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.

“What’s Your Weakness?”

Ah the weakness question in the job interview. It’s one of the classics isn’t it? I mean of all the things they ask you in most interviews, why is this question still being asked?

The answer is of course that the question is a good one, so you best be prepared to answer it intelligently. If the question wasn’t worthwhile, then interviewers would have stopped asking it a long time ago. So it stands to reason they are finding it useful in revealing information necessary which helps them make their decision.

Asking about an area in which you are weak gives you the opportunity to either reveal something about yourself so damaging that the interview essentially ends on the spot or it provides the chance to impress the interviewer. Revealing something damaging about yourself isn’t something I’m going to spend much time on here. Suffice to say, its fatal to say you have no flaws at all. It’s also suicidal to reveal a criminal conviction, past aggressive behaviour on the job such as assaulting a co-worker you didn’t get along with or question the interviewers intelligence in asking such a dumb question. Oh yeah, someone I know actually did that.

The smart thing to do with the question is to have thought about it long before the interview. Anticipating the question makes it less nerve-wracking and stressful when it does come up for starters. Let’s face it, when you really want the job, talking in any way about a known weakness isn’t going to be something you naturally would want to volunteer. So doing it on the spot might catch you saying something later that while honest, wasn’t the best choice.

So pull out that job posting and read what the job entails. What will you be doing in this position and have you done it before? All of it? Are there areas or perhaps a single thing you notice that you haven’t had direct experience doing or perhaps did quite a long time ago and you know things have evolved? Could be, and if so, you might find your answer to the question here. Do yourself a favour though and don’t make telling them your weakness the entirety of your answer. The impact of this is just to leave them flat and yourself painted in a negative light.

When you state your weakness follow it up by sharing both what you are doing to improve on it and how you’ve overcome such weaknesses in the past. For example if an organization uses some specific computer software that you are not familiar with, you could share this along with evidence from your past where you quickly acquired the necessary expertise to competently use industry-specific software in a previous organization. It stands to reason that if you learned software elsewhere upon accepting a previous job, you have the necessary skills and interest to learn the software this organization uses too.

The one thing you may reveal about yourself in answering this question is your attitude for learning and your acceptance of learning from others around you. Presumably you are going to get some support in this new position. Someone is going to be responsible for showing you the ropes, giving you an orientation to the job, introducing you to company policies and practices and might be assigned to have you job shadow them.

You are the new hire; the fresh blood. You are the one in the beginning who has a lot to learn, even if or when you come to a job with a great deal of experience. So while you have much to share and a good grasp of the technical skills to perform in those early days, you won’t know how the organization you are now working for goes about the work. It’s in the ‘how we do it here’ that you can best reveal a positive attitude and a willingness to learn.

Once, maybe even twice, you might get away with a, ‘this is different from when I worked at such-and-such” but keep those kind of statements to a minimum. You don’t work there anymore and this company does things a certain way for a certain reason and quite frankly you haven’t been with them long enough to know why. The bottom line is it’s good advice to respect how and organization does things in the beginning instead of second-guessing those around you and telling them about the better ways of doing things they need to know.

The weakness question in the job interview also gives you the chance to identify any training issues the company should be aware of that once known can best get you working up to full speed. If you claim to have a certain knowledge and experience at the interview but are counting on bluffing it or getting a co-worker to show you what you claimed to know, you might find yourself out of a job faster than it took you to get it.

In the here and now can you identify something that is generally needed in the jobs you are applying for that you aren’t strong in? if so, start to work on that now. Look up some training online that might be free or invest in yourself and take a course. Practice your skills and get that training on your resume so you can point to what you are doing to improve yourself in that area.