Our last post addressed one of the most challenging questions you might face during an interview; “Why are you looking for a new job?”. This week, we tackle another humdinger; “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is an interview question that often finds people reacting like a deer caught in the headlights.
And quite rightly too. The answer you prepare could mean the difference between receiving a job offer or a rejection letter. With that in mind, here is a little insider insight into this formidable question and how to tackle it. As an added bonus, we’ll also give some example answers and a list of the answers you should never give!
Is Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years A Trick Question?
Where you will find yourself in 1826 days (or 1827 where two leap years are involved) is anybody’s guess. Life can present us with an untold number of opportunities during that time. Any of which might guide your career in a direction you could never anticipate. Therefore, it could be considered tricky.
A trick question deserves a trick answer in response. Ordinarily, our advice to candidates in answering any other interview question is to be specific. In this instance, however, we advise taking the opposite approach.
The answer you give to this question should be as vague as possible. Although it should still tell the hiring manager what they want to hear.
The reason for this is that even when skills are scarce, the competition for every advertised vacancy is fierce. Therefore, employers use the recruitment process to eliminate candidates who are not a good fit for their future growth plans. Therefore, you need to convince them that remaining one of their employees is part of your long-term career strategy. If not, it is improbable that you will receive an offer post-interview.
Do You Have To Have A Five Year Plan To Be Able To Answer This Question?
Surprisingly, most people don’t have a five-year career plan. In fact, an estimated 8% achieve their career goals because the remaining 92% don’t set themselves any at all. Indeed then, considering your future plans at all puts you among the minority. Thereby, preparing an answer to this question increases your chances of being hired enormously.
What the Interviewer is Looking for When They Ask This Tricky Question
Upon asking about your five-year career aspirations, interviewers do not expect a detailed account of your expectations. Indeed, answering this question in too much detail could reduce your chances of being hired.
It’s doubtful that you will be able to acquire detailed knowledge of potential career paths available within the company. It is therefore unlikely that you answer will convince them that your personal goals align with their future growth plans.
Here are the five main things an interviewer is looking for when they ask; “where do you see yourself in five years”:
- How much preparation you have done for the interview
- Whether or not you have ambition
- If your expectations are realistic
- How this particular job aligns with your long term career goals
- Your level of commitment to the company
The Detail Behind The Thinking
Interviewers are only interested in hiring people who are genuinely interested in working for their company. They will often throw in questions accordingly to weed out those who appear ill-prepared.
In today’s fast-moving economy, businesses are most likely interested in hiring talented individuals with aspirations to drive their company forward. Therefore they want evidence that you envisage growing with them and are keen to equip yourself with the necessary skills.
Expecting to be CEO within five years when applying for an entry-level position is probably not a realistic expectation. Although, perhaps it really is your ultimate long term aim to reach Chief Executive level. In which case, a more astute answer to this question should demonstrate an awareness of any obstacles you need to overcome.
Let’s say you’re applying for a job in Customer Service, but you hope to become a Project Manager. These are two seemingly unrelated job titles. Therefore, you will need to explain how you expect to connect the dots to be considered a good fit.
The process of interviewing, hiring and training staff is hugely time-consuming and costly. Consequently, no employer wants to hire anyone unless they plan to stay with the business for a long time. How much thought you have given to where you see yourself within their business is, therefore, a good indicator of how likely you are to stay.
Examples of how NOT to Answer Questions Concerning Your Five Year Plan
You should arrive at an interview having given some thought as to where you see yourself in five years. If you don’t, possible answers that might spring to mind in a moment of panic might be:
- Gosh, I hadn’t given it much thought
- Anywhere but here
- I’m just using this as a stepping stone to a better opportunity
- In my dream job with your biggest rival
- Higher up the ranks
- Running my own business
- On a yacht somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean
- Your position looks pretty good
- Still in the same job
- Happily enjoying my lottery winnings
Any of these answers would be a red flag to the employer not to hire you. The reason for this is that they all lack the level of thought and detail the interviewer is seeking.
How To Answer This Question
Don’t formulate an answer which focuses on job titles. A better way to tackle this question is to highlight skills you are keen to develop within five years.
Paying attention to the wording of a job description can offer the clues you need to answer this question. For example, who the position is reporting to indicates future career prospects within the business.
Furthermore, job adverts usually hint toward the level of commitment the business expects from their employees. A good indicator might be in their requirements in an ideal candidate, such as; ‘have an eagerness to learn new skills’.
Sample Answers to Questions Regarding Five Year Career Goals
Let’s say that you are applying for the position of Social Media Assitant. Although you have long-term career aspirations to be a Marketing Manager. In which case, you might respond by saying:
“Within five years, I expect to develop my skills to a point where colleagues view me as someone with expert knowledge of Marketing principles. Furthermore, I wish to expand my knowledge in other areas such as SEO and PPC.”
This answer shows that even though you are interviewing for a junior position, you have ambitions to progress. It also demonstrates your eagerness to learn without pinning your hopes on a particular job role. This is something to be mindful of, because an existing employee might already be in line for the position.
If you are unsure of what you want your ultimate job role to be, a less specific answer might be:
“Short term, I am seeking a role that will challenge my ability within a company which offers opportunities to grow and develop my skills. Looking to the future, I see myself taking on more managerial responsibilities that involve making strategic decisions. From my research, I understand that you employ some innovative thought leaders. Which is why I am so keen on building my career within your business.”
This answer does not give details of the specific skills you expect to acquire. Although it demonstrates that you want the job enough to have researched the business. Furthermore, it explains that you can see yourself staying with them for some time to come.
Interviewers may not specifically ask whether or not you have a five-year plan. Although it is highly probable that you will face similar questions regarding your future career plans during job interviews. It is therefore prudent to prepare an appropriate answer – one that’s worthy of a job offer.
If you need help with understanding the career paths which may be available, our career experts are here to help. In addition to the various career opportunities on offer, our consultants can offer valuable insight into the interview process.
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