You’ve nailed every question in your job interview. The job is practically yours.
Then the interviewer pulls out the dreaded question:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What are your long-term career goals?
Suddenly you’re tongue-tied.
You’ve just spent the past four years in college exploring who you are and what you want to do. And now you’re locking yourself into some sort of five-year commitment?
Although this may seem like an impossible question, don’t panic.
Read on below for some tips on how to craft your perfect answer. A little forethought before going into the interview will set you up for a killer response that brings you one step closer to landing the job.
Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?
Interviewers aren’t searching for your secret psychic ability.
By asking where you see yourself in five years, they’re trying to gauge your passion and commitment to the job at hand.
Here’s the deal:
Hiring an employee is no small feat.
From advertising the position, taking the time to sort through and interview candidates, to training and bringing a new employee up to speed, the hiring process takes a lot of time and energy on the part of the company.
They don’t want to waste all their resources on an employee who will leave six months to a year later and be forced to start the process all over again.
Employers are also looking for employees who are motivated and proactive. If your long-term career goals align with their company, then you’re much more likely to invest in the job that you have.
The Interviewer’s Perspective
Not only does a short-term employee create a drain on the company, but it makes the interviewer look bad.
The company is depending on their hiring managers’ expertise and ability to read candidates to add valuable employees to the company. If their hires quit after a few months, it causes the interviewers’ judgment to come into question.
The “five-year” question helps those hiring managers get a look at what drives you and what you’re passionate about.
But watch out:
They may phrase it a little different:
- What is your ideal job?
- What are you looking for with this job?
- What is important in your career?
Each of these questions really seeks to establish how passionate you are in getting this job in the long run.
Are you looking to stay for the long-haul? Or are you looking for a paycheck until a better job comes along?
Don’t Make These Mistakes!
You’re likely to run into this question at some point during an interview, so the best thing you can do is prepare yourself for it.
Mistake 1: Too vague or no answer.
What’s the worst-case scenario?
When you have no answer at all.
By having nothing to say, or being too vague in what exactly you want in your career, you’re giving the impression that you have no passion for this job, company, or career choice. It immediately sends a red-flag that you aren’t serious about the job and probably will not be around for very long.
Mistake 2: Talking about unrelated goals.
When answering where you see yourself in five years, it’s also important not to mention any other ambitions that you may have that aren’t specifically job-related.
This will also send a serious warning to the interviewer that you aren’t going to be staying around for very long.
Here’s an example:
In five years, I want to have a number-one single on the Billboard charts.
That’s a great answer if you’re applying for a job in the music industry.
But if you’re interviewing for a bank teller position?
Not so much.
Okay, so that’s maybe an extreme example, but you get the point:
When it comes to your five-year plan, keep it specific to the company and job.
To be clear:
It’s fine to talk about your interests during the interview. It can be a red flag if you only talk about work. That’s a sign to a potential employer that you may be set up for burn out not long down the road.
Got an itch to write a novel?
But the time to bring that up isn’t during your five-year plan.
Likewise, you might want to steer clear of talking about waiting for your new business idea to take off, or looking to be a stay-at-home mom in 5 years.
Although you should never lie in an interview, it’s best to avoid talking about anything that might conflict with passion for the job.
Mistake 3: Being unrealistic.
Got your eye on the CEO’s chair?
But is that going to happen in five years?
Although providing a lofty goal might seem like you’re emphasizing your ambition and passion, it will do one of two things:
- Make you come across as insincere, or
- Make you look like even more of a flight risk.
Employers see a lot of new college grads with ideas about career progression that are disconnected from reality.
So they may worry that you’ll leave when you realize how impossible your goal is or haven’t been promoted in a few months.
How Should You Answer?
Before going into the interview, really think about how this job could work for you in the long run.
Let’s take a look at some sample answers for a theoretical entry-level sales associate position.
Here’s a decent example:
I plan to be a leader on the sales team.
This answer is realistic and shows longevity. But it’s a little vague.
Can you do better?
Try this one on for size:
In five years I plan to master my skills as an associate so that I have a solid base for becoming a sales manager and leading a team of my own.
This is a better answer because it’s specific, shows that you have the ambition to rise within the company, and expect to be fully versed in the job that you’re applying for.
Also, you’re demonstrating a willingness to put the time and effort into the current position and company to bolster your ambition.
All it takes to craft a more specific example like this is a little research on sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Find current employees at the company in your areas of interest. How long have they been there and what level are they at?
Okay, so what about if you’re applying for a position with no or unclear promotional opportunities?
For instance, some sales positions may not necessarily ever promote.
A good way to answer the question in this case would be to emphasize how you plan to master the job that you’re applying for.
For instance, for a sales position you might want to say:
In five years, I plan to have a thorough knowledge of the product and have a solid and growing customer base.
This answer shows that you plan to stay for the foreseeable future and master the skills necessary to succeed.
Just be sure to avoid any of the red flags mentioned above.
I really would like to get back to actually teaching at a university.
This is a poor response unless you’re interviewing for a teaching position.
Here’s another bad response:
I would really like to start my own company.
This applies across the board:
Don’t mention any other jobs or companies than the one at hand.
What If I Have No Experience?
In this case, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” can be your time to shine.
Take the opportunity to market yourself as a long-time hire who is passionate about learning the industry. Many companies will gladly invest in someone who can quickly become an expert and stay with the company than someone who may have experience but will leave quickly.
Here’s the key:
Position yourself as a long-term hire by emphasizing how you plan to apply the skills you already have that are related to the current job.
What If I’m Switching Careers?
Similarly, if you’re switching industries, it’s important to make this job seem like a permanent change and focus on any applicable skills from previous jobs.
Be sure to emphasize with the interview that you’re not using the job as a stop-gap until you can get back to the career path that you were on before. Rather, stress how you see this job in the long-haul and be enthusiastic about the change in career.
Business is all about ROI: Return on Investment.
If you want a company to invest in you, make sure that you tell them what they will be getting back in return. By positioning yourself as a long-term, passionate employee, you make the interviewer more comfortable putting you through the hiring process.
Think about where this job could lead you and what you’re expecting to get out of it.
Then when they ask about your career goals, have an answer ready and finish your interview strong!
Check out our other “How to Answer” interview question articles:
- How to Answer “Tell me about yourself”
- How to Answer “What motivates you”
- How to Answer “What is your greatest strength and weakness”