Imagine this scenario: You’re feeling positive about your interview so far, having provided well thought-out, eloquent answers to a variety of questions. Then the interviewer asks you a question that’s a common stumbling block for job candidates:
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Or sometimes: “What are your long-term career goals?” or, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
This may seem like an impossible question, but don’t panic. Read below for some tips on how to craft the perfect answer. A little forethought before going into the interview will set you up for an impressive response that brings you one step closer to landing the job.
The Interviewer’s Mindset
From the candidate’s perspective, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” can seem vague and confusing. What is the interviewer looking for here?
By asking where you see yourself in five years, interviewers are trying to gauge your passion and commitment to the job at hand.
Your answer should convey that:
- You expect to still be with this company in five years
- You’ve seriously considered your future at this company
- You’re passionate about this job/company/industry
The hiring process occupies a lot of time and energy for a company. They don’t want to waste these resources on an employee who will leave six months to a year from now, forcing them to start the process all over again.
Employers are also seeking 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 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 “five-year” question helps hiring managers gain insight into what drives you and what you’re passionate about.
Keep in mind that the interviewer may phrase this question a bit differently:
- What is your ideal job?
- What are you looking for with this job?
- What is important in your career?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Each of these questions really seeks to establish how passionate you are for this career in the long run. Are you looking to stay and continue growing within the company? Or are you looking for a paycheck until a better job comes along?
How Should You Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
Before going into the interview, consider 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 an optimal answer:
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 great answer because it’s specific, shows that you have the ambition to rise within the company, and indicates that you 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.
Specificity is key. Take a look at this example:
I plan to be a leader on the sales team.
This answer is realistic and shows longevity, but it’s a little vague. To craft a more specific answer like our first example, conduct 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 have they progressed to?
However, what if you’re applying for a position with unclear or nonexistent 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.
Remember: Don’t mention jobs or companies other than the one to which you’re applying. For instance, you wouldn’t want to say, “I would really like to start my own company one day.” You want to give the hiring manager a glimpse into your potential future at this company.
Don’t Make These Mistakes!
Mistake 1: Too vague or no answer.
What’s the worst-case scenario? Having no answer prepared 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 aren’t specifically job-related.
This will also send a serious warning to the interviewer that you may not be a long-term hire. Here’s an example:
In five years, I want to have a number-one single on the Billboard charts.
This may be a great answer if you’re applying for a position in the music industry. But if you’re seeking a job as a bank teller, your interviewer is likely to be unimpressed.
That example is a bit extreme, but the point is this: Keep your answer specific to the job and company in question. Steer clear of talk about waiting for your new business to take off, going back to school, or hoping to be a stay-at-home mom within the next five years.
You shouldn’t lie in an interview, but it’s best to avoid talking about anything that might conflict with your passion for the job to which you’ve applied.
Mistake 3: Being unrealistic.
Although providing a lofty goal (like becoming CEO) 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 graduates with ideas about career progression that are disconnected from reality. They may worry that you’ll leave when you realize how impossible your goal is or haven’t been promoted in a few months.
Avoiding these common pitfalls can help you ace the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Of course, to even get to this question, you’ll first need to prepare a stellar resume.
Candidates often struggle with crafting a resume, but Chegg CareerMatch can help. We’ll walk you step-by-step through the process of building a resume that’s sure to impress employers.
What if I Have No Experience?
If you have no work experience, 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, rather than an experienced individual who 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.
When you upload or create your resume on Chegg CareerMatch, we’ll also give you a list of your employable skills. Compare this list with the job requirements for the position to which you’re applying, then consider how you can leverage the skills you already possess to succeed.
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 in 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, focus on how you see this job long-term 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 receive in return.
By positioning yourself as a long-term, passionate employee, you make the interviewer more comfortable advancing you in the hiring process.
Before you’re asked, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” think about where this job could lead you and what goals you would like to accomplish within the company. If you’re unsure what promotional opportunities might be available, do your research.
When your interviewer inevitably asks the question, you’ll have an answer prepared that will help you finish your interview on a strong note.
Check out our other “How to Answer” interview question articles: