Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?

When I’m facilitating workshops on improving one’s performance in job interviews, I often begin by asking those participating to share with me any questions they find difficult to answer. Among the questions which often come up is, ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’

In coming up with your answer for this question; and every other question you will be asked by the way, do your best to understand the purpose of the question. While you are doing your best to impress the interviewers and get a job offer, from their side of the table, they are looking for reasons to rule candidates out and hire the last person remaining. In other words, answering this question well can leave you in the hunt, answering it poorly can leave you out of the running.

So, what’s behind the question? They might be checking to see if you’ve got ambition and see yourself having been promoted within the organization. While this strikes most people as surely a positive thing, it could trigger an area to be concerned about in the mind of the interviewer. Why? If they see you’ve already got your eyes on a more senior role in the organization, they could be going through this same hiring process in a short time; something they don’t want to do. Hiring and training people takes time and money, and in return for that investment in hiring new people, they want and expect to get a return on that investment. When it’s all about you and your career advancement, that doesn’t show an understanding and empathy for the employer’s situation.

Now on the other hand, some employer’s hope and expect you’ll outgrow an entry-level position, and if you stay with the company, they’d like you to advance having spent some time on the front-line. This way you’ve got an appreciation and first-hand experience of what it’s like to work at the bottom and this can shape your work as you move up. If you show no ambition beyond the job after 5 years, they may look at you as stagnating and dead weight.

I have found a combination of the two above positions to be ideal for most people in most job interviews. Doing research into an organization and the people who work in the role you’re after should reveal some insights that will aid you with the question. If however, you fail to unearth any clues about how long people typically stay in the job you’re after, you still need an answer. See what you think of this:

Let me assure you my focus at this time is securing this position and investing myself in the job; ensuring you in turn get a return on your investment in hiring me. That being said, I’d like to take part in any courses, cross-training or collaborative projects which will put me in a position to compete successfully for opportunities which may present themselves in the future.

You see a lot can happen in 5 years. While you and the interviewer might both have ideas of how things will look in that time, you both are looking at the future armed only with what you know in the present with respect to the future. As time evolves, opportunities may present themselves for an organization to launch new products, expand or contract, re-brand themselves entirely, move or perhaps stay largely exactly as they are. All kinds of factors may impact your personal direction and ambition.

Now there are some answers which effectively take you right out of the running in the mind of some interviewers. Suppose you shared that you and your partner plan on starting your family and having a couple of children over the next 5 years. Doing the math, this could mean you’re off for 2 of those 5 years on maternity leave, and your attendance and performance may become concerning both during pregnancy and once the children are born. Yes you’ve a right to start a family, but the interviewer knows there’ll still be work needing doing, and if they have to hire short-term help to cover your position, well, if they can avoid it, they just might choose someone who doesn’t raise this issue. Best to keep these plans to yourself.

Another possible problem answer is at the other end of the age spectrum. If see yourself as fully retired in 2-3 years, you could take yourself out of the running if they are wanting to hire someone they can make a long-term investment in. You might be perfect however if they are looking to hire someone for only 2-3 years while they restructure their workforce to compete better down the road. Getting what they can out of you for those few years might be pretty appealing and you part ways happily. Just don’t make this answer all about you. Sure you’ll get your pay for a few years and ride off into the sunset, but organizations aren’t entirely charitable. What’s in it for them? Productivity and someone who is totally invested in this single job and not looking beyond it to advance.

Some jobs have a high turnover precisely because they are entry-level, minimum wage jobs and employers expect if you have any ambition you’ll move on. Not everybody wants to climb the ladder though and that’s not a bad thing. Being consistently productive in a job is a wonderful quality; a win-win.

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.

Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?

“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?

“Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?”

Ah one of the interview classics; maybe even your least favourite question to answer in an interview. Why do people seem to hate it so?

In the past, it was likely that when someone took a job, they worked at it for many years. When they did change jobs, it was unusual, as most people did the same thing or stayed with the same employer moving up the corporate ladder.

Fast-forward to 2015 however, and people are changing jobs more frequently than ever, and not always because they choose to. Layoffs, company relocations, downsizing, changing employer needs, new product development have all created an economy where job security in many situations just isn’t there. With all of this impacting on workers like never before, looking into the future isn’t entirely in a persons control.

Interviewers however, still ask this question. From their point of view, the reason for asking it has to do with checking to see if you have some longer term goal and how that goal will impact your performance should you be hired. If you are planning on staying with the company, they may indeed want and expect you to be hungry for advancement once you learn the job you are applying for now. As you master the job requirements, they may want to groom you for additional responsibilities and have you progress into positions of training others, while you advance.

If you are just floating along in life with no clear master plan for your career, they may interpret this as a problem, for you could then be easily swayed to leave them quicker than 5 years, and they’ll be going through this hiring process sooner than they’d like. In addition, they may not find you entirely willing when they would expect you to advance in the organization.

Entry-level positions you see, are the easiest to fill in most organizations, requiring the least amount of skill. After all, look at how many applications most companies get when they do advertise an opening externally. With such a large pool of applicants, at this point in history there is an abundance of people from which to choose. It’s the next position up the organizational chart that draws fewer applicants.

Yes organizations in many cases like to hire from within. After all, they will know you pretty well over the next 5 years; your punctuality, dependability, personality, attitude, aptitude for learning, willingness to put in extra effort or not etc. You could say your first 5 years with a company is actually just a very long interview for a future opportunity.

In a really progressive organization, succession planning occurs across the organization. Employees who identify themselves as wanting to advance are given increasingly more responsibility, chances to attend training events that others who don’t want to advance are denied, and the Supervisor’s work with them to prepare them to one day take over their own jobs as they too move up.

Now should you tell an interviewer that in 5 years you expect to be back in school taking some course which will send you off in another direction entirely, this could either work in your favour or backfire. The positive would be if they are looking for a shorter-term employee and there will be no real opportunity for long-term employment. So taking a 2 year contract if that’s what’s being offered is the perfect marriage between employer and employee. But then why would they ask about your 5 year plan?

If you are planning a return to school in the next 5 years, the downside could be you get passed over completely if the employer is seeking long-term employees committing to the company. “Thanks for your honesty but no job. Next!”

You can often find this question or some version of it when it’s time for your yearly review too. Your boss might want to find out what’s rolling around between your ears so they can both plan to help you along, and plan for your replacement so they don’t get surprised with your departure and have to scramble.

The question itself may garner predictable answers based on one’s age. A person in their 50’s is more likely to be thinking of riding off into the sunset in their present job, not entirely motivated to put in the required mental and physical energy to learn an entirely new job. Someone in their 20’s might be openly questioned if they said they were just comfortable in their existing job with no plans for advancement. Well maybe, but there are many exceptions.

So what were you doing 5 years ago? 5 years ago would you have predicted you’d be where you are right now? Had you said then that you’d be in your existing space (maybe you’ve advanced or joined the unemployed or retired) would you have been believed or believe it yourself? For some 5 years is forever. Some of us let’s face it can’t even do the food shopping and buy the required items for the weeks meals. “How can I know on Saturday what I’ll want to eat next Wednesday?” Unless you shop every day, some future planning is necessary.

Future-gaze a little. So what if your crystal ball is murky and sometimes unreliable. Give yourself permission to change your plans, reassess your goals and move in new directions. At the same time however, a general outline for your working life is a very good idea worth thinking about.

“Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?”

If you find yourself asked some version of this question in a job interview, you should have a solid answer prepared in advance as it’s more than predictable. But in order to answer it well, as with all questions, it’s important to know what the person asking it is really hoping to hear.

For starters, the question is designed to see if you even have any plans for your future or not. You might be one of those many who don’t have any plan whatsoever and just drift along from day-to-day, from job to job, from place to place.

On the other hand, you might be one of those folks who has a master plan for their life, and if so, the interviewer is interested in knowing how the job you are applying for fits with your plan. Remember too that companies have short and long-range plans themselves; or at least they should. One of your own questions near the end of the interview might be to spin this question around and then ask the interviewer where the company is headed over the next 5 years, and this could provide you with information that you need to determine if your goals and the direction of the company over that period would best serve each other.

Before you answer the question however, don’t assume that the best answer is to say you see yourself progressing in the company you are applying to. Depending on the job, it could be a position where they are looking to hire someone on a short-term basis only; come in and clean things up and then move on. You could be being interviewed for a project that will be over in two years, and the expectation may be that unless your services are needed to address another project, your position is terminal right from day one. You should of course know this going in to the interview based on the job posting and the homework you’ve done in preparation.

However, let’s go on the assumption that the job has no predetermined expiration. The employer may well value you highly if they believe it is your intent to stay with the company 5 years and beyond. If they value that loyalty, and it fits with your plans, then you are both on the same page, and are seeking a longer term investment in one another. How your previous employment supports such intent or not might come into question. If you’ve worked 4 jobs in the last 3 years, you’d best be prepared to explain the reasons behind the moves to the satisfaction of the interviewer.

Were such a number of jobs in a short period of time your situation, maybe you intentionally were out to get various experiences, a company you believed you’d stay with suddenly shut down for reasons beyond your own control, or they relocated and you couldn’t move with them. What you might be most interested in is latching onto a company with stability and with plans to thrive and grow in your geographical location.

One thing to be cautious of is stating that you are interested in advancement, and hence you expect to see yourself in a different job with more responsibility but with the same company in 5 years. That sounds okay to some of you readers, but with some interviewers it’s a red flag. You see a company might be wanting stability themselves in a certain role within their operations. If you plan to move on, they might just not appreciate having to go through this process again in a 5 year window or less.

Many organizations are fluid; they move people around from job to job and they position themselves to adapt to the market, consider new ways of doing things, reconfigure themselves and as such, their needs constantly change. If you are interviewing for such a company, your adaptability and transferable skills plus your continual interest in ongoing learning and new challenges will be seen as an asset.

Recognize however that other businesses – and there are plenty of them – desire the status quo. Some companies brand themselves on producing the same things from year to year with little variation. They may therefore also value employees who if happy today, will be happy in 5 years doing the same job. Are you the kind of person who likes variety and needs the stimulation of change, or are the type that appreciates doing the same thing from year to year with little change in your own duties?

I personally think that depending on what you discover from your research, a safe way to go about answering the question is to stress that your first priority is to get a solid handle on the job you are currently applying to. It may take a year or more to truly master the job or it may be the kind of job that you can fully do with high proficiency in a short time. Then if you want to, you can also state as part of your answer that you would like to be in a position to compete internally for progressively challenging positions should they become available in the future.

The reply above reassure the interviewer they’ll get a return on their investment in hiring you, that you will be happy staying in the job you are applying to today, but that you have ambitions to grow with the company. Not always the right answer, but more than not.