If you’re preparing for a job interview, you’re likely to want to prepare for the common “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question.
Of course, this question has its fair share of subtext. Hiring managers want to know how exciting this role is to you and how it fits into your career ambitions. They also want to know that you might work there for a while. After all, they don’t want to search for a new candidate to fill your role after a year or two. In some cases, it could even be a case of thinly veiled ageism.
But what if you don’t intend to stay at the company for five years? There are plenty of job candidates who want to retire in five years’ time or leave the company to start their own businesses. There are even more who envision a career shift in their long-term future.
So, how can you address this question in a way that appeals to hiring managers without lying about your future plans? Here are some ideas.
How to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years”
If you’re preparing an answer to this question, you want to keep the company’s needs in mind. They aren’t asking the question to hear about your hopes and dreams. Instead, like every other interview question, they want to know how you’ll serve the company.
Here’s how to tailor your answers to appeal to the company:
- You don’t want to seem like a job hopper. 54 percent of employees stay at a company for five years or more. So, the hiring manager wants to be sure that you intend to stick around for a while, not just accept the role until you find something better.
- You want to seem interested in the position. Your answer should also indicate your enthusiasm about learning and growing at the company. If the job seems like it’s not a part of your ideal career trajectory, you’ll be less appealing to hiring managers. We’ll talk later about how to connect the job to your career goals.
- You want to demonstrate your ambition. If candidates have goals and a clear set of steps to achieving those goals, they’ll be that much more appealing to hiring managers. You don’t have to say you want to move up the ladder at the company, but do suggest you want to develop yourself in the role.
Flip the question so it addresses what you can offer the company in the upcoming years.
One of the reasons that job candidates bomb this question and ones like it is that they talk too much about themselves. So, instead of discussing how the position is only a temporary stopover in your long-term future, instead articulate how you can help the company reach its short- and long-term goals.
Don’t talk about anything that’s too far in the future or create specific timelines; instead focus on how you can contribute to the initiatives they have in the works. Be sure to do your research before the interview so you can discuss future projects to which you’d like to contribute.
Articulate how you plan to learn and grow in the role.
In asking “where do you see yourself in five years?”, the employer wants to know that you’re committed to developing yourself in the position. So, discuss that you are excited about the job and enthusiastic about learning the skills required. Even if you don’t give them a timeframe for how long you plan to keep the job, emphasize your commitment to growing with the company.
“Focus on what the natural progression of responsibilities would be for the role you are currently
interviewing for and your desire to help the company grow within your area of influence. This will likely hit the right notes,” we explain in our guide “How to Answer the Top 30 Interview Questions.”
Describe how the position fits into your long-term career future.
Before you come to the interview, consider how the role fits into your career trajectory. What competencies does it help you develop? What training does the company provide? Even if you’re planning on leaving the company sooner rather than later, you can still describe how the job fits into skills, networking opportunities, or competencies that you’ll need to meet your career goals.
For instance, you could say something like:
I’m interested in this position because I want to continue developing my leadership skills. In my past role, I managed three employees, and I would be excited to supervise even more people at A&B Company. I would look forward to the training courses the company offers, as well as building my skills in real-world situations. My long-term objective is to serve in a high-level managerial role, and this position would help me get there.
Answering Other Tough Interview Questions
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is only one of several potentially difficult-to-answer questions you might receive in a job interview. If you’re concerned about how to honestly address questions with answers interviewers may not love, listen to Ivy Exec’s recent webinar, “The Art (& Science) of Difficult Interview Questions” led by Thomas Monaco is the Executive Director for Experienced Professionals Career Management at Columbia Business School’s Career Management Center.