“So tell me—where do you see yourself in five years?” This is pretty common professional small talk, but it can have a major impact if it’s being asked by your boss, or in a job interview. Some people are lucky and have a vision board and an answer ready to go. Some of us haven’t thought about it for a while (or maybe even at all), and need to think it over. However, you don’t want to let the conversation drop while you think about what you want.
In theory, you might come across this question anywhere. But realistically, it’s more likely to come up in a job interview, or similar. Their goal is to gauge your long-term career aspirations and your ability to be self-reflective and think quickly on your feet. Your goal is to answer it efficiently and well, with your answer reflecting positively on you. It’s important to be thoughtful about it, because your answer may reveal a lot about you to the hiring personnel evaluating you as a potential candidate.
If you’re starting to get anxious about whether or not your ability to answer this question passes muster, don’t be—there are several strategies you can take advantage of in order to handle it well and improve your position during interviews. So, if you’re ever asked this question out in the wild, here are some strategies for rocking your answer.
Understand what you’re being asked
Five years may seem like a long time from now, especially when you’re focused on your immediate work-life and next step. The interviewer isn’t asking you to predict fashion trends or whatever social media scene will replace TikTok dances. Rather, they are trying to do two main things: 1) gauge your commitment to this job; and/or 2) see what kind of ambitions you hold dear to your heart.
They’re also not asking you to be hyper-specific. It’s more about what you see yourself doing holistically. Are you in a particular job? Are you at a certain seniority level? Are you looking to evolve into a different type of role?
The first thing to do when you hear this question is to take a deep breath and relax. Why? Because it’s not a trick question and it’s not designed to be. You shouldn’t feel pressured into making up a fantastical answer that demonstrates a desire to be on some unrealistic career trajectory.
At its core, your answer should reflect an honest but carefully considered and logical look at how you’d like to see your professional goals expand and evolve over time. It’s ok to reflect a level of ambition; in fact, your answer should show a desire for growth—no one fully respects a stagnant mindset. Just make sure that your answer shows a deep understanding of the industry you’re pursuing and reflects a level of growth that someone can reasonably hope to achieve in five years. “Running this place” is not an answer that will get you in the door, or amuse the interviewer.
Think about where you really see yourself. Are you mid-management now, and see yourself higher up that ladder? Are you just starting out, but you’d like to start managing others in about 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 in particular, and what it would mean for your future.
But don’t be too honest!
If you’re interviewing for a receptionist position with a financial company when you’re really hoping to work for 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 then 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.
Show you are committed to your next job or opportunity
You want your answer to this question to highlight the fact that you’re ambitious and hope to achieve professional growth over the next five years, but you don’t want your answer to make it seem as if the current job in front of you is merely a brief stepping stone that you hope to leapfrog quickly. Make sure your answer doesn’t come across that way.
The asker may be looking to confirm that you’re not a flight risk or someone who will give half-hearted effort to this job while keeping an eye on the next big thing. 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.
Use confident body language
Always be sure that your delivery is just as strong as the content of your answer because your audience will certainly be paying attention. Your answer should be confident and straight to the point, with impeccable body language and focus. If you seem hesitant or unsure, that can undermine what you’re trying to say. Eye contact and a light and professional tone will do you and your well-thought-out answer a real service.
Take the opportunity to praise yourself
The five-year question is a good chance to throw in an extra plug for your achievements and skills. When you say what you hope to be doing in five years, be sure to back it up with reasons why your talents will help make that possible at every turn.
Uptowork recently highlighted several well-crafted answers to the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Consider adapting these sample responses to fit your situation and goals.
“In five years, I want to complete the internal training program for my position. I’ve read about it on your website, and I think it’s a fabulous program. Not only would I get all the training for my role, but I would be on the fast track to becoming a project manager. That’s my top career goal. Plus, my ideal path would include working abroad for a couple of years. I understand that it’s of value to you to find people prepared to do so.”
“One of the reasons I want to work for P&G is because I find your personalized approach to training attractive. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with a mentor and immerse myself in learning new skills. I’m also the type of employee that likes to hit the ground running and jump into projects as soon as possible. So, over the next five years, I see myself taking on as many complex assignments as the position would allow. By the end of that period, I want to say that I’ve built lasting client relationships. I want to say that I’m one of the best Salespeople on the team. I wouldn’t mind becoming someone who could train and mentor others when the time comes as well.”
“As a marketing professional, I want to develop my skill set. At the end of the next five years, I want to know how to use software like Photoshop or InDesign. I want to have a better understanding of social media and video marketing. Plus I’d like to get into project management. I would like to learn on the job. Regardless, I want to look into online or evening courses. My hope is that I can apply my new skills to my job with you.”
There’s no need to get nervous at the thought of having to tackle the (almost inevitable) question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” in interviews and other high-stakes situations. Use the strategies and advice presented here to put your best foot forward when answering the question with confidence and style. Good luck!
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