Know where you'll be in five years–or at least how to talk about it.
In the past, there have been interviews that I've very much enjoyed, and there have been a few that weren't quite as fun. However, I attempt to go into every interview, whether it's for a job or another reason, with the mentality that it's a privilege to have such an opportunity, and I'll make the best of it.
One of the top interview questions that I dislike the most is: "Where do you see yourself in five years?" It's the worst for me! Why? Because I've come to appreciate that I can't be 100 percent certain what the next moment brings, let alone what five years from now will bring! Don't get me wrong. I have ideas and goals that support my areas of focus for the future, because I do think it's important to have a purpose, and you need a roadmap to fulfill that purpose. At the same time, I know life happens, things change, and I need to go with the flow when I have to take an unexpected turn from that roadmap. Timing, opportunities, and then some all impact our path in life, so when it comes to answers to interview questions like "Where do you see yourself in five years?" it's not easy for me.
But I'll get off my soap box now and get to the point.
The reality is that you'll likely be asked this question at some point during a job interview, especially if you're new to the workforce or have less than 20 years of work experience. And though I ranted on about my dislike of this question, as an interviewer, I do understand the purpose of it. When asking this question, an interviewer isn't expecting you to know 100 percent where you see yourself in the future as if you had a crystal ball, but they do want to know if you have ambition, goals, focus, and drive. They want to know you've at least considered your future and what you'd like to accomplish. Fair enough.
What not to say when answering "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Per an article on Inc.com, Glassdoor for Employers reports that there are 250 resumes submitted for each job opening. Only four to six applicants are called in for an interview based on those resumes, with just one landing the job. With statistics like these, it's good to keep in mind what an interviewer does not want to hear when they ask you, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" In short, be careful that your answer to this top interview question does not imply any of the following:
That you plan on a short-term tenure with the company. If an organization is going to invest time and resources in you, they want to believe you'll be with them for the long haul or at least five or more years. It's not uncommon for employees to move around from company to company more than they used to, but you definitely don't want to let the cat out of the bag that you don't plan on being with the organization for very long (unless you're interviewing for a temporary position).
That you haven't given any thought to your future with the company or life in general. Again, one of the main reasons this question is asked is to find out if you have goals and are excited about your prospective future with the company. They also want to know that you have ambition and a good work ethic and that you've considered how you might handle your work if you were to be hired.
That you want their position. Yes, the interviewer wants to know you're ambitious, but you don't want to let it be known that you're very eager to move up and see yourself in their position, especially if it's a small company where such opportunities are few and far between.
Before the interview: preparing for "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Think about the answer to this interview question ahead of time. If you're reading this article, then you've got this one covered. Also, consider practicing your response out loud with a trusted friend, so you can hear yourself speak it and make tweaks if needed. While developing your answers, keep in mind what the interviewer wants to know when he or she asks you this question--your work-related goals, ambitions, desired training, and so on. What type of positions do you see yourself occupying? What type of training? Are you interested in leadership positions, or would you like to keep your focus on the technical aspects of your work? Provide quantifiable answers when possible.
Write out your 5-year plan. I've already shared that I believe it's hard to know exactly what you'll be doing or where you'll be in five years. However, you can visualize and imagine where you would like to be, the type of culture you'd like to be in, the types of positions for which you'd like to be considered, the type of experience and accomplishments you'd like to have had, and so on. Take these items into consideration and then make a list of them with goals or a roadmap as to how you'll achieve them. This will help you share where you see yourself in five years from an honest and thoughtful perspective.
During the interview: answering "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Be honest and be yourself. You need to be yourself and be honest when answering top interview questions. Sharing what you think the interviewer wants to hear, yet it's out of alignment with the truth for you, can get you in trouble down the road if you do happen to get hired. Plus, it's much easier to be yourself than to try to be someone you're not.
Be specific and keep it work-related. The interviewer doesn't need to know that you plan on having two kids and a white picket fence in five years. In fact, if you do share this, he or she might hear, "I'm going to be taking a lot of time off from work for maternity leave and to take care of my kids after they're born. Work is not my priority." It might seem unfair, but it's true. This type of answer isn't appropriate for a job-related interview question, either, unless you're maybe interviewing to be a nanny or daycare provider. Keep your answers to-the-point and about your work goals and visions.
An example response:
Let's say I'm interviewing for an HR position for an organization, and I'm asked, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I might answer as follows:
"Honestly, I've come to appreciate that life happens, and I need to go with the flow when it does, so looking back to five years ago, I'm not sure if I would have said I thought I'd be where I am right now. This is why this question is sometimes difficult for me to answer. With that said, I'm thrilled with where I've landed to date, and I am very excited to see what the future holds. I'd like to expand my horizons by jumping in feet first and learning as much as I can as quickly as I can with the organization. From there, I'd seek out opportunities--at least one to two a year--to expand my knowledge through training and educational opportunities to support my job. I'd love to participate in at least one project geared towards leadership training if the opportunity arises. I also understand that the organization has a strong volunteer team, and I'd like to be an active participant of that team, as well. At some point, I'd also like to be considered for a supervisory or management level role."
I'm being honest, keeping it primarily work-related, showing ambition, showing that I've done my homework, and am providing quantifiable goals. Some might say it's a bit long for an answer to an interview question, but I'm of the mindset that if you're confident, honest, clear, succinct and answer the question, then your answers will rarely seem too long to the interviewer.
The chances are good that you'll be asked this question at some point, or again, during your career, and now you know you've got the skills to answer with a slam dunk.
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