When you are interviewing for a new job, you may be asked a question like, “Where do you see yourself in five years from now?” it can be hard to articulate where you would like to be in your career next year, let alone five years down the road. But even when you do know, it’s important to be careful about how you respond because you’ll need to tailor your answer to the job for which you are interviewing.
This popular interview question helps interviewers and hiring managers get a sense of how your career goals align with the company’s goals. It also helps them gauge whether you’re likely to have a long tenure at their company or if you’ll probably leave after just a few months or a year on the job.
What interviewer is trying to judge
In today’s competitive job market, interviewers are looking for any red flag to use as an excuse not to hire someone. So you could be unfairly eliminated from contention if you answer this question in a way that even hints this is not the one and only job of your dreams.
Understandably, an employer wants to hire someone who is truly excited about the job at hand, someone who sees it as a great career move and will work tirelessly to do a good job.
Interviewers ask about your future career goals and objectives for two reasons:
- They want to know if you’re going to stay put in the new position.
- They want to know if your long-term career goals align with the company.
Here’s what they don’t want to hear:
- Jokes about how you’ll be the one on the other side of the table in five years.
- Detailed schemes about getting promoted within the company.
- Pipe dreams about being famous, owning a business, or going back to school.
- A bunch of “Hmmmm.” And, “Ummmm.” Or, “I don’t know. That’s hard to say.”
Keep these points in mind:
- No, interviewers don’t expect you to know exactly where you will be in the next 5 or 10 years.
- What they do expect is that you’re taking the position you’re applying for seriously.
- They expect you to stick around for a while and do good work.
- What interviewers really want to hear when they ask “where do you see yourself in 5 years” is – HERE.
Start by asking yourself: “What are my career goals?”
Are they related to the open position? No? That’s okay. Write down a few sample career goals and aspirations. Set them aside.
Now, write down a few long-term career goals and aspirations that could flow from the position. They may not match your 5-year career goal plan, but that’s okay.
Next, you’re going to need to do some research on the company and the open position.
Here’s what you’re looking for:
- Career Paths for the Position
- Training and Development Opportunities
- Shared Values
- Interesting Projects
Tips on what to include and what to avoid
Hiring managers don’t generally enjoy recruiting, hiring, and training new people. It can be a time-consuming and difficult process. Your interviewer does not want to invest time and effort in someone who is already planning to leave for something better as soon as it comes along (whether that’s a job that’s a better fit, grad school, or your own business).
After all, if she hires you and you quit after a month or two, she’s going to look really bad to her bosses.
In reality, you are probably considering a few different potential career paths. It’s smart for you to keep your options open to a certain extent. However, you don’t have to advertise this fact in your job interviews.
Let’s be clear: You should never lie during a job interview. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be 100% candid about all of the directions that you are investigating.
What to include in your answer
1. Keep your answer fairly general, especially if you don’t know a lot about the typical career path at the company. For most interview questions, I recommend being SPECIFIC because general answers tend to be bland and easily forgettable. This is the exception. Make your answer truthful, but broad enough that it doesn’t raise doubts about whether you would be a good fit for this position at this organization.
2. Stress your interest in a long-term career at the company (especially if you have short job tenures on your resume). Your interviewer wants to know that you’re ready to settle in and grow with the firm. The truth is that anything can happen. The company could go out of business, they could lay you off, or you could be lured away for a better opportunity.
However, remember that the organization is going to be investing considerable time, energy, and money in hiring and training someone for this job. You must at least show an honest intention to stay long enough to be a good investment. If you have some “job hopping” on your resume, it’s particularly important to make the case that you’re now ready for a long-term role.
3. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job as an exciting next step for you. Most importantly, make it clear that you are motivated to take on this opportunity right now.
Tips of the Best Answers
Outline a Career Path
In order to prepare well for this question, research a reasonable career path which will flow from the position for which you are applying. How long does one ordinarily spend in that job? What are the next steps within five years?
Some employers will clearly outline pathways in the career section of their website. However, you may need to approach professionals in the field through alumni, family, friends, or professional associations to gain an accurate picture.
For example, if you’re a registered nurse applying for a clinical nurse position at a hospital, and your goal is to someday move into management, you should research the organization to see if nurses typically work their way into nurse manager roles.
Start by looking for nurse manager openings on the company’s careers site, to confirm that the company is actively hiring. Then look at LinkedIn profiles of nurse managers currently working at the hospital. If this is a likely career path, your research should show that employees typically make that move.
I’m eager to continue developing my clinical skills as a member of this unit. I’ve also noticed that many nurse managers at City Hospital move from staff nurse to nurse manager, and that’s something that interests me as part of my five-year plan.
Discuss Your Interest in This Job
It’s often advantageous to emphasize your interest in thoroughly mastering the initial position before moving on. If it seems like you are rushing past that first job, employers might question how motivated you are to carry out those duties.
After all, the hiring manager will probably want someone who’ll be happy and competent in that role for at least a year or two.
Integrating a clear rationale into your answer about how your interests and skills equip you to do the can help to alleviate any concerns about how long you’ll want to stay at the job.
One of the things that drew me to this job is the opportunity to wear many hats. As the real estate agency’s administrative assistant, I know I’d have plenty of scope to continue building my customer service skills as well as a chance to put my web design abilities to use refining the company website. I’m also excited to learn more about the business from the most highly regarded agents in the industry.
When There is No Clear Career Path
Not all jobs are stepping stones to higher positions. For example, positions such as counseling, sales, event planning, teaching, and computer programming, it’s perfectly appropriate to emphasize mastery of that job as your five-year goal.
Think about components of the job in which you can excel. For example, when interviewing for a sales job, you could say:
Within five years I would like to be recognized as an expert in terms of product knowledge, have developed very close relationships with clients, have significantly expanded the client base in my region, and perhaps have been assigned some major national clients.
An answer like that shows that your desire for career growth doesn’t need to occur outside of job and the company.
Goals = Results
Stating your goals in terms of results that you would like to produce is another angle for responding. So, for example, a prospective teacher for a district which is trying to upgrade performance on standardized tests might say:
I would like to significantly increase the percentage of students reading at or above grade level through creative instructional methods.
What to avoid in your answer
1. Don’t overthink it:
In my work with individual clients, I’ve seen this mistake a million times. It’s great that you take the question seriously, but you are not being evaluated based on the accuracy of the answer. Use your answer to reassure the interviewer that you’re invested in this career path.
2. Don’t be too specific:
The ambition is good. The goals are good. However, if you are too specific, you run the risk of stating goals that are not realistically achievable in the job available. From the interviewer’s perspective, that means you’re not a good fit.
3. Don’t be flaky:
You can come across as flaky if you seem to have a million different ideas about what you want to do — or if you have zero clear ideas about your future. In reality, many good candidates are exploring different options or are still trying to figure it out. However, a job interview is not a session with your career coach. You want to give the impression that you’re focused and have a plan (even if it’s not the only plan you’re considering).
4. Don’t raise red flags:
Many job seekers have long-term visions of going back to school or starting their own business. These are admirable goals, but there’s no need to share them with your interviewer, especially if you’re still weighing your possibilities.
Of course, if you’ve already committed to full-time grad school or another path that will conflict with your ability to perform in the job, it’s only fair to be open about that.
“My goal right now is to find a position at a company where I can grow and take on new challenges over time. Ultimately, I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and get involved in product strategy. But most importantly, I want to work for an organization where I can build a career.”
“I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”
“Well I’m really excited about this opening. In the next five years, I would like to be recognised as an expert in this sector. This job will for sure provide me with a golden opportunity to do the same. Since I already have a few years of work experience, I am excited to take up managerial responsibilities in the coming few years. Besides, I have the potential to lead projects, and if I am able to deliver, I am sure this organization will give me the chance to become one of the forerunners. I would like to mention that in the past, I have worked with some amazing managers. Under them, I have bloomed into a professional with great managerial skills myself. Five years ago, I wanted to be where I am today. So five years from now, I want to set up realistic goals for myself and also for my organization. I will keep the same fire alive within and I hope I will achieve my goal.”
“During my internship years, it was quite difficult for me to foresee what was coming. I had set up simple goals which I know I could achieve. In the upcoming five years, I want to test myself. I have set up targets which can bring out the best of me. These objectives deal with making decisions that were tough but fruitful. In my initial years, I tried to play it safe which most people do. The five years I see ahead of me are full of responsibilities which need better decisiveness. I am sure the years will be mutually progressive for me and the organization.”
“I am certain that the coming five years will be productive for me. Working in an esteemed organization with a positive work environment can be rewarding. I can picture myself growing to the position I am working on. I feel the values of this organization can be advantageous to my career.Inreturn, I see myself utilizing my knowledge to yield better outcomes. The five years ahead are a guide to me. They would take me to a target where I can cherish the achievements along the road.”
“Judging by my previous assumptions, I have seldom landed to the place I had wanted to. It can be due to the unclear goals I have set in past. Due to the very same reason, I started setting up smaller targets which have led me to this place. Keeping this habit intact, I want to add some bigger targets. I want to work with your organization, doing the best I can for the tasks I am assigned to. During these years, I want to perform what is expected of me. If required, I will consider myself responsible for leading the team which can provide desired outcomes to this reputed organization. It is not as easy as it seems. I hope my decisions are rewarding at the end.”
“In past, when someone asked me where do you see yourself five years from now, I was not specific with my answer. This made me realize that I wasn’t decisive with my goals. I repeated this question in my mind several times. I have come to a simple conclusion. In upcoming years, I see myself satisfied with the work I am doing. To make this a reality, I have to work within an atmosphere which understands my views. I am sure that this organization can help me achieve the target. Every element of my goal can be constructed within the walls of this organization. The organization respects hard work. The motivation can help me grow and excel in the field. So after five years, I can say that I am happy with the work I do.”
“I have always set my priorities in life. Today I can say that those priorities have helped me achieve various things. Those decisions have rewarded me with the opportunity to sit here in a reputed organization. It is almost certain that I have set up priorities for the upcoming years. I look forward to working here with a promising attitude. I want to attain new heights in my career whilst taking forward the goal of this organization. It is important for me to synchronize my targets with the objectives of this company. Then it can be easier for me to work with my full potential. The five years that lie ahead can be marked with milestones of progress, for me as well as the organization.”
“For a beginner like me, these five years play a significant role. Working here can cement my step in a positive direction. For what I have heard, this organization is as good as it gets. I can ask no more. I can contribute to my full capabilities in the upcoming years. In return, I can see myself sharpening my skills. I can feed my knowledge with the experience of the existing work team. This experience can then be put to use for the progress of the organization. Having said that, the five years can lay a solid foundation for my career. I plan to build floors of success on the foundation. This is where I see myself in the upcoming five years.”
“I never figured out how to respond when asked where do you see yourself five years from now. Then I realized that the answer was in front of me. I was never decisive enough so that people could rely on me. I want to continue working on this part. In the five years, I see myself taking calculated decisions for the growth of my professional careers. Earning reliability is my basic objective. I want the administration to lay their trust on me. This can help me to give positive results. Earning credibility can lead me to new responsibilities. Performing those with great zeal can improve the credibility to a new level. This correlated cycle is advantageous to any individual. In five years, I hope I hit the target I have aimed for.”
“I am a person of simple needs. I have never stopped feeding my curiosity. To learn things while you are at it is an education that I look up to. When you ask where do you see yourself five years from now, the answer is straight and simple. During the course of these five years, I want to continue learning while I am performing my duty. The cycle of learning never stops. I see myself gaining knowledge in multiple fields. There is enough to learn for me. This is what I believe in. If I am able to master various tasks, I feel I can be useful to the company in more than one way. This process of learning can motivate me to work with new potential. I know that this organization has given enough room to learners like me. I hope I can repay this liberty in the future.”
“Let me mention that I have never been filled with such enthusiasm for any job position ever before. It is because this job is what I have always desired. I ensure you that I am not polishing my words according to desperation. I had set up my career goals to reach this point. Having done that, now I look forward to giving out my best in every aspect. The experience I have gathered in my career can be useful for this job position. Also, I can help new recruits to settle down well within the working environment. I can guide them further to the point where they can elaborate their ideas for the progress of this organization. For me, this is an objective which is worth working for. In five years, I see myself sharing the experience with the team for the benefit of all.”
In five years, I want to complete the internal training program for my position. I’ve read about it on your website, and I think it’s a fabulous program. Not only would I get all the training for my role, but I would be on the fast track to becoming a project manager. That’s my top career goal. Plus, my ideal path would include working abroad for a couple of years. I understand that it’s of value to you to find people prepared to do so.
One of the reasons I want to work for P&G is because I find your personalized approach to training attractive. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with a mentor and immerse myself in learning new skills. I’m also the type of employee that likes to hit the ground running and jump into projects as soon as possible. So, over the next five years, I see myself taking on as many complex assignments as the position would allow.Bythe end of that period, I want to say that I’ve built lasting client relationships. I want to say that I’m one of the best Salespeople on the team. I wouldn’t mind becoming someone who could train and mentor others when the time comes as well.
As a marketing professional, I want to develop my skill set. At the end of the next five years, I want to know how to use software like Photoshop or InDesign. I want to have a better understanding of social media and video marketing. Plus I’d like to get into project management. I would like to learn on the job. Regardless, I want to look into online or evening courses. My hope is that I can apply my new skills to my job with you.
As a Chef, I want to develop my skill set. At the end of the next five years, I want to know how to prepare and present dishes for a 5-star restaurant like yours. I also want to finish some specialized managerial training if possible. To achieve this, I’ve decided to do some workshops and online training in my free time. My hope is that my new skills would help me say that I am the best at my job here at Le Bone A Petit.
I saw that you have an employee training program for young accountants. I would love to complete such a program within my first or second year working with you. Plus, one of my professional career goals is to work on a project for a non-profit. So, I would hope that at the end of five years, I would have at least a couple of such projects under my belt.
I’m applying for a marketing position because I want to put myself on a more creative career path. I have a background in law, so I know that I would be most effective in a law firm. I can apply my legal knowledge to inform my work. That should give me an edge that I wouldn’t have if I started over in a different industry. At the same time, I still need to transition. So, over the next five years, I want to develop my creative skill set in this entry-level position. So, my long-term goal is to become a skillful marketing professional within your company.