Job Interviews: Where Do You See Yourself Five Years from Now?

A friend of mine has an interesting take on what he calls “annoying interview questions” – and that includes questions about where you see yourself five years from now. (Others are about your greatest strength or weakness.)

While there’s certainly no one “right” answer for a question like that, some approaches work better than others. So without further ado, here’s what my pal L. Bosco has to say about it:

THOSE ANNOYING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

by L. Bosco

Interviews are a pain in the neck!

Ideally you want to see if there’s a good fit between you and the employer. But most interviews are full of those “pat questions” that have been written up endlessly in books and even on blogs where so-called experts give job applicants handy-dandy “pat answers” to those over-used “pat questions.” So basically both sides could just as well e-mail in their parts and save everyone a lot of time. It’s a rare interviewer who knows how to create a really informative interview.

So job seekers must still sit through these often painful interviews (some where the interviewer is barely listening) and be prepared to answer these same silly questions: What is your greatest weakness? What are your strengths? How would you handle an angry customer?

And, my personal not-favorite: “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

I always want to answer that last one with something like “living in Bora Bora on my lotto winnings” or “King of Siam” or at least “Sophia’s latest lover.” (The name mentioned to be filled in by you based on your own gender, age, preferences, and imagination.)

(Note from Work Coach: Uh…I’m not recommending you do that!)

It is a question where virtually any answer can get you into trouble, since you don’t know your interviewer. If you aim too high, you might come off as too ambitious and either won’t be around long enough to cover the cost of training or you’ll threaten their own position. If you aim too low, you lack initiative and won’t contribute enough to cover the cost of your salary.

So how the heck does one reply? I puzzled over this for days. And then weeks. And then more weeks. Finally, I could find no good “pat” answer that also felt safe. Therefore, I opted to tell the truth and the interviews be damned!

So from then on when I was asked where I wanted to be in my career five years from now, I told them:

“I don’t have a specific plan! I would like to advance. However, I am flexible. I will do my current job to the best of my ability and keep my eyes open for opportunities within the organization to advance even if it means changing roles. I am prepared to learn new things and contribute to the overall success of the organization in a number of ways. The only specific within that “plan of willingness” is that the opportunity be within my ability to learn, interesting enough for me to dig in and do a good job, and the compensation increase a reasonable amount in relation to the demands of the position.”

I was hired!!

I have since been interviewed for a number of promotions by a number of different people (most of whom have come and gone and never even met each other.) And when they asked me where I see myself in five years, I gave them all the same answer!! And I’ve earned eight promotions in thirty-one years.

The truth has one advantage over the best prepared scripts. No one is expecting it!

***

Note from Work Coach: For most of you who get a bit nervous at interviews, sticking to a quasi-pat answer still may be the best idea – or at least using a shorter hybrid version of L. Bosco’s answer: “In the next five years I’d like to see myself here advancing to the next level or at least learning new things and taking on new responsibilities if at all possible.” Or if it’s a job where learning and advancement are not the goal, then a simple ” I’m happiest when I feel that I’m an essential part of the company I work for – hopefully this one. In the next five years (and hopefully more) I plan to take advantage of whatever opportunities are available – but mostly, I want to do the best I can and know that I’m making a difference.”

Of course, if you are interviewing in a high-powered company that expects you to be hungry for advancement…well, if that’s who you are you sure don’t need help with a question like this! (-;

But no matter what your answer, when I interview people I strongly prefer candidates who are real and natural. Whatever you do, try to be yourself – even if yourself is a little nervous. (-; Look the interviewer(s) in the eyes, take a moment to connect, and then with as much truth and sincerity as possible make the words yours.

Since I know L. Bosco, my guess is that he won over his interviewers with his honest down-to-earth manner as much as with his words.

So where do you see yourself in five years? Hopefully not having to answer that annoying “where do you see yourself five years from now” question ever again. But please DON’T use that as your answer. ;-)

Good luck!
Ronnie Ann

More job interview articles I hope will help:

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. Oh Brendan…I’m so glad. You have so much to offer them whether now or five years from now. And who knows what the future brings anyway?

    Best of luck! ~ Ronnie Ann

  2. Hello! I just wanted to say this site was great and helped me a lot in my job interviews. The 5 years question was one of the thoughest ones for me. I think what helped me the most was to know the reason they ask that question in interviews. In my first interview the asked me the question and I knew exactly what to answer. I think internet is a great way to prepare for a job interview, it helps you know what to expect and prepare possible answers. My advise is to expect anything and not to memorize your answers, just know the company or place where you are applying, the job description, and answer your questions letting your interviewer know you are qualified for the possition. Eventhough you might feel prepared, you have to be CALMED, CONFIDENT and you have to project SECURITY. Look at your interviewer(s) in the eye while talking to them and smile. I had my first and second interview the same week, and in the second interview the law firm told me they wanted to make me an offer. I could not have done it that well without the advise I read from this page and others through the internet. Good luck!

  3. Congratulations, Marie! That’s wonderful news. And what a lovely comment. Thank you so much for the kind words and for offering readers some great advice – fresh from the trenches. ;-)

    Best of luck in your new job! Feel free to stop by any time.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  4. i looking forward to have an interview in NI. i liked ur answer. fingers crossed for my interview

  5. Heather says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I never knew how to answer this question.

  6. thank you for the this post.. Its really help in my part… God Bless;)

  7. Thanks grazy! Comments like yours make my day. ;-)

    Best of luck finding a great job!

  8. intervieweefailed says:

    thanks for this!!!
    my interview at JP morgan cc this was the hardest. i really don’t know what will I be after 5 years… i will be 27 then..
    that sucked!!!
    Am I too ambitious if I told her that “maybe i already reached the apex of happiness” whoah!!! that’s not what i really mean… but since I’m runnin out of words–that was my answer… *sighs*

    pooor me!

  9. Hi intervieweefailed!

    We all get nervous and we all screw up at least a little in interviews. The trick is too not let it get to you and keep going anyway. In fact, if you catch yourself, just smile and say “Can I answer that again? I was a little nervous, but would like you to know what I really meant to say.”

    A good interviewer wants to see the real you. It’s not a test. And for the few that act like it is…you wouldn’t like working with a company they represent anyway. ;-)

    Good luck!!

  10. So what should I do when I am interviewing for a position unrelated to my previous jobs and I get this 5 years question? I gave her a rather generic, “While I have enjoyed my previous positions it was a field I didn’t actively pursue but rather fell into ( true, but I am now pursuing the field, but I don’t want to tell her this). I’m looking for a more customer service oriented position (this was). In 5 years I want to be in a job where I feel like I’m providing a needed service to our customers, that I’m enjoying what I do, and I feel like I’m contributing positivity to the company.” Her response was to ask me ” No I want to know the specific tasks you expect to be doing at a job in 5 years.” I think I mumbled something incoherent at this point.

  11. Hi Sarah!

    Sheesh! Sometimes all you can do is exactly what you did. ;-)

    In my opinion, that was a terrible follow-up interview question. I mean…who the heck knows exactly what they want to be doing 5 years from now, since you don’t have all the information you will have gathered by then? But I know that’s too logical for a situation like this.

    I have no idea what I would have answered. But I know I would have been thinking “not working for you, toots.”

    Sorry I don’t have a better answer. Maybe I would have remembered some of the job description skills and said by then I’d like to be the best at a, b and c.

    Anyone else have some ideas?

  12. Thanks Ronnie!
    I feel vindicated :-)

    I thought about mentioning that I was hoping to work my way up in the company, since they seem to encourage that there. But I didn’t want to suggest that I’d take the first opportunity for advancement they offered. Which I would have, because this was a low pay, part-time job., but it would get my foot in the door.

    That day I was interviewed by the hiring manager, the dept manager, and then shadowed someone on the floor for an hour. Things were going well.
    Then I interviewed with this director with the above question, who just seemed to have a sour attitude as soon as I met her. I even contacted them the next day to thank them for interviewing me and reiterating how much I wanted the job. I received no response!

    But you’re right – by the time I got out of her interview I knew I didn’t want to work for her.

  13. You sound great, Sarah. I wish you luck finding the right job for you!

  14. I recently had an interview for a part-time, on-call position with the county I live in. The interviewers told me the second I walked in the door every interview only consists of 3 questions, one of which ended up being “Where do you see your self in the future?” I didn’t know really what to say, but I answered honestly that I wanted to work on writing policy and reform on a federal or state level, and working as a licensed therapist. The position I am applying for is part time and does not require an immediate degree, so to say “I see myself in this position in five years” would have not been a very ambitious or impressive answer.

    At the end of the interview I did make sure to show my interest in making a career with their agency. I asked if the position had the potential for advancement to the next level (the same job but permanent, full-time, and full-benefits) after the one year probationary period. I let them know I am looking for an agency I can start a career with seeing as I am graduating with my bachelors degree in June.

    I think if you get asked the question you just have to be honest, but maybe not too openly.

  15. Hi Shawnna!

    Nice answer. I think you did really well both for the job you’re applying for and for future possibilities. Good luck!

  16. Rhythmics says:

    Hi Ronnie Ann,
    Here is the answer that I have given out before for this question,
    “I see my self working for a fastest growing company, where I have learned the entire business, masted the products and services it provides, and maintain relations with clients. With that, the team I am working for is performing at excellent rate as well as the company’s performance is great in the market, and I am one of the reasons behind my team and company’s solid performance. Overall, facing challenges, learning something new, creating a positive impace, and looking forward to come to work each day. That is the type of position I see my self holding in five years from now”

    I feel sometimes I am talking too much, or giving out answers above their expectation. What do you think? :-)
    Thank you so much for your help,

    • Hi Rhythmics,

      It’s good to worry about talking too much in an interview. You learn so much more by listening!

      Your answer to where-do-you-see-yourself-in-5-years says you want to be a high achiever working in a fast-paced environment. Some employers will love that, some will be threatened by it, and some – the less fast-growing companies – will think you are not a good fit.

      So I would modify that answer depending on the situation.

      Good luck!
      Susan

  17. Excellent answer by L. Bosco. Im very happy with answer and found this answer very much helpful. im preparing for my first interview and was expecting same answer. Thanks a lot…

  18. Nice one! very useful info.. God bless u :)

  19. I saw this AFTER my interview. I answered this one honestly. “I guess I am really not sure, except that I want to continue to learn new skills and add value to the company” I was thinking this might have blown it. They are apparently conveining tomorrow to select a candidate. I am not sure how long it typically takes HR to then make an offer but I am on pins and needles because I want this soooo bad. I submitted a thank you email right after the interview, followed up via phone to the main director that interviewed and left a voicemail to reiterate my interest and offer up my time if there were further questions. Should I call the HR person tomorrow morning right away? She was on vacation all week and I only had the phone interview with her. Ugh!

    • Hi machstr,

      Please don’t kick yourself too much for your answer. It wasn’t a bad answer. Maybe just not the best one you could have given, if you’d been prepared. Use your experience to improve the way you perform from now on. Job search is a learning process. No one knows it all, without having some experience.

      The delay in getting back to you may or may not have anything to do with your answer or with your overall performance in the interview. So many things could be happening internally.

      If you haven’t read it already, this post of Ronnie Ann’s should help you figure out when and how to follow up, How Often Should I Call an Employer After My Interview? — http://www.workcoachcafe.com/2010/05/03/how-often-should-i-call-an-employer-after-my-interview/

      Be careful not to get in touch too frequently. You don’t want to come off as a pest.

      Good luck in landing the job!

      Meg Guiseppi
      Member, Work Coach Cafe Team

  20. sargeorges says:

    Hey Ann
    I have always had a problm with ths querry.I ddnt know if its where you will be careerwise or education. Av bn telling wat al av achieved in education en the position I expect to be in at an organization.Is ths a gud response?
    Thanks alot en bless up

    • chandlee says:

      Hi,

      There are many different perspectives and potential answers to the 5 -Year question. My approach is to keep your answer simple — and related to the job you are applying for.

      I’m applying for this job because I enjoy using _______ skill (whatever skill is needed in the job). If hired,I anticipate that I’d be able to further grow my abilities in this area and in five years I’d hope to be using these skills in a leadership role. (Helps if you have a since of career progression for the job — e.g. if it’s an Assistant Manager, great to say in five years I hope I would be working in an Associate Manager or Senior Manager position.”)

      You can finish this response by saying you’d like to hear about others who’ve been hired for the position in the past…What have they gone on to do?

      Good luck,
      Chandlee

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