Things seem to be going well with your job interview – you’ve gotten a good rapport with the interviewer and you’re answering questions like a pro. But just as you think you’ve got this in the bag, you hear this next question: “Where do you see yourself in the next five years or so?”
Suddenly, your mind blanks out, and you can’t think of anything to say. Truthfully, you don’t even know what to get for dinner tonight, let alone where exactly you’ll be in the next few years – so what're you supposed to say to that?
But like all good interview questions, there’s a reason why this one’s a hot favourite to ask among recruiters.
Assessing your suitability
The good news is that your interviewers aren’t actually expecting you to have a super concrete plan for the future, or even want to know what they are. Rather, your answer is meant to give them insight on your career aspirations, and how the job you’re applying for fits into them.
This is because for companies, it can be costly to constantly hire and onboard new employees, so when reviewing applicants, hiring managers keep a look out for those who are not only able to add value to the company, but also aren’t planning to jump ship the moment they get a better opportunity elsewhere.
In short, answering this question means addressing how you’ll be able to grow in the role you’re applying for.
Some self-reflection required
Admittedly, you might not have a good idea of what you’re going to be doing in five years, and that’s okay. After all, it can be hard when you’ve only just started out on your career journey. But you’ll still need to come up with a satisfactory answer, and blankly telling your interviewer that you have no clue isn’t the way to go. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer you can use, the best way to go about this is to answer it for yourself first.
Try to visualise and imagine where you’d like to work, the type of culture you’d like to be in or the kind of job roles you could see yourself in. You can also derive some insight from the position that you’re applying for – like why you chose it, and if you have any interest in the industry it’s in, for example.
Don’t worry too much about the specifics. So long as you come out of it with a better understanding of what you want, it’s enough to help prepare your answer.
Crafting your answer
1. Tailor it to the job's description
Your response should align with the company’s mission, values and job description, so that means that you can’t use the same answer for every interview you go to. For example, if you’re looking to get a job in programming, focusing on an irrelevant skillset is only going to leave your interviewer confused.
2. Mention your long-term and short-term goals
Doing so shows your interviewer that you’re thinking about your career development in the long run, and that you have at least some idea on how you intend to get there. However, it’s not enough to just list them: you should be able to link them together into one cohesive plan.
3. Be realistic and authentic
Even if you’re a naturally ambitious person, keep your goals grounded. Blatantly declaring that you’ll be a CEO in the next five years, despite being a fresh grad, is just going to make you look arrogant in front of your interviewers. Plus, if you paint the wrong picture of yourself and then fail to deliver on your promises, you’ll end up looking bad.
4. Show your commitment
The most important part of your answer is to show that your growth is aligned with the progression in the company in the long run. With this in mind, your answer should reflect not just interest in the job and company, but also how you plan to stay and grow your career there as a potential hire.
Employers can learn a lot about their applicants from a single question, and this one is no exception. But the most important factor to remember is that interviewers want candidates who take the position they’re hiring for seriously. With the right approach, you can make it clear to them that the professional growth you seek goes hand in hand with the job they’re offering in order to get one step closer to landing that job offer.