The Common Interview Question:
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? / What do you want out of the next 5 years?
(note: We’ll address the 10-year goals and career goals questions in later posts as they are more long term and require a different thought process)
Why they’re asking this question:
Employers ask this question because they want to make sure you are goal-oriented and are thinking about the future. They also want to make sure the job you are interviewing for fits into this “future plan”. Why? Because if it doesn’t, you may leave the company quickly to pursue a role that does. In general, employers prefer to hire candidates that have the intention of sticking around for a while.
Things to consider:
Always looking to your future and showing ambition is a good thing. Don’t be afraid of doing so. I think “realistic ambition” is the name of the game since 5 years is not a super long amount of time. You’re also going to want to keep it relevant to the industry/company you are interviewing with.
How to answer the question:
- Really think about what you want to get out of this job and where you want it to take you
- Remember, this question is not about your super long term goals – we’re just talking 5 years. Keep it down to earth and honest about what you really do want out of the next 5 years.
- First, assume the next 1-2 years are dedicated doing the job that you’re interviewing for. Even if growth is important to you (and to the organization) that type of commitment is still expected. Then think of what you’d want your next step to be from there.
- Be honest and true to your goals but also make sure the company and job fits in with those goals.
- If you know about the growth path in the organization, use that to your advantage and walk through what your next 1-2 roles may look like.
- Some companies have a clear structure for growth which you may be able to learn from your company research. If you can find that information, it’s great to have it up front and to use it in your answer.
- It’s also great to assume in 5 years that you’d like to “own” something versus supporting it. Whether that be a certain project, process, or anything else, taking on more ownership and responsibility is great 5 year goal.
Incorporating the points above, that type of answer might sound something like this:
Well, my priority is to grow within a great organization such as this one. I am excited to spend the next few years learning and mastering the role of [role you are interviewing for]. From there, I’d like to take on more responsibility and eventually move into a [next role up] role. 5 years from now, I’d really like to take on a leadership role in the [insert project or team or process here] and be able to leverage the experience I’ve built.
If you’re not sure of the growth path in the organization:
If you really have no idea of what the growth path looks like, you can take a different approach and ask some questions. Again, I think it’s so important to emphasize that the job you are interviewing for ties in with your longer term goals, but you don’t have to have it all figured out. That type of answer might look like this:
I am extremely passionate about continuing to work and grow in the [insert industry or function]. One of the questions I actually have for you is about the growth path at [company name]. After working as a [role name] for a few years and learning everything about this organization, what are the types of opportunities that may come next? My goal is definitely to continue to grow at [company name] and take on more and more responsibility but I’d love to hear more about how people do that here.
Expect that after you lead with either type of answer, there may be follow up questions and a longer conversation to follow. You definitely want to make sure there is “depth” behind what you are saying and you’re prepared to elaborate if you need to.
- Show ambition
- Align your goals with the company
- Be creative but realistic
- Exude passion about the growth path ahead of you
At the end of the day, following any script or example isn’t going to give you that “wow” factor. Applying and interviewing for roles that help you explore your passions and that will allow you to grow professionally are going to organically produce the best answers to this question. Whether you’re interviewing or not, you should be thinking about your 5 year plan and using it as a “filter” when you think about job options. Will this job really allow you to accomplish those 5 year goals?