The best answer to “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
In my 20+ years as a career coaching expert and job interview preparation consultant, “where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” is one of the two questions guaranteed to send most of the clients I work with into a meltdown. If you want to know what the other interview question is, it’s “what can you contribute to this company?“.
Sometimes interviewers and hiring managers don’t come out and ask you about where you see yourself in five years’ time. Occasionally, it might be 10 years’ time. They may ask the same interview question completely differently – “what’s most important to you with your career?”, “what does success mean to you?”, “what do you want from this role”, and “what are your long term career goals”.
Conspiracy theories surrounding the “where do you see yourself in 5 years time” question
Why would this interview question (and its variants) cause such fear in the minds of candidates readying themselves for job interviews? It’s because of a belief which lies deep in us that this is somehow a trick interview question designed to catch us out.
What if one of the interviewers is one of the managers in the company – part of the leadership team comfortable in their position answering to the CEO? Is this person sifting people with ambition out of the recruitment process who s/he believes may be a threat to their job/position in the future by asking this question?
On the subject of ambition, are your interviewers asking this question so that they can determine how achievable your career goals are with what you’ve achieved so far on your career path? If you answer this too positively, will they think you’re a dreamer with unrealistic expectations about their own abilities?
There is no conspiracy to trip you up though
This interview question allows an interviewer or hiring manager to determine whether their company’s goals align with your goals and vice versa, just like every other question you’ll be asked at job interviews.
The reason why the question “where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time” feels like a daunting questions is because it’s a question that most people would not have a ready answer too in either our professional or personal lives.
We might see how we want our career to develop in the coming years but being asked exactly where’ll you be in 1,820 days makes interviewees feel like they’re on the spot whether they’re being interviewed for an entry level position, a middle management job, or CEO – the head of the company.
No-one can know exactly where they’ll be in five years’ time but you can know exactly where you want to be five years in the future and what skills you’re interested in developing.
Before you can answer this question with confidence and belief to an interviewer or hiring manager, you need to already have a specific plan or goal in your own head about your career objectives (and your training needs along the way) and you need to be committed to your plan.
Let’s look at this first.
The five questions you need to ask yourself to best answer “where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?”
Not only that but answering these questions will tell you whether the role you’re applying for is actually a role you want to fill. Moving to a new position in a different company is a major life event and, before you commit to doing the work needed to be the successful candidate, it’s best to consider whether this is a smart job move for you or not because you might be working at a place you don’t like and which does not advance you towards your career goals for years to come.
Do you really know what you want to do in the future?
The jobs we have distract us daily from identifying and pursuing the career goals we want. In all jobs whether at entry level, on the shop floor, on a building site, or at board level, there’s enough to keep us busy and occupied during the day. All employers want to fill every second of our working days with activity and they want to squeeze every last bit of value out of us when we’re at work (and often when we’re at home after work too).
To be able to see yourself in five years’ time, you need to be take time out of yourself.
You need to be completely clear and honest with yourself on what you want for the rest of your career – you need to think about the type of company you’d like to work for, the type of position you’d like to hold, and the skills you want to develop. The chances are that there’ll be more than one further step you have to take on your career path before you’re in your ultimate dream role.
You may or may not have a dream job/position in mind, but it is a good idea to have some career goals to aim for.
I provide career advice as well as job interview preparation to my clients. As part of my career advice service, I ask clients to reflect on how they see their career going in the short to medium term.
I ask clients to review their career goals and how they relate to a particular job description for the company they’re applying to join as well as asking them if that company’s mission and goals align with their own.
You also need to think about which of your current skills you would like to improve and which new skills do you need to learn to achieve your career objective.
It’s also important to know what your current career and training interests and how they fit with current employment market conditions. Does the market want the skills you’re interested in developing and would they be willing to provide you with training to gain the skills you want?
Read widely about the current market and try to understand how market trends are moving and what external factors are affecting the sector more generally, for example the impact of Brexit or Covid-19 and its aftermath.
When you’re sure want you want from your career, write down the ultimate end point first and the steps you’ll need to take on your journey to that point with a particular reference to the future skills you’ll need to develop. Say them out loud and write them down.
Is this job and is this company the right fit for you right now?
Read the job description carefully for the role you want. What does the company want from their ideal candidate?
Look at the person specification/skills requirements for the job/position and match these skills with your current skills and experience. Will it be possible to improve your knowledge of the industry and the current skill level through on-the-job experience with this employer or will you need formal education? Will you have to pay for that education or will your employer pay for it or at least subsidise it?
Having the knowledge you need to do the job now is fine but will this be the right type of environment in which to learn practical applications of the existing skills you want to develop?
Will this company provide you with what you don’t currently have to achieve your ultimate career goals?
Most employers you work for, and jobs that you work in, should enhance your skills and encourage you to grow and learn more about the role and sector.
What skills and at which level do you need to do the job? Will the company support you with training to gain those skills?
There may be specific areas that you want to focus on and it may take a long time to become an expert in this area. Think about how the role you are applying for can provide you with specific skills or knowledge to develop your career.
Read widely about the current market and try to understand how market trends are moving and what external factors are affecting the sector more generally, for example the impact of Brexit or Covid-19.
Where do your goals align with the company’s goals?
It may seem obvious, but employers want to know that your goals match with the job/position you are applying for. For example, if you are interviewing for a job/position as a HR officer and you are clear you want a career in marketing, they may not see you as a good fit or an asset to the company for the job/position for which you have applied. However, if you have applied for a marketing role, have a marketing degree and marketing background they can see how the role would fit with your career plan.
Organisations need to decide if you have the essential skills to do the job. Hiring managers will filter applicants at various stages of the recruitment process, using various criteria such as academic qualifications and previous work experience. For entry level and early career roles, employers are generally looking for candidates with potential to learn and grow on the job
Also consider if the role you’re applying for follows your ideal career path. Do you really know where do you see yourself in 5 years?
If it does, mention during your job interviews how it will provide you with the industry sector expertise and training to help you grow and progress your career. An interviewer wants to know and would like to hear how you see your career path within their company and what possible future internal moves you might see for yourself including for leadership roles.
Sharing this information with hiring managers show your interest in staying with the company long-term and, for many employers in a competitive marketplace, their preference will be to fill the role they have available with a candidate interested in staying with them for the long term.
Will having this role on your resume be beneficial?
If you’ve already been invited for a job interview, your current resume or CV has got you in front of an interviewer as a candidate worthy of serious consideration. But, when you apply for your next job as you move further down your career pathway, will working for this employer look good on your resume?
Will having this job on resume or CV make you marketable when you apply for a new position somewhere else? Would achieving your short-term goal of being hired for the job by this company make achieving your long-term professional goal more difficult?
Now you are much clearer on your career goals and whether this job and this company will help you towards achieving your career goals, should you even attend interview?
If yes, the way you deliver your answer to the interview question, “where do you see yourself in 5 years time?” will be confident, believable, and assured. If no but you intend to apply anyway, you can still give a convincing answers to this question and its variants but focusing on the positive.
I’ll explain how to answer the question in the way the interviewer wants you to so that you give them exactly what they want to hear.
Understand the situation of the hiring manager/interviewer when they ask – Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A job interview is an imprecise way of choosing the right candidate for the right role and, if you know what motivates an interviewer/hiring manager, you can turn it to your advantage.
If an interviewer makes the wrong choice, this bad hire will cost the company they work for tens of thousands of pounds. If they make multiple bad hires, this reflects poorly on them and it will likely affect their future at the company they work for in a negative way.
Your interviewer wants to know that you’re capable of doing the work and delivering the results required, that you’ll fit well within the company culture, and that you will stay with the company long enough for them to recoup their investment in you. You need to get all of these points across in your answers when the hiring manager of the company you want to work for is interviewing you.
How to answer the question “where do you see yourself in five years time?” – be ready to sell the reasons to hire you
First, don’t take the question literally – consider the answer you give as more of a statement of objectives and intent for your career over the coming years.
You should stress that you want a long-term career at the company (even if you’re not sure) and sound excited about the possibility of working there.
When answering this question, the best way to convince any interviewer is to show them how integral a part this role you’re interviewing for will play in your overall career plan.
Companies generally want to hire people who have an awareness of how they want to grow and progress and have a career plan rather than just drifting from job to job.
Ambition is something that means something to you in a way that may be hard to define in words, but at an interview you need to be able to define it in a way that is easily understood by the interviewer.
You could relate it to a specific position you hope to attain or to increased knowledge and skills as a set of outcomes.
Or it could be peer recognition in your profession, sitting on a committee of your professional body, or increasing your profile by writing articles for trade publications and websites and speaking at conferences.
Three sample answers to “where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”
Example 1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years in digital marketing?
If the next job you wanted was to be at entry level within a social media marketing agency, you might want to say something like, “I have wanted to work in digital marketing all my life as you can see from my educational and vocational qualifications. Of all areas of digital marketing I could work in, the greatest opportunity I see for helping clients’ businesses grow comes from social media marketing platforms and this is what I want to specialise in.
“Over the next five years, I want to become a subject matter expert at campaign planning, onsite pay per click, content productions, and analytics. With that knowledge, I would like to be able to provide company clients with an all-round service from initially agreeing on the objectives of their campaign and taking their campaign to launch and beyond as a senior account manager.”
Example 2. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time as a project manager?
If the next job you were applying for in project management was in the financial services sector, you could tell your interviewer something like, “We’ve seen a lot of change in the way financial services sector companies are run in the last five years both as a response to changes in legislation, Brexit, digitisation, and increased competition from start-ups.
Why I am excited about this role is that, over the next five years and beyond, I can help this company prepare not only for the changes it expects but also the changes it doesn’t expect. When the board have agreed a project they want us to work on, I look forward to making sure all the necessary departments in the project (compliance, IT, marketing, and so on) are staying on task and functioning effectively. In five years’ time, I would like to have been involved in many of these successful changes and transformation projects and that would give me a realistic change of my next role being a senior project manager for the firm.”
Example 3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time in accounting?
If you were being interviewed for your first role following graduation, you could give an answer like, “Now I have left Uni, I want to spend the next five years learning in real life situations everything to do with personal and corporate accounting for clients. My ambition within this firm would be to eventually provide specialist services to high-net worth clients on all areas of accounting from inheritance tax to overseas investments to pension provision.
“To do that, I would need to become a senior accountant in that time. This firm’s clients have the right to expect that their named contacts within the firm have gained relevant experience in all areas of accounting before we can begin to advise them on protecting their businesses, making sure that their wealth is secure for the long term, and reducing the financial risks to which they might be exposed. This is my goal for my career within this firm”.
Answers interviewers don’t want to hear to this question
Deliver your answer straight away in a slow and confident voice – prepare for your interview thoroughly so that you’re not hesitating when you give your answer as this may sound like you’re overthinking your answer to them. Your interviewer will wonder why you didn’t have an answer ready.
Try not to be too specific when you prepare your answer – sound confident but set yourself realistic goals for your career.
Don’t be flaky by saying that you could be one thing or another in five years and don’t tell them you want to go back into full-time education, even if that is what you want. And don’t say that you want the interviewer or hiring manager’s job!
Telling interviewers the answer they want to hear when they ask – Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
The ball is in your court. I hope that you found the example answers above useful and they they provide you with a framework upon which to base your own answer.
If you want help on what to say at all stages of a forthcoming interview or you’d like to rehearse the answer to each question likely to come up, we offer clients a free 15-minute consultation. Book yourself in for one, speak with me on the phone or via Zoom, and if you decide that I’m the person to help you, book me in for an hour or two prior to your interview.
Someone has to fill the role you’ve applied for and that person should be you. Give yourself the best chance by having the right answer to every question your interview directs at you by working with me and my team.