Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years? [Interview Prep]



Where do you see yourself in five years? Let’s all agree, that this is a dumb question. So why do they even ask about your five-year plan? Well, there’s a little more to the question than just wondering where you envision yourself in five years. The questions is really here to gauge a few things.


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Why Do They Ask?

If we’re giving the interviewer the benefit of the doubt and assuming this is an honest-to-goodness question and that they want to know more about you as a candidate and a person, then we can say this question is meant to answer the questions:

  • Do you have a plan or are you just seeing where life takes you?

  • Are you ambitious?

  • What are your priorities (money, experience, skills, etc.) and how do we motivate you?

  • Does this job line up with your career aspirations?

Your interviewer may be interested in gathering any of these insights when asking the question “where do you see yourself in five years”, but these are usually just a bonus to this question, what they're really looking for is much more important to them.


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What Are They Really Asking?

So what are they really looking for when they ask this question? We need to answer this question as if the interviewer is judging your answer based on one criterion. Bottom line: “Are you a flight risk?" The interviewer wants to know if they're going to end up spending time, energy, and money to train you, just for you to move somewhere else in a year or two.


You may just want this job for some experience. You’re new to the industry and you’re hoping to get a feel for it. You just graduated and need that entry-level job before advancing. But we need to look at this from their perspective. Put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes, Would YOU hire somebody who was going to take all your training and book it once they finally get good at their job? Of course not! You want to know that the person you’ll be investing time and energy into getting up to speed won't job hop the second a better opportunity pops up for them.


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With that perspective in mind, let's take a look at one of the best ways to answer the question “where do you see yourself in five years”. First, we need to make sure we’re easing the interviewer's #1 concern: "Yes we'll still be here." Keep that at the center of your answer, and everything else is a bonus.


But we can't just say “In five years I’ll be in this job if you give it to me”. We need to also show that we’ll be bringing value to this team and this company overall. Now that we’ve got those two concepts front and center, let's take a look at a quick sample answer to this interview question:


“My current goal is to earn my PMP certification so that I can provide more value and grow in my professional skills. This company seems like a fantastic place to continue to learn and grow my knowledge and eventually be a place to utilize my PMP certification. In the next five years, I plan to consistently work towards that goal by becoming an expert in this industry and learn from all of the other great individuals working here at ABC Company. Although I’ve just graduated, In five years I hope to have a better understanding of what I’m passionate about and be able to discuss project work competently and confidently with others, and ideally take on additional leadership tasks once I become more skilled in this area.”


You’ll notice I stayed away from any titles or roles. Even saying "I hope to be a manager” implies a change in position, potentially out of this hiring manager’s team. We want to stick with meaningful yet abstract phrases: leader, mentor, subject matter expert, etc.


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Now it goes without saying, but avoid giving off the impression that you’re only interested in this position as a stepping stone to something better. This can take lots of forms such as “I hope to be a manager” or “I’d like to have great industry knowledge and move into a more impactful role”. Both of these might seem harmless, but all the hiring manager hears is:


“you want to join my team, take everything I have, and then leave me!?”


We really don’t even want to give off that flakey vibe, even If in all honesty, that’s what your plan is. And, of course, avoid those extra cliché flippant responses like “I want to be CEO of the company” or “I plan to be sitting where you are now”. It's not funny and just shows that you're not taking this seriously, so avoid it at all costs!


So to recap. When we get the question “Where do you see yourself in five years”, we’re going to focus on a response that says “ If you hire me here, I’ll become a valuable member of the team that you can rely on for years to come.” and were NOT going to suggest that this job is just a stepping stone for something bigger. This can be a great question to show that you're serious about your career and about working at this company, so simply treat it as that opportunity rather than a meaningless guess about your future, and you'll do great!



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