Where Do You See Yourself In 5 years?

When you’re looking for a new job; whether now or at some point in your future, how much does advancing within the organization play a part in determining what positions you apply to?

The extent to which a company promotes from within, and the increased probability of advancing beyond the role you’re applying for seems to be a big attraction for some. Somewhat ironically, many of those same people when I’m preparing them for upcoming job interviews express anxiety over how to answer one question in particular; “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Their dilemma is that while they want to advance, they haven’t got any idea of what the next job might be. Therefore, intelligently answering this question when asked by a company employee who knows the job titles next up on the organization’s hierarchy seems awkward. They also worry that choosing to say they expect to be in the place they are applying for now would be the wrong answer because it might show a lack of drive or commitment.

Consider that this interview question has remained exactly the same over many decades. The job market as well as both employer and employee loyalty however, have evolved. In other words, where a company might have in the past kept an employee on for 40 years, they now see frequent turnover as a norm. The same is true of employees. Years past a person would typically take a job in their early 20’s and they would be happy and content to stay, working day in and day out with predictability in their daily work and changing employers would be abnormal and something to remark on. In 2018, a person may go through 6 – 8 jobs and even switch careers completely 2 or 3 times on average.

So what’s behind this rather traditional question of where you expect to be 5 years down the road?

First let’s acknowledge that like every other field, there are excellent interviewers good ones, poor ones and there are rookies. So you might get asked this question by someone who doesn’t really even know WHY they are asking or what a good answer looks like. It’s unlikely with a seasoned interviewer; as they’ll have a definitive reason for asking all the questions they pose, even if it doesn’t seem immediately clear to you what they’d ask a certain question for.

The question of where you’ll be in 5 years isn’t actually fixed on 5 years anymore; think of the 5 years as representing the future you who has come to master the job you are only applying for now. By the time 5 years has passed, you’ll not only have the job down, you’ll have come to know and understand the company brand, culture and value system. So what’s really be asked is this: To what do you aspire once you’ve got a solid, working knowledge of this job and the organization itself? Do you have any ambition beyond this job? Do you want more responsibility? More stimulation and challenge? There’s also a strong belief among some employers that your personal value will rise substantially if you move into senior roles having worked in ground floor jobs within the organization.

There’s a trap in this innocent question however, and you can easily fall into it and remove yourself from the competition if you’re not careful. If you come across as so set on advancing that you’re already looking well beyond the job you are applying for now, you could cause the interviewer to fear they’ll be going through this same hiring process in less than 6 months’ time. They don’t want to constantly be hiring for this position, so they might pull you out of the competition, tell you you’re overqualified and suggest you reapply when other jobs come up that would be a better fit. Of course, if the next position up is theirs, you might also be denied a job to preserve their own!

So what to do? One option is to show that your first priority is to focus on the job you are applying to now; to make sure the company gets a good return on their faith in hiring you. At the same time, you’d like to place yourself within the organization to take advantage of opportunities as they arise through training, development and any recommended networking or project contributions.

After all, a lot can happen in 5 years time. Your priorities might shift in ways you cannot possibly imagine in the present. An organization might contract, expand, take over a rival, add a new division, promote an early retirement incentive to change over it’s working force. Who knows?

Personally, I prefer looking 2 years down the road. I think 2 years fits better in our current climate and fits better with job market trends. 5 years is almost abstract to most people.

The other thing to consider is that not everyone wants a promotion or to advance. Excellent employees who find their motivation within and not from external sources can continue to be engaged, motivated and challenged in the same jobs for long periods of time. They might not be understood by those who have to climb the corporate ladders to feel successful but their aspirations are just as valid.

The key is just that; to remain invested, challenged, motivated and to be productive. Convince an interviewer of this and you’ve answered the question well indeed.

As always, be good out there and please consider passing this on.

“How Do I Raise The Issue Of Compensation?”

I’m not sure why so many people struggle with this issue but it seems to be the one question that many people stress over during an interview when they are asked if they have any questions. Some don’t believe they should ask about pay and benefits whatsoever, while others who have decided they do in fact want to ask aren’t sure about how to do it, out of the fear of being viewed as only concerned about money.

I look at the issue of compensation, (money and benefits) as a necessary piece of information required in order to determine if the position being discussed is going to provide you with what you believe to be a fair return on your investment in the company and the job they may offer you. You more than anyone, know the income you require in order to make ends meet, and hopefully, you want to do more than just survive, you want to thrive.

Consider that most employers are looking for people who use good judgement and make good decisions. If you preface your question by stating that the issue of compensation is one factor – not THE factor – in your decision-making process with respect to pursuing the position being discussed, then you are not only telling the interviewer you have good decision-making skills, you are demonstrating those skills right before them. Maybe this angle hadn’t occurred to you before?

You do need to have an accurate idea of the salary and benefits in order to actually make an informed decision on whether or not you can afford to take the job if offered, but also to compare or contrast this position with others you might be mulling over. Imagine what would happen if you accepted a job not knowing the salary, then two days into the job turned down another position that paid more money. The only way you found it paid more money was at the end of the third week of work when you received your very first pay. Wouldn’t you be kicking yourself perhaps having turned down a similar job which paid more money? This situation has happened to some of the people I assist who despite my advice, were too timid to ask in an interview; afraid they’d disrespect the interviewer by raising the issue.

The real issue therefore is not to wonder whether or not to raise the issue, but HOW to raise the issue respectfully, and in such a way that compensation doesn’t come across as your sole deciding factor.

The wrong way is to ask but a single question of the interview when you get a chance that goes, “How much does this job pay, and are there benefits?” Ask this single question and you are sending a clear message that you are only motivated about what you’ll get from the job, not what you’ll invest in the job. From the employers view, (and considering they are the ones who control the offer of a job this is the view that counts), it’s not about what you’ll get but rather, what you’ll contribute.

The solution for my money (pun intended), is to sandwich the issue of compensation between a minimum of two questions which pertain more to the job and the organization. In real terms, it could look like this:

Q1. I’d be very interested in hearing about the style of leadership the person to whom I would be reporting prefers in order to determine my personal fit.

Q2. I mentioned previously that I like to gather all the necessary information I can in order to make important decisions. Compensation for this position is one piece of information I’m very interested in hearing about, therefore could you share the salary range for this position and based on my background and what I’ll bring to the company, your offer.

Q3. Would it possible to have a short tour of the organization? I’d like to visualize myself here, feel the atmosphere and perhaps meet a few people.

The above three questions break down as 1 about your compensation and 2 about the company and the job. (The supervisor and the work environment). The question you may most want answered is the middle one; hence the sandwich.

Be forewarned that the person to whom you direct the question about compensation will undoubtedly zero in on your body language and facial expression when the salary is shared. They’ll be interested to by your reaction if you feel the number is low, fair or exceeds your expectations so stay in control.

You should have a good idea if you are inexperienced and will be happy with any salary or if you are a seasoned professional and your background justifies negotiating a higher number. You certainly don’t want to talk your way right out of their consideration by demanding an outrageous figure, but you should know your worth.

Remember too that if you don’t like the figure put on the table, you have options:

  1. Walk away
  2. Accept the compensation
  3. Negotiate a higher figure
  4. Accept the compensation as a starting salary and negotiate increments or raises based on performance (A combination of 2 and 3)

You must understand that if the company has a fixed salary range for a position, they are likely not going to start you at a wage which exceeds the income of others currently working in the same position.

How much are you worth?