One of the most common interview questions you’ll hear is: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? (or 2 years, 3 years, etc.) The problem: Who honestly knows where they’ll be in that amount of time? The trick is: Hiring managers don’t actually expect you to know when answering this question. They’re just looking to hear a few key things in your response.
So in this article, I’m going to share:
- Why hiring managers ask this interview question and what they’re really looking for
- How to answer the question in 3 steps to show employers you’re a good fit for their job
- The mistakes to avoid when answering where you see yourself in 5 years
- Word-for-word sample answers
Why Employers Ask Where You See Yourself in 5 Years
When the interviewer asks you this question, they aren’t expecting you to really know where your career or life will be in five years. Nobody’s going to check on you. In fact, you might not even be with the same employer. So it doesn’t matter if your prediction of your long term goals is accurate.
All that matters is you give a good answer that gets you the job offer, and you can do that by highlighting certain traits that the interviewer wants to see, and traits that show the employer you’re a good fit for their position and company.
What hiring managers want to hear when they ask this question:
- They want to hear that you’ve thought about your long term goals and future, and that you care about your career path and growth (because this means you’ll work harder, have a better attitude, and be more motivated in their company).
- They want to make sure you’re ambitious and goal-oriented in general.
- They want to know that you’re interested in the specific type of job they’re hiring for, and that you aren’t just applying because you’re desperate to find any position you can land (this is also why they ask, “Why are you applying for this position?”)
If you don’t show employers that you’ve put thought into what direction your career is going and/or if you can’t show that your goals align with the job you’ve applied for, it’s going to cost you job offers. And if you seem like you don’t really want their specific position, they won’t hire you either. Employers have a LOT of applicants to choose from and almost always pick a candidate who has specific reasons for wanting their job.
This means researching the company before your interview and being ready to name a few things that excite you about their job description, their company’s overall mission, their industry, etc.
Watch: How to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
How to Give the Perfect Answer to Where You See Yourself in 5 Years
First, here’s the WORST thing you can do: Respond in a way that makes you sound like you haven’t put any thought into it this all, or that you don’t have career goals or long-term aspirations. Remember – employers want to know that they’re hiring someone who is goal-oriented, motivated, and cares about their long term career and future.
So that’s step one…
1. Think about where you’d actually like to be in 5 years in your career
Nothing sounds worse than saying, “Wow, I haven’t thought about that. I have no idea.” And you also don’t want to draw a blank and say “Um, let me think.” So thinking about this ahead of time will prepare you to talk confidently about the topic.
2. Make sure you sound slightly ambitious
You don’t want to say, “I see myself in the same position doing the same work five years from now.” Remember – nobody’s going to tap you on the shoulder in 5 years and check on you! If you do want to stay in your next job for five years without trying to get any promotions, that’s your choice. But saying that won’t help you get hired for most of the high-quality jobs out there.
So for the interview, you just need to say something that’s a bit challenging but still reasonable.
3. Tailor your answer to the company & job
As a final step, make sure that with whatever five-year goal you share, you can explain how the job you’re interviewing for fits into that goal. Otherwise, they’re going to be wondering whether you really want their job and whether you’ll stay long-term. For example, if you’re applying for your first Supervisor position, and you want to be a Manager in the next five years, you could explain that you think you’d really enjoy leading people and your big career goal is to break into management. Then you could easily explain how this Supervisor role is a great first step to get into leadership, and how you would excel in this job and enjoy the opportunity.
This is also true when answering, “what’s your dream job?” – you don’t need to say this is your exact dream position, but it should have some similarities to what you want to be doing long-term!
Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? Sample Answers
Now that we’ve looked at why employers hiring managers ask where you see yourself in five years and how to answer, let’s take a look at word-for-word example answers.
Example answer #1
“It’s only been two years since I graduated and began working, but I’d say that my goal in five years is to see significant growth in my sales skills. One of my longer-term career goals is to be involved in sales training and mentoring, maybe as a Manager or corporate trainer, but I know the first step is to master the day-to-day work. So in the next five years, I look forward to continuing to build my sales skills, both in-person and over the phone, and continuing on my current career path as a salesperson. I reviewed your job posting and it seems like this position would offer some great challenges and learning opportunities for someone relatively new in their sales career like myself.”
Example answer #2
“In the next 5-10 years, I hope to be leading a team or department. I’ve always enjoyed leadership in my career, so growing as a leader is one of my core career goals right now. Your job posting looked exciting and mentions some great leadership opportunities, so I was eager to have a job interview and learn more about this opportunity.”
Example answer #3
“Since becoming a Project Lead in my last job, I’ve found I really like project management. In five years, I hope to be leading larger projects, or maybe managing multiple project teams. I thought your Senior Project Manager position was a great step in that direction and would provide a nice challenge, while also making use of my 2+ years of prior project leadership experience in this same industry.”
Example answer #4:
“I’ve actually been developing my five year plan recently. Since I’m looking for an entry level position in social media and content marketing right now, in five years I would like to be a manager or supervisor in this area, or possibly a project manager. So that means that in the next few years, I need to master the fundamentals and hands-on aspects of the role to advance in the future. And then in the very long term outlook for my career, I’d love to branch out into other areas of digital marketing and lead an entire marketing department for my company. This position seems like a great fit for my five-year goal, based on what I saw on the job description, so I was eager to come have an interview to learn more.”
The example answers above are effective for a few reasons. They’re doing the following:
- Showing the hiring manager that you’ve clearly thought about this topic
- Making sure to sound slightly ambitious
- Explaining not only where you want to be in 5 years, but also how their specific job fits into your longer-term goals, and why you applied for their position!
If you do these three things and keep your answer concise and direct, you’ll put a smile on the interviewer’s face and move one step closer to getting the job offer. These are the types of responses that the interviewer wants to hear when deciding whether job seekers are a fit for the company. You can use this same style of answer if a hiring manager asks about your career goals for 2 years, 10 years, or any other time period. And you can also use this if they ask a similar interview question like, “What are your career goals?” Just adjust the beginning of your answer and say, “In 5 years, I hope to be doing….”
Tailoring Your Answer for Different Job Levels and Industries
When responding to the question, you’ll want to consider the status of the role in the department’s hierarchy.
If you’re applying for an entry-level role, it’s okay to express your ambition to graduate to the organization’s next level within five years. For instance, if the position is for a bookkeeper but you’re working on a bachelor’s degree in accounting, it’s reasonable to expect to move up to a staff accountant position after graduation.
Be careful in your response if you’re applying for a mid-level position. Employees in these roles often spend some time there until senior-level executives retire or move into other roles. Consider who is holding the position you’re hoping for in the next five years and whether they are following a career trajectory.
Rather than telling the hiring manager you’re hoping for the top-dog role, express an interest in learning new skills that will benefit you in the job you’re applying for. You could also mention lateral movements within the department to expand your skill set.
Individuals applying for a senior-level position should talk about goals they hope to achieve for the company, such as growing sales or introducing a new product. If they’re successful, they’ll bring additional value to the organization.
Industry-Specific Example Answers
“I envision myself as an experienced nurse practitioner, having gained extensive knowledge in patient care and cutting-edge treatments. I hope to lead a team of dedicated healthcare professionals as a charge nurse, where we work together to provide exceptional care while implementing innovative solutions that improve health outcomes. Additionally, I aim to actively participate in research and continuous learning to stay updated with the latest advancements in the field.”
“Five years from now, I see myself as a senior software engineer, leading a talented team of developers and contributing to high-impact projects that solve complex problems. I aim to foster a culture of innovation and collaboration within my team, where we constantly challenge ourselves to learn and grow. I also hope to mentor junior developers, sharing my knowledge and passion for technology to help them thrive in their careers. By staying updated with the latest industry trends, I plan to develop cutting-edge solutions that drive growth for the company.”
“In five years, I aim to become a financial analyst, leveraging my expertise to optimize investment portfolios and help clients achieve their financial goals. I hope to have developed a strong understanding of market trends and financial models, enabling me to provide insightful recommendations that contribute to the firm’s overall success in the industry. By staying ahead of emerging investment opportunities and engaging in continuous learning, I plan to become a trusted advisor to clients, colleagues, and the company.”
What to Avoid When Answering
If a hiring manager asks where you see yourself in five years, avoid the following mistakes in your answer:
Not Expressing Yourself Clearly
Sometimes, job candidates simply don’t know how to answer this question. They don’t want the hiring manager to think they’ll leave the job as soon as they find something better, so to avoid appearing overly ambitious, they’ll give a generic answer that doesn’t give the interviewer any sense of their aspirations.
Interviewers want to know that you’re goal-oriented. Be prepared with a specific answer that shows you have given real thought to your future and your desired career trajectory.
Expressing a Desire to Leave the Company or Industry
Here’s a secret: telling the interviewer what you plan to accomplish in the next five years is okay. Just ensure it’s not wildly different from the role you’re interviewing for.
For instance, if you’re applying for a job as a financial reporting manager and you tell the hiring manager you plan to open an accounting business in the next five years, they may decide on another candidate. They know you’re not thinking long-term about their organization.
Make sure your answer relates to the company and your profession. You can also include personal goals. Just ensure those objectives don’t require you to leave the company or enter a new field of work. Otherwise, the hiring manager will choose a different applicant who genuinely aspires to stay with the organization long-term.
Only Focusing on Personal Ambition
We all have personal goals we’re working toward. Perhaps you’re writing a book you hope to publish soon or waking up at the break of dawn to exercise and lose weight. Those are great goals to have, and you should continue progressing.
While you can convey personal goals in your response, you should also find a way to incorporate career goals that apply to the position.
For instance, if you’re working on an advanced degree or certification that applies to the role or your profession, that’s something you’ll want to share with the hiring manager. They’ll see that you’re taking the initiative to improve yourself, which will benefit you and them.
Conclusion: How to Determine Where You See Yourself in 5 Years, and How to Answer
If you read everything above, you know know what employers look for when asking this interview question, and how to explain where you see yourself in five years to impress them.
The first step to take is to think about a general idea of where you’d hope to be in five years. Remember: Nobody’s going to be following up and checking on you! Just take a rough guess at what direction you’d like to go in with your career, and pick something that sounds ambitious… (something that’s 1-2 steps ahead of where you’re currently at in your career). If you do this, you’ll show the interviewer that you’re goal-oriented in your career and have taken the time to think about where you see yourself in five years or more.
And if you can explain how their job fits in with your long-term goals (Step 3/3 in the instructions earlier in the article), then they’ll be even more impressed with your response to this interview question.
That’s how to answer where you see yourself in five years in a job interview.