The truthful answer to the interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” might be you don't know or even "not here.” In the post-COVID job market, job-hopping is common, particularly among millennials and Gen Zs. A poll by Gallup found that six in ten millennials are open to new job offers.
Still, these are not the answers you should give in a job interview. This article looks at what the interviewer is trying to find out from a job seeker by asking this question, how you can be creative and effective in your response and gives some sample answers.
So, what is the interviewer getting at here? Fundamentally, the interviewer wants to see three things. First, how motivated you are. Second, how well you fit the job title and the organization. And, three, how realistic you are. Wow! That’s quite a bit of information to be had from just one question. Let’s look at each component to see why showing these three traits is important.
How you answer the question can show how motivated you are in that industry and that career path. The hiring manager wants to see that you are keen because they want you to stick around and, ideally, develop skills that you can contribute to the organization.
If you aren’t motivated where the job in question is concerned, you might leave when you find a better opportunity. That means the employer will have to start the hiring process all over again, which is costly. A recruiter will be particularly worried if you left your last job after a short period.
If you see yourself in five years as an independent realtor in California, but you are interviewing for a job as a loan officer at a bank, you might not be the best fit. This type of response will raise a red flag for a recruiter.
It’s fine for a job to be a stepping stone to the next level, but it should be the next level in a similar career with a similar structure and a similar skill set. You might be giving an honest answer, but a little white lie might be a better option here.
For example, you could say, “My long-term career goal is to develop broader knowledge and a better understanding of financing technology and then have the opportunity to develop creative and unique customer services.”
Conceivably, you could rise in the ranks from an entry-level loan officer to VP of underwriting in five years, but it’s unlikely. So, it’s best to strike a balance between pipedreams and what you can actually aspire to. Again, it’s a question of showing motivation and a strong commitment to the job at hand.
Now you know what the hiring manager is hoping to hear from you, you can find some creative ways to satisfy them and stand out from the other candidates.
To answer this job interview question well, you need to be authentic. You need to be telling the truth (for the most part). It doesn’t matter if you see yourself in a role that is not at the firm as long as you answer it to show you are an asset for as long as you work there.
Let’s face it. If you work hard and develop professionally, the employer has a responsibility to keep you motivated and to give you opportunities for advancement. If they fail to do that, of course, you will seek other opportunities.
The following tips will help you craft an authentic answer to convince the hiring manager that you are motivated, a good fit, and have realistic aspirations for your next job.
Career goals aren’t necessarily becoming CEO or VP of operations. They can be taking training towards certification, taking on a leadership role and learning management skills, or heading up a new project and learning to make the right decisions. These are all ways to describe where you want to go in the next five years.
It’s crucial to do a good amount of research on the job and the company. The job description will give you an overview of the job requirements, but it’s better to be able to envision yourself in the role at the company.
Read the company website, but better yet, try to find an insider who can give you real insights. Through your research, you might find certain training courses, developmental paths, product lines, or projects that you can refer to in your answer.
To find a possible contact, check the company’s LinkedIn page and try to connect with someone in a similar role, or contact whoever you are communicating with HR and ask them if they could recommend someone. That way, you will have a better idea of how to align your goals with the needs of the company in your next interview.
The common interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is certainly asking about you and to describe yourself. But it might help to reframe it as “What Can You Offer This Company Over the Next Five Years?” Now, you are selling yourself to the company and convincing them that you are worth hiring and the best person for the job.
Let’s look at some sample answers and analyze why they are good answers. The first is an answer for a full-time, mid-level position.
“In five years, I would like to have completed your optional company loan officer advanced management training. This training would set me up for a leadership role where I could apply what I have learned and be more of an asset to the company.”
This answer shows motivation because the candidate has identified training and development that they would like to follow to advance professionally. It shows a good fit because the candidate states that they are seeking a leadership role presumably in the same company.
The candidate also shows that they have realistic goals. Lastly, the candidate shows their potential value to the organization. With this answer, the hiring manager will not worry that the candidate might jump ship and be hired by a competitor.
“My degree has given me knowledge and grounding where the industry is concerned. Now, my five-year plan is to learn the practical side, and your organization can give me the breadth of experience I’m looking for.
Specifically, I’d love to be involved in the new product lines that you have in the conception stage and see the whole project management process through to market launch. My career plans are to be better positioned for a management role in five years."
This answer shows motivation and interest in the organization. Clearly, the candidate has given thought to their role and has a vision of where they could go. This candidate will be very appealing to a hiring manager.
“I'm currently studying to be a special educator. My five-year goal is to have completed college, gained hands-on experience, and to be working in a special education setting. That would be my dream job."
This answer shows that the candidate has skin in the game, professional goals, and is ready to develop new skills. They would be a good choice for a short-term position.
How you answer the question, “Where do you want to be in five years?” will vary depending on the job and your future goals. You should be authentic in crafting your answer, but you can also be creative in the way that you answer.
Remember the three goals when you plan your response.
Assure the hiring manager that you are a good fit
Give realistic expectations
Also, remember that you should sell yourself to the hiring manager by emphasizing your value to the company. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll impress any recruiter with your proactive, enthusiastic, and realistic approach to job search. Bravo!