Chances are, you’re not a fortune teller. And if you were, you probably wouldn’t be here seeking career advice. So what’s a job seeker to say when an interviewer asks, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
This common interview question isn’t meant to be answered with a full, detailed life plan. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from the pandemic years, it’s that anything can happen in life. Instead, it’s vital for the aspiring job seeker to understand just what is being asked and answer in a way that aligns your goals with the value you can bring to the role. We can’t determine the future, but we can guide you toward a successful answer!
What is being asked?
You don’t need to be a Type A person with a full outline of your future to nail this question. What an interviewer is really looking for is an assessment of your overall goals and level of motivation.
Career coach Tara Goodfellow says an interviewer wants to know that those goals and motivations align with the role and the organization. Top Resume’s M.A. Smith adds that asking this kind of question gives an interviewer insight into your thought process and how this role will fit into your overall plan. Recall that an interviewer is looking for the value you can bring to a role. Keep that in mind as you craft your answer.
“They also want to know what kind of person you are and will become. What’s most important to you: being proud of the work you do? Becoming a great team member? Learning how to be an awesome manager?” –Eloise Eonnet, career coach
How to answer
Connect it to your career goals
With a better understanding of just what is being asked, make sure that your answer conveys the value you’d bring to the role.
You’ll first need a clear understanding of what your goals are. Indeed says to think about the types of accomplishments you’d like to see on your resume in five years. Are you looking to gain the experience needed to obtain a senior role? Are you trying to get a start in an appealing industry? Find ways to connect this role to those goals.
“You don’t want to say, “I see myself in the same position doing the same work five years from now.” –Biron Clark, Career Sidekick
Consider the skills you have and the skills needed to succeed in your career path, and use specific skills from the job description if possible, according to Glassdoor. Expressing a desire to utilize and grow those skills clearly demonstrates value to an organization.
Express sincere interest in the role
Ambition doesn’t always pay the bills. Sometimes, you’ll need to take a job that might not be your dream job. That’s okay, but you need to find a way to make this role fit your ambitions without sounding uninterested.
Career Sherpa Hannah Morgan says you don’t need to make up something you think the interviewer would want to hear; that’s a good way to NOT get the job. Instead, find a way to connect the role to your goal without saying you don’t want to be there long. As mentioned above, focus on the skills you could gain and how this role could get you to your dream job—without implying that may be with another organization.
Be open ended
Remember that this is not a legally-binding life plan. Adaptability is one of the key skills employers seek, and too rigid of a plan can be unappealing.
Hiring managers want to see ambitious but realistic goals according to LinkedIn. You don’t need an exact title or role in mind as long as you can adequately show that you understand the work and skills involved to achieve your dream.
Don’t do what I did and open with a joke about seeing the future. Everyone knows the future is malleable and that twists in the road happen. Potential employers are looking for sincere answers so they can gauge whether you’re a good fit. Using humor may make you seem insincere or it can look like you haven’t put thought into the answer. Cliche answers like “I’ll be coming for your job!” are equally unappealing.
“Interviewers want to hear that you have thought about your long-term goals in relation to their company. Responding with a joke indicates that you may not be committed to this opportunity” –MasterClass
How NOT to answer
Other topics to avoid include talking about other industries, your personal goals outside of work, the desire to open your own business or go freelance, saying you expect to be CEO in five years, calling the role a stepping stone, or saying you haven’t considered a five-year plan. These types of answers show a lack of focus and preparation or will make the interviewer think you aren’t interested in the company long term. It’s expensive and time-consuming to bring in a new worker. The company wants to know they’re getting the right person for the job.
Hopefully, we’ve demystified this common question a bit and provided clarity as to what an interviewer is actually looking for. You don’t need a total picture of what your life will be in five years, but having an idea of what you’d like to accomplish and how this role can help you get there goes a long way. Be sure to express the value you can bring to the company and avoid any indication your goals will take you away from that company and you might find a great new job in your future!