Dec. 19, 2020

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Have you ever been in a job interview and been asked the question "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?". My educated guess is that you probably have. And having a convincing answer that shows vision about your future could be crucial in getting you the job offer you want.

In this blog post, I explain why this question is often asked in interviews and share a simple five-step process for crafting a compelling answer that will impress your future employer.

Why do interviewers ask this question?

When coaching someone through interview techniques, I always find it helpful to ask them to put themselves in the shoes of the hiring manager. After all, as a candidate, should you know what you want to do in 5 years' time? Wouldn't the interviewer be better off focusing on the present, you may wonder? 

And I completely understand this reaction because, in truth, only a few people have a clear picture of their 5-year plan. So, why is the question asked? And what does it tell your future employer about you?

  • First of all, asking this question helps your interviewer understand what motivates you in the long run. It tells them that you are ambitious and driven and how well the role aligns with your expectations.
  • The second reason why this answer matters to your future employer is money. Employee turnover is expensive - a new employee needs to be recruited, trained, and on-boarded. And if you leave within a short period of time, the company will experience a loss of funds and of productivity. 

Research shows that replacing an employee can cost between a couple of thousand dollars and up to twice their annual salary, depending on the role's seniority. So by asking applicants about their future vision, interviewers are simply trying to understand whether the candidate intends to stay with them for a while or whether they see the new job as a 'point of transit'.

Of course, whatever answer you choose to give, it does not mean you need to commit to doing the same work for five years. Maybe you do have plans to use this job as a stepping stone. So perhaps a more helpful approach to this question would be to develop a genuine answer based on the assumption that you will still be working for this company in a couple of years' time.

But let's break this exercise down into practical steps. 

Five steps to answering the "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" question

Step One:

Imagine you get this job. You start working at the new company and you really thrive. You do tasks you like, you have supporting colleagues, a great manager, and you get to develop new skills.

So if everything went perfectly, ask yourself:

  • What would you be doing in five years' time?
  • How do you envisage your development and growth since your start date?
  • What role are you planning on starting with and what role can you see yourself having in the future? For example, can you see yourself becoming an expert or taking a leadership role?

When thinking about this, make sure you have ambitious but realistic goals. And whatever you say, do not pick the hiring manager's current position! After all, you don't want to be seen as a threat.

Step Two:

With your mind still firmly into the future, try and think about any milestones you may have reached over the last few years that enabled you to get to where you want to be. For example, this could be deepening or broadening your skills, achieving specific results, or taking on new responsibilities.

To do this, try and visualise the journey that would have taken you from the day you start your new employment up to that point in the future that you are trying to picture - five years from now.

Step Three:

Now switch the focus onto the company. In five years' time, you will have certainly grown and developed. But in doing so, you will have also contributed to the company's growth and development.

So think about:

  • Why would the company want to see you where you envision yourself in five years' time? What will they gain out of that?
  • What impact will you have made over the five years' period?
  • And what value will you create?

This could be, for example, higher customer satisfaction, increased productivity, improved quality, elevated sales, or faster innovations.

Step Four:

Now think about the why. Why do you picture yourself in this particular position in five years' time? Why would you like to be in that particular role? For example, it might be because in your new role you think you will be able to play to your strengths even more than you are now. Or it could be because you think you might be able to make an even bigger impact or that you feel it would be well aligned with what motivates you.

Whatever the reason, try and stay away from mentioning money. If you do, the hiring manager may think that investing in training you and on-boarding you may not be worthwhile if they suspect you might leave for a competitor who, a few months down the line, comes along and offers you a slightly more competitive salary.

Step Five:

And last but not least, combine the results of the first four steps into one answer. Your overall answer to the interview question "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" does not need to be any longer than approximately 30 seconds.

When doing this, show your interviewer that you have vision, but that you are also flexible. You can always answer the question by saying "in the future", rather than being specific with a five-year timeline. And don't forget to add that you would be interested in finding out how others in similar positions have developed in this role.

As an example, here is an answer from someone applying for a junior consultant position.

"In the future, I would like to be a project manager at this company. I have learned the necessary consultancy skills and worked as an individual contributor on several projects. My customers have given me great feedback, and I could grow in my role as a consultant, take on more and more responsibilities, and become a project manager. In this role, I could have an even greater impact on ensuring high customer satisfaction. This would be a great scenario, given that I am a driven and goal-oriented person. But, of course, I am also curious to learn more about how other people have developed in this role."

I hope you found this useful, and if you would like more step-by-step practical tips on how to answer common interview questions, head over to my podcast or my blog.