Answering tricky questions – Part 3: Where do you see yourself in five years?

For some of us, the ‘goal-setting, love-to-plan years in advance’ types – this question is easy, as you’re always thinking, and in some cases writing down your short-term and long-term goals. For the rest who don’t know what’s for dinner tonight, let alone what you’ll be doing in five years, this question may bring you out in a cold sweat.

So, what are interviewers really wanting to know by asking this question?

They’re looking to find out if this role and company will satisfy you – that your goals are in line with what the company can offer, that you’ll work hard and stay with the company for an extended period. They’re also looking to find out how driven you are and how far you might want to progress.

So how do you approach this question?

Make sure you’ve done some research on the company and the position.  By understanding the type of person they’re looking for and the company culture, you can show you understand what is needed to be successful in the role.

If you are likely to need to learn skills or gain a qualification to be successful in the role, show that you understand the work that will be involved, and how long it will take and reassure them that you’re up for it.

Right:

  • You want to give the hiring manager the impression that you’re content with the position as is. But you should also express enthusiasm about developing in a realistic way. 
  • If you plan to retire in five years, give a response that focuses on how you’ll develop your skillset within the position.
  • Most of all express enthusiasm! If you can’t be enthusiastic before you’ve started, then it will raise a red flag.

Example:

“I’m really excited by this position at Upward Digital because in five years, I’d like to be seen as an expert in SEO, and I know that’s something that I’d have the opportunity to do here. I’m also keen to take the lead in some projects in the next few years. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing project managers, and so developing into a great project manager myself is something I’m really excited about.”

Avoid

  • Being flippant. This is not the time to say you hope to win Lotto and be retired, on a beach drinking pina coladas.
  • Telling the interviewer that you plan to have their job in five years. And this isn’t the time to say you plan to be CEO (unless of course you are applying for a CEO position.)
  • Talking about side projects even if that might be where your dream job might lie.  Eg. “In my spare time I’ve started developing an app – I’ve been working on it for a year now and it’s almost done. That’s where my real passion lies and one day, I’d like to do this full time”.