘next big opportunity’ that floats by – whether that is graduate school, a different job, or starting your own business.
There are also a handful of other interview questions which are related, and designed to give the interviewer similar information. You can also consider the tips in this article in your preparation for these questions:
- What are your long-term career goals?
- What is the most important thing for you in your career?
- What are you looking for in this position?
- How do you define success?
- What is your ideal job at this stage in your career?
A couple of these questions are even trickier, as it is even less obvious what the interviewer wants to really know. So, this a big heads up and you will be thankful for the warning and advice here.
What you should definitely not include in your answer.
Keeping in mind what we said above, the following are some things that would best be avoided in your response to the question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. All of these things will likely give the interviewer a reason to pass you over and move on to more seriously considering another applicant.
Do not give any hint that you do not wish to remain with the company you are interviewing with. 5 years is not a long time for many positions and the company wants to know you have the will to stick around and contribute to the company for the long-term.
So, let’s be honest for a moment, as this is crucial. You are probably interviewing at a range of companies and considering several potential directions in your career path. This is, of course, smart to do to a certain extent. However, a job interview is not the place to talk about these.
You should not lie in an interview, but you also do not need to be completely open and candid about all of the potential options that you are investigating.
Do not say: “I want to be where you are/ have your job”. This can easily come off badly, as you really don’t know the background and experience of the person interviewing you.
Do not try to be funny. This will rarely work. The interviewer wants a well considered and balanced answer.
Do not try to avoid or side-step the question. Again, the interview wants to hear an answer and they will notice when you do not provide the information they seek. You will also risk coming across as flaky and unprofessional.
What You Should Include in Your Answers:
To answer the question “where do you see yourself in five years?”, it is good to keep in mind a very clear and structured response which will reassure the interviewer and provide them with the key information they want to hear. All of your answers should be tailored to the position and realistic in scope.
Topics to include.
- Your interest and enthusiasm for the position you are applying for
- Some of your core strengths
- Your professional goals
Answer in two parts. One good way to structure these points in your answer is to break it into two parts. First focus on the immediate position that you are applying for. Then, in the second part think of your future plans and expectations, especially where the position could lead to the current organization. This gives a clear structure to your answer and allows you to incorporate the important points above in a logical way.
Keep it general, but focused. It is sometimes can be hard to know all the information about a company’s internal structure and typical career progressions. Keep your answer focussed by basing it on what you know about the current position, but not so specific that you might flag anything that wouldn’t be a good fit for the organization. Avoid giving specific future job titles.
Stress your interest in a long-term career. The interviewer wants to be reassured that you’re ready to really integrate and grow with the firm. This is probably especially important if your resume has a lot of positions listed which you have held for only a short time. Show you are ready for a long-term position.
Demonstrate your enthusiasm. Yes, we did mention that before. The interviewer knows you’re interested, but this question demands you go further.
Some Great Example Answers to the Question: “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
“I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills and get involved in interesting projects. This company has a reputation for employing some of the most innovative thinkers in the field, and I’m really attracted by that. I am driven to be the best at what I do and the opportunity to work with people I can really learn from is a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”
What is good about this answer: There is a clear emphasis on building a career and commitment to the firm is demonstrated by showing esteem for the company’s reputation and staff. Additionally, the candidate shows her enthusiasm for learning and achievement.
“Right now my goal is to find a position at a company where I can consolidate my skills, grow and take on new challenges over time. In the next few years, I’d like to assume more senior software engineering responsibilities and get involved in engineering management. But most importantly, I would like to work for an organization where I am able to build a career.”
What is good about this answer: It offers some insight into the candidate’s goals and interests, as well as what attracts them to the current position. It also clearly states the desire for a long-term career.