How To Answer: Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years? (Examples Included)
In the same way that many college students fret over “giving the professor what she wants,” so too do interviewees wonder how to appropriately answer this question. Do I show ambition? Or will that make the interviewer feel threatened? Do I answer that I will be retired? Do I share that I’ll actually be finishing up med school if this whole gap year thing goes as planned?
Remember that you might answer this question (as well as other interview questions) differently depending on the company you are interviewing with and the person asking you about your next five years. The bottom line is that you need to identify any fears or concerns that the interviewer might have and then put those concerns to rest.
Here are the ins and outs of what you need to consider when preparing your strategy for “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Context Is Everything
When preparing in advance for your interview, think about the different scenarios in which this question might be asked.
- What are the company’s “big picture” concerns? In other words, what is the company’s “pain point”?
- Who is asking this question? Is it your future peer? Boss? Owner of the company?
- What is the overall economic climate in the geographic region you are interviewing in? Your strategy for interviewing in a weak Rust Belt economy might be quite different than in a strong economy where employers can’t identify enough talent to fill the roles.
Consider the Company’s Concerns
Do some research into the company’s concerns and pain point. In other words, what has been a problem for the company? Ideally, your response will address those concerns and keep any worries at bay. Here are some scenarios:
Company can’t keep talent
The job market is hot, and this company has a hard time retaining talent.
Strategy Make sure you address your interest in staying with an employer for an extended period of time.
Sample Response “I want to work at a single company for the foreseeable future. I know people tend to switch jobs frequently, but I’m looking to be working for a company where I can contribute, where my work is valued, and where I feel at home. I don’t like the idea of switching employers every few years, so I’m hoping to be well settled within a company in five years.”
Company is in the midst of a rapid expansion or continued growth
Interviewers want to know if you are flexible and willing to take on more responsibility as roles may shift, expand, and change.
Strategy Emphasize your eagerness to be part of an exciting work environment and your commitment to contributing to their growth plans and/or accomplishing the primary tasks set before you in this job. You can state that you’re open to taking on higher levels of responsibility should the company think you’re a good fit for the role.
This strategy is particularly important because employers can be concerned that more mature workers are set in their ways and resistant to change. Inherently, this approach also shows that you still see yourself in the workforce in five years.
Sample Response “I foresee myself having brought a drug to market.”
Takeaway This concise, targeted response works on several fronts. It
- Addresses the growth plan of the company (to continue launching new pharmaceutical products).
- Speaks to the key job function required of the candidate.
- Shows the interviewee “gets it.” He didn’t claim he will have wanted to bring three or five drugs to market, which would be unrealistic.
- Demonstrates he is envisioning himself fully involved in the role and that retirement is nowhere on the horizon for him.
- Evidences his enthusiasm for the position for which he is interviewing. He chose to speak of an accomplishment that he plans to achieve within the role rather than to skip ahead to a role higher within the organization. Why does this matter for someone who is in his or her 50s? Because there is sometimes a fear that an older worker will be a “know-it-all” and will be difficult to work with or will expect a rapid promotion.
In nine short words, this response, from one of my actual clients, addressed all of those issues.
Think About the Interviewer’s Individual Perspective
You need to be mindful of who is asking where you’ll be in five years. You must remember to put yourself in that person’s shoes. What would you care about if you were the interviewer?
Developing your strategy might very well be a best guess, so it’s important you
- don’t overthink your response
- don’t try to only please the professor (see reference above)
- realize the interviewer might simply be asking a required question.
Be honest without going into overly specific detail.
The HR phone screener
This person might not know the ins and outs of the job.
Strategy Try not to be overly specific in your response. You can emphasize how you’d like to be with the same organization in five years’ time, contributing to the company, and taking on any additional responsibilities as management sees fit.
Sample Response “Ideally, I’d be working at the same company fulfilling a role that aligns with my strengths in IT project and business relationship management. I want to continue to add value to the organization, so I’m not picky about whether I’d be working under the current job title or under one that indicates a higher level of responsibility.”
Takeaway The sample response shows the interviewee knows her strengths, she (presumably) states that her strengths are in the key job functions, she demonstrates she is flexible, open, and not caught up with titles, and that she wants to work at the same organization in five years. This strategy can help put at ease any concerns the employer might have if the interviewee is an older worker, a younger worker, or has a “job-hopping” background.
Your future peer
This person might purely be curious (or just reading from a list of preset questions), but, if you want to be skeptical of his intentions, you might wonder if he could see you as competition. Would you eclipse him on a possible promotion?
Strategy Emphasize your interest in having refined your technical skills (or whatever is most relevant), filling a key role on the team, and continuing to help the company achieve its goals.
You can be specific as appropriate.
Sample Response “In five years time, I hope that I will have been able to work on a project for a facility valued at $20+ million because, to date, I’ve only worked on projects valued at $5 million or less.”
Takeaway This answer shows accomplishment (hey, $5 million is nothing to sneeze at), yet it doesn’t show that you’re looking to take anyone else’s promotion.
Your future boss
Ambitious bosses will know that they can’t move up within an organization unless they’ve identified and groomed someone to take their place. Your future boss might be wondering about your long-term ambition, goals, and what you see for yourself in terms of career progression. Insecure bosses may fear that someone could overshadow them. Your job is to have a plan that speaks to both concerns.
Strategy Discuss your openness to taking on more responsibility. Take notice of the interviewer’s body language.
Does she seem engaged? Does she ask questions about how you envision handling some of the tasks she is currently charged with? That might be an indication she is looking to find someone who could fill her shoes. Expand on your interest in professional growth and contributing to the company at a higher level.
Does she seem disinterested or threatened? Quickly shift your emphasis to being flexible in the ways in which you could contribute.
Interviewer: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
You: “Well, I’ve always appreciated a challenge, so I would likely be interested in exploring opportunities for advancement within the company. In the past, I’ve been able to become the top contributor in my assigned role within a couple of years. I enjoy moving up within a company, so I’d be open to that.”
Interviewer: “What role do you envision moving into? Would you like my role if you had the opportunity?”
You: “I would be happy to work in a role that aligns with my strengths in sales, account management, and marketing and wherever the company and you might think is best. [then, in a light-hearted manner] I have no plan of stealing anyone’s job.”
Realize Larger Factors at Play
Don’t forget other factors that might influence how you answer where you see yourself in 5 years. You should at least briefly think about the reputation of a particular industry in terms of turnover, or employee churn, and the duration of the job.
Industry with high turnover
The interviewer might value hearing that you want to stay in the position you’ll be hired for. This could especially be true for industries that are suffering from a dearth of labor or for factories that often have high turnover among their new hires. On a personal note, I recall learning that the factory I worked at when I was younger had incredibly high turnover during a new hire’s first two years. If the person lasted two years, then he or she was likely to stay indefinitely.
Strategy Acknowledge that you know there is a high turnover in the field, and affirm your interest in doing that job and that job only.
Sample Response “Well, I know that a lot of people start off saying they want to do this job for a long time but then move on to doing something else either because they are promoted or get an offer from a competitor. The fact is that I’ve worked for several companies, and I know that [insert job title] is what I want to do for at least the next five years. It’s not that I lack ambition or don’t want to go places; I just know what I like and what I’m good at.
“Also, I’ve switched jobs before, and I’m not easily swayed by stories of the grass being greener on the other side. At this point, I’m looking for a position that allows me to do a good job, contribute to the team, and be there to help solve problems when they arise.”
Takeaway This response directly responds to the concern that the applicant will leave for another position, to take a promotion, or leave because the job is too hard.
There is no future with this employer
If this job is known to be a short-term position, such as an internship, or one that is suited for part-time work while you are pursuing something else, this is your opportunity to showcase your accomplishments, work ethic, and interests outside of the position while still expressing interest in the current job opportunity.
Sample Response “In five years, I will have graduated from college and will hopefully be in my second year of law school. I’m really excited at the prospect of becoming an intern for the juvenile justice system because it’s going to let me see how things actually work and let me contribute in a way I haven’t been able to yet. I’m excited to help handle the cases and see how things work on the ground—the nuts and bolts of it all. So far, I’ve just studied it within the classroom setting. This opportunity will help me refine what area of law I want to specialize in and will better prepare me for my future education and law career.”
Takeaway The applicant expresses his enthusiasm for the job at hand and clearly explains how it fits into his larger career plans. He’s honest in stating that the experience will help him learn what he likes and what area of law he’d like to specialize in. He’s not trying to force something about his long-term investment in an organization when it’s not practical to do so.
Dos and Don’ts
Do: Be authentic, genuine, positive, and energetic.
- Express negativity.
- Show arrogance by stating you will have been promoted.
- Elude to skepticism by questioning whether the job will be permanent because of continued downsizing in the area (or anything similarly polarizing).
- Practice so much that you sound rehearsed.
- Tell them solely what you think they want to hear.
Remember that a job interview is as much a potential employer interviewing you as you are interviewing them. You want to be prepared and to think strategically when sharing where you see yourself in five years, but you also don’t want to set yourself up to be miserable by misleading the interviewer or even lying about your vision, goals, and ambitions.
If you think about these situations in advance, you’ll be prepared and confident. And confidence can help win over interviewers.