How to Answer the Interview Question “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
You’ve worked hard on creating a winning resume and have been invited for an interview. One of the most common questions you should prepare for is: “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
We know how frustrating it can be to have that question lobbed at you by a hiring manager. It may be one of the most common and loathed interview questions ever asked in the history of job interviews.
It’s probably because it’s so hard to know how your answer will be interpreted by the interviewer.
If you try to stress your desire to be a long-term employee, your interviewer may think you’re unambitious. If you talk about your intention to move into an upper management role, your interviewer may view you as a threat or think you’ll jump ship when a better opportunity comes along.
As much as you might hate the question, as a job seeker, you have to anticipate that sooner or later you’ll be asked “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Your best bet is to have a thoughtful answer ready to go.
Why Do Employers Ask, “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
The first step in crafting a good response is understanding why employers ask it in the first place. What information are they looking for? Do they really expect you to look into a crystal ball and predict your own future?
Fortunately, employers aren’t necessarily looking for an exact answer. They do want to see if, in general, your career goals align with the position they are looking to fill. If there’s a mismatch, then employers will be reluctant to bring you on board.
Employers’ cautiousness is understandable when you learn that most people stay at their jobs for approximately 4 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s quite expensive to onboard a new employee. Employers don’t expect you to stay forever, but they want to at least make sure you’re going to stick around long enough for them to get a good return on their investment.
Employers may also be gauging how you might grow with the company. They may want someone who wants to manage others or take on higher-level strategy work in the future. You might be interviewing for an employer that likes to promote from within and wants candidates who would be interested in those opportunities.
The 6 Do’s of Answering “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years”
Use these 6 tips to help craft a response to the 5-year-plan question that will make a lasting impression on the interviewer.
1. Do understand your own career goals
Before you answer the question for anyone else, you need to get clear on where you want to be in 5 years. In a management position? In a role where you’re using advanced skills you’ve learned? Perhaps you want to move to a new industry.
It’s a good idea to answer this question for yourself whether you’re interviewing or not. Knowing where you want to be in 5 years can help keep you on track to meeting career goals.
2. Do focus on the job you’re interviewing for
First and foremost, you want the hiring manager to know that you are excited about the position right in front of you. Focus on what you will bring to the role and what skills and experience you hope to gain.
3. Do discuss skills rather than specifics
Telling your interviewer that you want to be a digital marketing director with 10 direct reports in 5 years is way too specific. If an employer doesn’t think they can accommodate your very specific career goals, then they will not hire you.
Instead, talk about the general skills you want to acquire. Something like, “I want to continue to learn about various marketing channels and get more involved in long-term campaign strategies.”
Or “I’ve really enjoyed the management opportunities I’ve had in previous years. I’m hoping to build on my management and leadership skills over the next 5 years.”
4. Do be honest
It’s OK if you don’t have your next 5 years planned especially if you are a recent graduate. You can tell the interviewer that you are excited about the skills and experience you’ll gain from the job you’re interviewing for and that will help guide where your career goes next.
It’s also OK if your honest career ambitions are too lofty for a specific employer. It’s better to know sooner rather than later if an employer can’t offer the opportunities for advancement you might be searching for.
5. Do practice your answer
Once you have an answer to the question, practice saying it to yourself in the mirror. This will help you answer the question with confidence and reduce the chances that you’ll start to ramble during the interview.
6. Do ask questions
Remember, you want to make sure the job aligns with your career goals, so don’t be shy when it comes to asking questions.
You can ask employers “If I get hired and I perform my job successfully, where do you see me in 5 years?” It kind of turns the tables on them, but if you have an employer who answers honestly, you’ll know if career advancement is in your future or if it’s a job without much career growth.
What You Shouldn’t Say in Response to “Where Do You See Yourself 5 Years?”
Here are a few things you should never say when asked by an employer “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
1. Any kind of joke answer
Resist any temptation to throw out a joke answer like, “I see myself retired on a beach, married to a millionaire, or living off of my crypto investments.” These jokes are not funny, not appropriate, and will definitely not help you land a job.
2. I want your job
That answer doesn’t come across as ambitious. Rather, it makes you sound like a threat. Put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes. Would you hire someone who says they want your job within 5 years?
3. I don’t know
As stated above, it’s perfectly fine if you are not 100% sure about your 5-year plan, but you never want to simply say, “I don’t know.” That’ll make you look unmotivated and disinterested in working anywhere.
4. In a different department
Telling your interviewer that you want to work in a different department is just another way of saying “I won’t be sticking around for too long.”
5. In this exact position
Don’t tell a hiring manager that you’ll be in the same position in 5 years. First, they may think you’re lying. It just doesn’t sound realistic that you don’t want career growth.
Second, some managers understand that they run a department that has a lot of entry-level positions. If a candidate says they have no intention of moving on within 3 to 5 years, then it signals to the employer that the candidate is unmotivated and looking for a job where they can “coast.”
Examples of Impressive Answers to “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
For recent graduates or those still in the early stages of their career:
I’m just starting out in pharmaceutical marketing and am excited about future possibilities. In 5 years, I’ll have gained valuable experience working for a top-level pharmaceutical marketing agency like this one. I’ll have contributed to successful campaigns and have even been given the chance to develop the marketing strategy for a client on my own.
What appeals to me about this role is that I’ll have the opportunity to interact directly with clients, be a part of a larger marketing team, and learn how to build successful marketing campaigns from the ground up. It’s an exciting role that will provide the challenges and growth I want.
For those with several years of experience or those mid-way through their career:
I’ve been a human resource professional for 10 years and have had a chance to gain hands-on experience with all the different aspects of the job. I’ve found that the most rewarding part of being an HR professional has been in the training and development space. I truly get excited about developing and delivering new training programs either virtually or in person.
In 5 years, I want to be an expert in employee training and development. I want to better understand how to help large corporations deliver essential training programs to employees on-site and in remote settings.
I’ll also be adept at gaining feedback and interpreting results from training sessions so I can help leadership make decisions about what types of training are most beneficial to employees and cost-effective for the organization. I believe I can meet these goals in this role.
Of course, these are just 2 examples, but you can use them as a starting point when developing your own answer to the 5-year-plan question.
Where Will You Be in 5 Years?
Answering the 5-year-plan question is a balancing act. Use the tips above to develop an answer that helps you come across as motivated and ambitious, but still indicates that you’re interested in the opportunity that’s right in front of you.
Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.