How to answer, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

It’s a question that commonly comes up in job interviews, yet it still has the power to stump a lot of candidates. What is it about the question, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’, that people find so tricky to answer?

One of the main reasons candidates stumble at this hurdle is because they haven’t really thought about it. Five years can seem like an eternity away. This might be particularly true if you’re just starting out in your career. You might know where you want to end up – that big corner office or generous pay packet. But you might not have thought a lot about how you’re going to get there.

“Hiring managers and recruiters ask this question to get an idea of what your career goals are and how the position you’re interviewing for fits in with them,” says John Taccori, Career Counselor at Careers Doctor.

Bear in mind that employers have an eye on the future when they ask this question. They want to make sure the person they employ will be committed to their business’ long-term vision. They want to ensure they’re investing in the right person; someone who is dedicated, ambitious and hard-working and who isn’t going to leave as soon as something better comes along.

So, before you walk into that interview you need to have a think about these things and set yourself some goals.

Here are a few tips when setting goals:

  • Evaluate and reflect: Where are you at in your career now and are you satisfied? An honest appraisal of your current situation will give you a good baseline to work from
  • Make your goals S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive)
  • Be accountable: constantly assess and re-assess your goals. Ask yourself whether you’re doing all you can to achieve them.

Divide these goals into three categories: short, medium and long-term goals.

In preparation for your interview, it might be worth thinking about how the role you’re interviewing for fits in with your short-term goals.

When you get asked where do you see yourself in five years, this will give you an opportunity to tie in your short-term goals or your medium-term goals. But remember, it’s important you tailor your answer to the role you’re going for. How would this position help you fulfil your short-term goal? And, more importantly for the five-year question, how does this role or this company set you on the right course to fulfil your medium-term goals?

For example, if you’re interviewing for a graduate business role, you might start by talking about all the new skills you think you’d be able to acquire by working for such a respected and well-regarded company. Mastering these new skills may be your short-term objective, but tell the interviewer that you also have leadership ambitions. So, you may say that you have one eye on your medium-term goal, which is moving towards a management position. It’s a good idea to round your answer off by acknowledging that you have much to learn and re-affirm your commitment to work hard so that your goals can be realised.

It’s also a good idea to expand your response beyond merely listing a position or role you’d like to see yourself in. Talk also about what you’d like to do with regard to your personal and professional development. For example, you might say that as we move into an increasingly digitalised world, you’d like to acquire the skills that allow you to move more into that space.

The interview also provides a good opportunity to learn more about how the hiring company operates. Enquire, for example, whether there are opportunities for you to be involved in a mentorship program. Or, perhaps, if you’d like to move into a leadership role in the future, find out whether those pathways exist.

Ultimately, if you’ve thought about it and are ready for it, when the interviewer asks, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’, you’ll be able to give a confident, clear response that demonstrates that you’ve thought deeply about your future and are committed to achieving your goals.

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