“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is a hard question for some because they honestly have no idea, and for some others because their honest answers remove them from the hiring process. Don’t you just want to scream, “The next 5 years? Look I’m just trying to concentrate on the next 30 minutes and get through this interview!”
Like every other interview question asked, I think the first thing that is helpful is to look at the reason behind the question. Why is the interviewer interested in hearing about my future plans? There are some pretty standard reasons why this question gets asked.
First and foremost, the interviewer is conducting these interviews to find someone to fill an immediate vacancy. No matter how you proceed in your answer, you don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the need the employer has is for this specific position. You can talk your way right out of the hiring process if you speak of really just using this job as a short-term gap filler and really have your sights set on a position with greater responsibility and pay. In fact, if your subsequent questions near the end of the interview are only about advancement and when you can apply for these other jobs, you run the risk of essentially telling the interviewer you’re really not interested in the job he/she is interviewing for, and they’ll see themselves posting and interviewing for this job in a few months again; something they are not likely to want to do.
If your ambitions are really focused on some other position within the company, it’s essential to both communicate your long-term goal but at the same time make it clear you understand the position being discussed is what you are interviewing for and interested in. If this is the case, you might say something like:
“First and foremost I am sincerely interested in this position I’m interviewing for today. I’d like to position myself to take advantage of career advancement opportunities when they arise. I understand you’ll want to get a decent return on the investment in training you’ll make for the person you hire, and when hired, you can count on me to focus on the job I’m interviewing for today.”
Answering the question in this way safeguards you against talking yourself out of the job you are being interviewed for. It takes money and time to post an opening, receive and short-list resumes, then conduct interviews and hire someone, and finally invest in their training. The last thing most employers’ want to think about is going through this process twice in short order; now and when you leave in short order for another position; your real ambition.
On the other hand, you do want to communicate some longer-term vision if you’re sincerely interested in advancing from this position being discussed to a more intermediate or senior role with the company. Many employers like to hire employees in entry-level roles and then promote from within. Having a good grounding on the front lines often gives those higher up on the organizational chart perspective.
Don’t think that the right answer is necessarily to tell the interviewer you see yourself in this exact position in 5 years’ time. It could be that you’d be expected to transition from this entry-level position to another job in the company, and answering that you’d be happy doing the same thing in 5 years really communicates a lack of ambition.
The real interesting thing from the point of view of an unemployed person is of course that the main goal here is often to just get hired. The person is so focused on just moving from unemployed to hired, that the idea of thinking beyond the one position to some other one isn’t easy to conceive, and even harder to then speak to intelligently and convincingly.
However, having said this, if you have an accurate knowledge of the possible positions that would be typically offered to entry-level employees who hold the position you are competing for, it’s probably safe to assert your aspirations. Sharing this information would demonstrate your understanding of progress within the company.
The risk you run when you don’t have this information and just wing it, is you could expose your true lack of understanding between the job you are competing for and the next rung up the corporate ladder. So stating you want to move from this job you’re competing for to one 3 or 4 steps up as your next move could be seen as overly ambitious and not really having respect or an appreciation for the skills you’d need to acquire through the organization.
What’s the worst thing you might say in answer to where do you see yourself in 5 years? “In 5 years I suspect I’ll be after your job.” You might as well just put your head in the noose and ask the interviewer to kick out your chair; you’re done.
The question is really aimed at hearing if you’ve got ambition and goals, and how those goals fit with the organizations ability to meet both your needs and their needs; immediate and future. To really pull off this answer, you’ll need to do some advanced research. How long do people generally stay in the position you’re interviewing for, and where do they migrate to?