Where do you see yourself in 5 years? How to answer.
"In five years I'd like to have your job."
"I'd like to be married with two kids."
"I'd like to own my own catering business."
These are examples of what NOT to say when you are asked the five year question. Sadly, they are all very real examples that candidates have said in answer to this question.
This is probably the most commonly blown question and also one of the ones you are most likely to be asked.
People get into trouble with it because they take the question too literally and focus on the wrong things. This is not a question about your personal goals. When interviewing you want to always consider how your answers reflect on your candidacy for the job at hand, and what the company is looking for.
Many years ago, when working on an entry-level position, I had a candidate answer this question with the married with two kids response. The hiring manager was taken aback. He did not move forward with her because he didn't sense that she was really all that interested in a career with the company. She just needed a job until the husband and kids came along. That may not be at all accurate, but it's the perception that was given by her answer.
I've actually known of two candidates that gave the catering business answer. Who knew catering was such a popular dream? The first time, it was an entry-level person going for a customer service job at an investment company. She was not invited back. The second time, interestingly, it was just a few years ago and for a very high level marketing job. To be fair, it wasn't in response to the five year question, but instead came up because the candidate simply got too comfortable with the hr manager (she has that effect on people, they forget they are interviewing and have a tendency to over share). Somehow they got onto a tangent and she shared that she'd love to someday own her own catering business. It left my contact with the impression that she was far more interested in that dream than in the job she was there interviewing for.
Which brings me to the point of this question and how best to answer it. This question is a great one for a company to ask. It gives them a chance to see how interested you are in the job, and the company and also how realistic your expectations are.
When you answer with "in five years I'd like to have your job", you probably think you're being clever and cute and showing initiative. Not so much. This is actually a fairly common answer and one almost guaranteed to stop the interviewing process. It's not a good way to answer!
The 5 year question seems to be one that most candidates dread because they are unsure how best to answer it and what the company is really looking for.
They are looking to see that you are genuinely interested in the job you are there for, and that it lines up with the career direction you wish to pursue and that you'll make some kind of commitment to the company. They don't expect you'll necessarily be there for five years, they'd love it if you are, but they will consider themselves lucky if they have you for several years and that they you don't bolt after a year.
Always remember when you are interviewing that you are selling yourself. Of course you're checking out the company and seeing what they have to offer, but be careful not to show that too much when you interview. Some candidates make this mistake and the interview becomes too one-sided and full of "I'm looking for" statements such as "I'm looking for a company where I can grow." That should be a given really. Who wants a company where growth isn't possible?
Keep the focus on what you can do for them, and how you can add value. So, for this question a good response could be as simple as,
"I don't know what my title will be in five years, but I'd love to think I'll still be with the same company, taking on responsibility and continuing to learn and contribute."
You can even follow that up with a question, "For someone like myself, coming into this position, where do you think they could be in 5 years?"
That's a great way to learn about possible growth tracks within the company, what people have done before and where they see the potential. Every company will differ here, but how they answer and the enthusiasm with which they respond can be telling.
You can add a personal note to your answer as well, if there's a long-term personal goal you hope to achieve, such as running a marathon for the first time. This shows dedication and commitment to a goal. Another one that is often seen as a benefit is continuing your education. Though you have to be careful with this. Only mention it if it lines up with the direction of the job you are going for. If it's a marketing job for instance or almost anything in business, an MBA will be viewed as a plus. The way to mention it that is important though is to stress that you "would like to work towards my MBA, part-time, in the evening."
The reason that is so important is because you want to alleviate the fear that you'll take the job and then leave in a year to go to school full-time.
Another reason it's good to be somewhat vague in your answer, rather than very specific such as "I want to be a Director managing a team of people", is because you don't want to limit yourself and because things change. Maybe it's just not realistic for the level you enter at to be a Director in five years and you could scare them off.
You'd also be amazed what can happen in five years and how your path and interests can shift and change in directions you'd never have imagined. Often, especially for more junior level people, once you get into a company you may discover all kinds of new possibilities for your career and interesting paths to explore. I once placed a young man who thought he had his whole future mapped out. He wanted a job in a legal department because he was going to go to law school at night and already had some good experience while in college to leverage.
So, I placed him at a financial services company, in the compliance department. He was thrilled and due to start law school that Fall. Less than a year later, he referred a friend to me and I called to thank him and see how he was doing. The first thing he said to me was, "remember how I told you I was going to go to law school? Well, now I want to get my MBA instead. I want to be a trader!" He'd made friends with the guys on the trading floor and it opened up a new and exciting world that he wanted to be part of.
A lot can happen in five years, so don't limit yourself. Focus on your enthusiasm for the position you are there for and for the company. All things being equal, in my experience companies tend to gravitate toward the candidate who is most genuinely excited about the job they are interviewing for.
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