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:
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 that show employers you’re a good fit for their position and company.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
Now that we’ve looked at why employers hiring managers ask where you see yourself in five years and how to answer, let’s finish with a couple of word-for-word example answers.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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:
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….”
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.
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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