You pressed your shirt, showed up on time, and greeted your potential employer with a warm smile and a firm handshake. Nicely done.
As far as job interviews go, this one’s going great, and after some pleasant back and forth you can feel that wonderful sense of relief as the interviewer starts to wrap things up.
That’s when it happens, the obligatory question that always seems to come up – the often elusive, slightly vague inquiry:
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
No, this is not meant to test your psychic abilities, nor is it one that you should take for granted. Of course, you can never really know what the future holds, but being prepared with a solid answer is important.
First of all, what does the interviewer hope to learn from your answer?
2 things the interviewer wants to know
- Do you set realistic goals? — Your crystal-clear sense of how the position you’re applying for aligns with your desired career path not only showcases your ability to plan ahead, but also demonstrates your passion and drive for your chosen career.
- How likely are you to stay with the company? — No manager wants to spend the time, money and resources training someone who’s potentially going to jump ship as soon as a better opportunity comes along – if in 5 years you’re planning on seeing your name in bright lights above a Hollywood marquee, it’s going to be difficult for the interviewer to believe that you’d be well-suited for the role of Systems Analyst.
Luckily, we crafted a basic formula designed to help save you the headache and get you the job:
- Horizontal expansion – Identify next-level knowledge/expertise. This is a great time to let the interviewer know you’ve done your homework by demonstrating your knowledge of the next two levels of natural skill progression as it relates to the position you’re applying for. E.g. I’d like to be managing bigger projects for a project manager, architecting software for a software developer, etc.
- Vertical expansion – Identify greater responsibility. What do the next 2 rounds of promotions look like for someone in your field? How long does an employee typically spend at each hierarchical level?
- Benefit Statement — State in plain terms how your career progression would directly benefit the organization. E.g. meeting corporate objectives, expediting the delivery of projects, reducing costs and optimizing efficiency, etc.
For example: I see myself (horizontal expansion) and/or as a (vertical expansion) helping XYZ company (name of the company you’re applying to) achieve (benefit statement).
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” can often feel like a trick question, especially if the brutally honest answer is “somewhere else.” Not exactly the best response.
To be clear, lying during the interview process is a bad idea. Always remember that you can be completely honest without having to reveal your entire life plan.
6 tips to avoid while answering this question:
- Don’t be too specific in your response — While an overly general answer can run the risk of coming off as boring, in this case being too specific (“I will be a VP earning at least 200K”) may raise doubts in the interviewer’s mind as to whether you’re a good fit for the position you’re applying for.
- Don’t mix personal goals — Having ambition and drive outside of work is great (and necessary!), but the interviewer might not be interested in your plans to backpack through Vietnam with your life partner.
- Don’t intimidate the interviewer — No one likes a job thief, particularly the manager deciding whether or not they’re going to hire you. Basically, anything along the lines of “I’d love to manage the team in your place” might end the interview sooner than you’d hope.
- Don’t mention your desires — If you want to start your own company or go back to school, now’s the time to keep it to yourself. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it’s a desire completely unrelated to the job you’re applying for, mum’s the word.
- Don’t be hesitant — There’s nothing wrong with keeping your options open. Plenty of great candidates are still trying to figure their future out. But a response like “I’m not sure. I will probably be promoted to manager by then” can make you sound flaky and unreliable. Now’s the time to come across as clear and focused (even if you’re focusing on more than the job you’re applying for).
- Don’t be negligent — Whatever your heartfelt desires and ambitions may be, saying you haven’t really thought about the answer simply makes it look like you’re either unmotivated or just don’t care.
This might seem like a lot to keep in mind when considering your response to a seemingly innocuous question, so here’s an all-encompassing bonus tip:
Don’t talk yourself out of the position by demonstrating your eagerness to do anything but the job you are applying for at the company you are applying with.
Do you feel confident handling common interview questions? ProViso Consulting is here to support your career success! Our expert team can help you prepare properly for likely interview questions. View jobs now!