When you’re sitting in an interview, there’s a good chance that most of your mental real estate lately has been going toward this day. So when the interviewer asks you where you see yourself in five years, it can be a bit of a jolt to suddenly think about the long term. Knowing the reasoning behind it and doing some prep ahead of time, you can be ready to handle this one like a pro on interview day.
1. DO understand why you’re being asked.
Five years is a long time away from now. We’ll have a different president, and maybe hoverboards will finally be a reality. (A gal can hope, right?) The interviewer isn’t asking you to predict fashion trends or whatever social media scene will replace Instagramming your food. Rather, he or she is trying to do two things: 1) gauge your commitment to this job; and/or 2) see what kind of ambitions you hold dear to your heart. So while thinking about society’s future might be fun, focus your thoughts on your professional development.
2. DON’T exaggerate, even to yourself.
“Running this place” is not an answer that will get you in the door. Think about where you realistically see yourself. Are you mid-management now, and see yourself higher up that ladder? Are you just starting out, but you’d like to be managing others in five years? Those are realistic goals. Assuming you’ll be the next CEO is, well, not. (Unless you’re interviewing right now to be the CEO, in which case this is a totally valid response.) Well before interview day, think about what you want out of this job, and what it would mean for your future.
3. DO emphasize the experience angle over the job title.
In my experience, job titles are too much of a moving target, even within a company. Positions are created, changed, and reimagined all the time. Rather than strain to figure out what your business cards will say, talk about what you hope to have achieved in the meantime. “I see myself as having deep expertise in this field, and this position is the way to do that.” Or “I would like to be taking the lead on projects, and become a great manager like the ones I’ve had along the way.”
4. DON’T be brutally candid.
If you’re interviewing for a receptionist position with a financial company when you’re really hoping to become an assistant at a music company, this is not the time to come clean and advertise that fact. The interviewer is spending a lot of time and energy on this hiring process, and him or her knowing that you’re only doing this as a Plan B is not going to get you any bonus points. So while you should never lie to answer this question, and say that all you’ve ever wanted is to be answering phones at BankCorp in five years, you can talk around that. Emphasize the skills you’d like to gain in this position, and talk about how you’re looking forward to growing roots and developing as a professional.
5. DO emphasize your commitment for the long haul.
Again, the interviewer is looking to confirm that you’re not a flight risk or someone who will give half-hearted effort to this job. While you talk about your goals for the next five years, make sure you emphasize how this position and this company will help you achieve that—and perhaps more importantly, emphasize what you bring that will help the company move forward in that time as well.
You don’t need a crystal ball to answer this question—just some forward-looking talking points that show you’re the right person for this company, for the right reasons.
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