How to/Not Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
The best way to answer this question is to put emphasis on growing with the company (he’s a good long-term hire) and taking on new challenges (he’s goal-oriented, proactive), not on a specific title or job description (he’s flexible).
Your response to “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is your opportunity to sell the interview on your commitment to the career path and the position.
“My goal right now is to find a position at a company where I can grow and take on new challenges over time. Ultimately, I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and get involved in product strategy. But most importantly, I want to work for an organization where I can build a career.”
This answer offers some insight into the candidate’s goals and interests (becoming a manager, being involved in product strategy) so it’s not too generic. This response also strongly expresses a desire for a long-term career with the company.
“I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”
With this answer, the candidate is emphasizing her focus on learning, performance, and achievement. She is also complimenting the company and its reputation for hiring quality people (including the interviewer, perhaps?). The reference to “building a career here” indicates an interest in sticking around and contributing.
Special Scenarios: Make Your Narrative Believable
In such situations, your answer will be important. If you’re making a career change or this position doesn’t seem like an obvious next step based on your resume, your interviewer may be suspicious about whether you REALLY are committed to this field or just need to make a few shillings until something better comes your way. Nobody wants to hire an applicant who is halfhearted about the job.
For example, let’s say you were recently laid off after working in teaching sector for five years and are now interviewing for a job in biotechnology management. To be seriously considered, you need to be able to describe why you are excited about making the switch and building a career in biotech. You don’t want to leave the impression that this would only be a temporary diversion until something opens up for you in your “real” field of interest.
This is also relevant for new grads. If your major and internships are in a totally different area, be prepared to talk convincingly about why you want to invest the next five years in this new field represented by the open position.
How Not to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
Don’t overthink it: It’s great that you take the question seriously, but you are not being evaluated based on accuracy of answer. Use your answer to reassure the interviewer that you’re invested in this career path.
Wrong way to answer: “Well, that’s a very hard question. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 5 years….hmmmm….that’s tough.”
Don’t be too specific: Ambition is good. Goals are good. However, if you are too specific, you run the risk of stating goals that are not realistically achievable in the job available. From the interviewer’s perspective, that means you’re not a good fit.
Wrong way to answer: “I plan to be a VP at a major firm with at least 7 direct reports, a company car, and a salary of 150K (plus options of course).”
Don’t be flaky: You can come across as flaky if you seem to have a million different ideas about what you want to do — or if you have zero clear ideas about your future. In reality, many good candidates are exploring different options or are still trying to figure it out. However, a job interview is not a session with your career coach. You want to give the impression that you’re focused and have a plan (even if it’s not the only plan you’re considering).
Wrong way to answer: “I’d love to be CEO in five years. Then again, I’d also love to be touring with my band if that takes off.”
Don’t raise red flags: Many job seekers have long-term visions of going back to school or starting their own business. These are admirable goals, but there’s no need to share them with your interviewer, especially if you’re still weighing your possibilities.
If you’ve already committed to full-time undergraduate or post-graduate studies or another path that will conflict with your ability to perform in the job, it’s only fair to be open about it.
Also, there are some career paths that require advanced degrees and/or other additional training. For example, many finance and management consulting career paths require an MBA. In these cases, it will be expected that your five-year plan will include more schooling.
One Last Word of Advice
Take the time to think about this question and prepare a response. Don’t memorize a script, but practice how you will describe your long-term career plans in a way that will be relevant to the interviewer and help you tell your story about why you’re the best person for the job.