Considering you’ve known each other for maybe 15 minutes, it may seem odd at first for an interviewer to ask the question “Where do you want to be in five years?” After all, isn’t the purpose of the meeting to figure out your suitability for the position currently available?
“This is one of those stock questions employers ask in hopes of figuring out if your goals and aspirations fit the employer’s culture and requirements of the job,” says Duncan Mathison, co-author of Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough. “It also helps answer a core question a manager wants to ask but really can't be so direct, namely, ‘How long can I count on you to stay put in this job?’”
In order to provide a suitable response, prepare and practice what to say if asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” before going to the interview. The following can help in formulating an appropriate response:
Stay positive and realistic
Employers want to ensure your professional goals are aligned with their expectations for the role, notes career coach Kristen Zavo, author of Job Joy: Your Guide to Success, Meaning and Happiness in Your Career. “It takes a lot of effort and investment to recruit talent, so it’s important for them to see that you’re a good fit and have the potential to grow with the role and the company.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to present a fully fleshed-out career timetable.
“Don’t stress if you don’t have the next five years planned out perfectly,” says Zavo. “Instead, focus on your interest in the role, growth with the company, being a team player and making a measurable impact for your team, the company and the greater community.”
Demonstrate ambition tempered with reality. Goals show you’re a go-getter, and employers love motivated candidates. However, applicants also need an awareness of how the industry works and common career trajectories. Employers may worry that you’re misinformed, setting yourself up for disappointment, or too demanding if you think you can become a supervisor in five years when it normally takes 10.
So how might a candidate respond if asked, “Where do you want to be in five years?” Mathison offers the following food for thought:
Example 1: “Well, as with any career or job it is my hope that each day I come in, now or five years from now, I am able to use my skills and knowledge to bring significant value to my employer. With time I expect to be challenged, gain experience, learn and develop professionally. Therefore, I would expect that in five years I would gain enough value to be provided with new opportunities and advanced responsibilities. Can you tell me about the typical options and career progressions for someone who starts in this position?”
Example 2: “Typically in my profession, a five-year plan would include advancement to ________ or __________ roles. I would intend to provide the performance and experience to merit such an advancement. Do you think that is a reasonable expectation for this company?”
Example 3: “In past positions, because my employer liked what I did I was offered a number of opportunities for advancement and even lateral moves that really developed me professionally. I found myself involved in work I never would have imagined five years ago. (Be prepared with an example.) I learned to be open to possibilities and not lock myself down to a rigid career ladder. What do typical careers look like here?”
What to avoid
When formulating your answer, beware of including anything that might make the employer doubt your enthusiasm for the current opening. The hiring manager doesn’t need to know that you want to move to New York in five years to pursue your Broadway dream and this job will pay the rent in the meantime.
“Less-than-ideal responses are anything that shows you’re only interested in this role for the very short-term, or that your long-term goals are completely misaligned or disconnected from the job at hand,” says Zavo.
And, don’t let the question, “Where do you want to be in five years?” lure you into revealing personal or family information. Keep the context of your response job or professionally related. It’s not in your best interest to tell the hiring manager that you hope to have more children by then, or that you’re not able to truly answer the question until your significant other finds out where her residency will be after graduating medical school next year.
Lastly, watch that your answer doesn’t appear to be avoiding the question. As tempting as it might be to say something like, “With all the crazy stuff going on in the world, who knows? I just try to focus on one day at a time and do a good job,” the interviewer might interpret such a nonchalant response as either evasive or clueless — neither of which gain you any points.
Before preparing to answer common questions hiring managers ask, you need to land an interview! Let LiveCareer’s Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder help you create attention-grabbing documents that encourage employers to bring you in to discuss the position.