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“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

How should you answer this tricky interview question?

A great interview answer is one that is both authentic and strategic. It’s the best answer that’s true and shows you’re a good fit for the job.

It may help to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. If you were them, you’d be looking for an employee who will not only stay a reasonably long time, but also will be 100% engaged in the job. Too many employees have mentally “checked out” from their jobs, going through the motions day after day. Often it’s because there’s a mismatch between the job and their career goals.

If you’re not sure what your goals are, you’re not alone! It may be hard to decide now what you’ll want a year from now, let alone five years. Use your difficulty with this question as a wake-up call to explore your career options and make some decisions.

Your answer to the five-year question doesn’t have to be extremely specific. It may be enough to say something like this:

“I see myself continuing to grow with this organization, deepening my skills, taking on new challenges. I am interested in growing into (new area that’s a realistic next step within the company, such as mastering new technologies, team leadership or management) over time, once I’ve proven myself in (role for which you’re interviewing).”

or:

“Being a recent graduate, I’m still exploring my career path, but I do know it will involve (skills or subject matter), so this job is a great fit. I admire this company because (reasons based on your research), and I can see myself continuing to develop my career here.

Key point: Show a balance of motivation with patience, ambition with realism, goal-setting with adaptability.

Be careful if your goal is to get your boss’s job – or if they might suspect as much and feel threatened. Communicate loyalty and flexibility in your answer.

What if your goals require leaving the company in less than five years? Maybe you see this job as a stepping stone, which might be a problem for the employer. This is an ethical and also practical question that each person must settle for themselves. Consider these points:

  • How long do most people stay?
  • How long do you think the employer expects you to stay?
  • Will leaving sooner than expected be a big problem for the employer?
  • Will it look bad on your resume?
  • Will it damage your reputation? (People do talk, whatever the official references policy may be.)
  • Can you live comfortably every day with a secret (your impending departure)?
  • Is there a reasonable alternative to taking this “stepping stone” job?
  • Would the employer benefit from hiring you even if you don’t stay long?
  • Can you make this a win-win? How?

Your answer to the five-year question may be brief, but it’s wise to prepare – so you can respond with confidence.

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