By Mike Simpson
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So you want to know how to answer “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”…
Well to do that, we need to get back in our magical time machine and go to a time most of us remember fondly.
Do you remember as a kid playing with the Magic 8-Ball? It was always popular at sleepovers!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it…let us explain:
It was a goofy novelty toy; a giant pool ball filled with mysterious blue liquid.
You’d shake the ball, ask your question, and then flip it over…reading the answer on the bottom as it drifted up in ghostly white letters.
Regardless of the question you asked, you were only guaranteed one of twenty possible answers and odds were, if you weren’t happy with what you got…you’d shake the ball and ask again. And again. And again.
It was fun to pretend we had a window into the future by using the toy, but we all knew…it was just a toy and that there was no real way to predict the future.
So why do employers ask you to do just that?
Have you ever been in an interview and been asked the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Why do they ask this question? Do they think that at some point between putting down our 8-Balls and joining the real world that we’ve developed a bit of ESP?
Of course not!
As much fun as it would be to actually have these skills (can you say Lottery Winner?!?), no employer actually assumes you have those powers.
Their reason behind the question isn’t to test your precognitive abilities but rather to see how well your answer lines up with the company’s long term goals.
Now before you rush into a long winded explanation of where you think you’ll be and all the money you’ll be making at your new and fabulous job, let me stop you for a second and give you a serious word of warning.
THIS QUESTION IS A TRAP.
Unlike many of the other questions we’ve explored before including Traditional and Behavioral ones, a question like this is intended specifically to trip you up.
Why would an interviewer want to trip you up? Simple…
Because they want to get rid of you.
Wait…isn’t the purpose of an interview to hire someone? Why would they ask questions designed to get rid of applicants?
Yes, the ultimate goal of any good hiring manager is to find an employee to fill their vacancies, but they’re not looking for just anyone.
They want the Perfect Candidate and trick questions like this one are meant to weed out everyone but the best of the best.
How To Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years”
So how do you answer this question without falling into the trap?
By sidestepping it.
Rather than leaping directly over it and avoiding the question all together, we’ll show you how to work around it in such a way that you not only answer the question, but that you do it in such a way that your answer aligns with the company’s long term goals and values.
First off, let’s stop and look at the question itself.
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Seems like an easy question, right?
Amazingly enough, this question is one that most job seekers get incorrect.
Because they’re answering it just like you’d answer it if you were shaking that Magic 8-Ball and peeking into the future…a future where you see yourself as driven and motivated.
Answering this question with a demonstration of your ambition (“I see myself as CEO of the company driving a sexy new sports car and bringing in unprecedented profits!”) might seem like the answer a hiring manager wants to see, but in actuality…it’s not.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t answer with “Well, I see myself in your seat doing your job.”
No. No. No. That answer isn’t funny. It’s not ambitious. It’s a red flag…and you’re waving it right in an interviewer’s face.
Top Tips For Avoiding the Traps While Outlining Your Future Goals
The thing you have to keep in mind is…they’re interviewing you for a job right now.
Not a job in the future…so why would they want to hear you wanting to do any job but the one you’re going for right now?
Rather than demonstrating your ambition and drive for future jobs…a hiring manager wants to see you demonstrate your level of commitment to the job you’re interviewing for.
They want to know what your career goals are for the career you’re interviewing for right now.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however…
They do want an answer to the question. Yes, it’s all fine and dandy to show them that you are committed to the position, but they are still looking for an intelligent and well-balanced answer to the question.
So firmly plant your answer in the reality, which is, doing your best to do the job they are hiring for. But make sure you show that you are a candidate that is ambitious and sees a future within the company, but is also a realist about what the future may hold.
What are your career goals?
Ask yourself this question, and research the company to find out what a potential growth path might be for you. This should be the foundation for your answer.
So without further ado, here are the tips:
Keep the job in mind: Yes, you’ve already demonstrated your desire for the position based on the fact that you’ve applied and are now interviewing for…but this question is meant to dig deeper than that and find out just how much you really want the position. Many job require training and no employer wants to hire someone and invest time and money into them if they’re planning on leaving. They want someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about the position. The hiring manager is looking for a hire that is also a good investment.
Be specifically generic: Remember how your Magic 8-Ball gave you somewhat vague answers? You’d ask it a question and the answer you got sometimes was just fuzzy enough that it seemed to apply? Think of your answer to this question in the same sort of light. First off…you’re not psychic so don’t pretend to be. Make sure your answers are broad enough that they don’t make a hiring manager question your dedication to the position you are interviewing for. Keep your answers tailored to the position and realistic in scope.
Be enthusiastic: Like we’ve said time and time again….a hiring manager wants someone who is enthusiastic…not just someone who is looking to collect a paycheck and move onto the next adventure. Be genuinely invested in the position you’re applying for and do your research ahead of time so when you do your 5 year projection, you know what you’re talking about and your answer is realistic and grounded.
Be Realistic: Instead of pushing your future self into a ridiculous position of power that probably won’t happen…look at the job you’re applying for and take into consideration just how you might grow and develop within it and how that might also relate to the company’s needs and long term goals. Study the department you are applying to, including its structure and the previous path others have taken to get to where they are. If you can’t find the information, this would be a good question to ask the interviewer during your interview.
Don’t be funny: When confronted with this question, the first thing you want to do is avoid a knee-jerk funny answer. Remember, they’re looking for reasons to get rid of you…and if your first answer is a funny but not serious one, you run the risk of waving that proverbial red flag we talked about earlier.
Don’t make up a position: As I just mentioned, you’ve hopefully already done your research on the company and know what sort of chain of advancement is available for the position you are applying for. Just throwing out a random title (“I want to be the senior manager of sales and acquisitions.”) might seem like a good idea…until you find out the job doesn’t actually exist. Oops.
Make your answer 2 parted: The first part of your answer should focus on the immediate position you are applying for and how you are excited by that opportunity. The second part of your answer deals with your future plans and expectations. By making it a 2 part answer, you’re reaffirming your desire for the job while at the same time answering the long term component in a logical and responsible way.
So how do I answer this question? Is there really a right way or am I just doomed from the start?
Just as there’s a wrong way to answer, there’s a right way as well…and we’ll walk you through three different scenarios so you can get a feel for how to approach this well laid trap.
Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years Example Answers
“Let me start by saying that I’m really excited about the position we are discussing and my number one goal is to do the best job I can at this role. Having said that, if down the line there’s an opportunity for advancement and I’ve proven that I have not only the skills and experience needed to take on this next level of responsibility, then of course I would be interested.”
“I’m also really passionate about the work I do and would love if there were opportunities for me down the line to also be able to mentor other employees or new recruits to be successful within this position, perhaps as a manager or supervisor.”
“From the moment I read the job description for this position I was really excited about your company’s role in the community, and for this reason, am thrilled at the possibility of working with you for a long time. I’m very passionate about outreach and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be heavily involved in this area.”
“While my main focus moving forward will be on the position we are discussing today, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to grow within this position to take on more and be a part of new and exciting projects in the community.”
“I’m glad you asked! One of the reasons that I applied to this company was because of your company’s reputation for helping with its employee’s career growth as well as providing advancement opportunities. Long term commitment from an employer is important to me because it creates a sense of belonging and really brings out my desire to “go to battle” for the company.”
“I’m really driven to achieve both mine and the company’s goals, and it is my belief that this stability will allow me to do so as I grow within this role. Five years down the road I see myself growing into a supervisor or manager where I’ll be able to use my skills to support and influence others.”
Putting It Together
There you have it…three solid examples of how to answer the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” as well as tips on how to avoid the dreaded hidden trap employers like to spring on unsuspecting job applicants.
Keep in mind that the interviewer wants to hear what you plan to do with the job you’re applying for right now and that your answer should reflect reasonable and realistic growth… More than anything, you want your answer to reassure the hiring manager that investing in you isn’t risky and that you’re the Perfect Candidate for the job.
So put your Magic 8-Ball down; put your Ouiji board back into the game closet and leave the Tarot Cards at home.
You don’t really need ESP to see a future with a company…you just need a few easy to remember tips and a healthy dose of reality.
And above all…