When you’re asked about your vision for the next five years, you might feel like it’s an odd question. First off, how could you know? And second, you might want to say you want to be in Ibiza drinking martinis.

Both are legitimate thoughts but neither is a good basis for actually answering this question. Instead, you should continue reading this post, as you’ll learn everything you need to know about answering the dreaded “Where do you see yourself in five years” –question in style.

In the below post, you will learn:

  • The reason you have to answer this question
  • How to identify and think about your career goals
  • How to balance your career goals with what the role has on offer
  • What to say in the 3 most common career scenarios
  • What are the mistakes you have to avoid
  • What 5 example answers would look like

Let’s get started!

WHY IS THIS QUESTION ASKED?

Job interview questions are not just random questions the interview throws around to waste time. Each question has become popular because it can help the interview learn more about you as the candidate and to make a judgement call on your value and suitability for the role.

When the interviewer asks where you see yourself in five years, they are essentially looking to learn two things:

What your career goals are

Career goals are important and valuable because they show whether you are motivated, ambitions and goal-driven.

These are important qualities for an employer because if they have a motivated and ambitious workforce, then the employees will be productive and help the organisation to reach its goals faster.

If you don’t have any kind of idea of the future, you don’t seem like the kind of worker who has drive and passion to succeed. This can spook the employer because they don’t want to hire someone who’s not sure about their career ambitions.

This could mean you’re either looking for a job for the wrong reasons or you suddenly end up realising you’re in the wrong role altogether and leave.

How those goals align with the position

Now, when interviewers are asking for your career goals, they don’t just want to know you have ambition and drive. In fact, they want to ensure you like the job you’re applying for and that you’re serious about getting it (and then succeeding in it).

Plainly put, the interviewer wants to know you will still see yourself in the role and the company in five years time.

Hiring is expensive and time-consuming. Companies don’t want to hire employees, even if they are talented if the person is going to leave within the next few years and they have to start over again.

Therefore, when asking this question, the interviewer is essentially looking for reassurance you are motivated for this specific position! They want to know you have the drive to succeed in this particular role – to ensure you’re not just looking to run off in a few months.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: DO YOU ACTUALLY KNOW YOUR CAREER GOALS?

Before you even begin to think about answering this question, you must make sure you have an idea of your actual career goals. You should always have short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Career goals are important because they will help you:

  • Focus on actions that help you reach your goals and avoid wasting time on those that don’t.
  • Maintain your motivation and job satisfaction, leading to a happier life.

If you haven’t paid attention to your career goals, you can find a lot of useful information on how to do it here and here. However, here is a short, five-step way to jotting down your five-year goals.

STEP 1:

Write down your ideal career situation in five years. This is the dream – be ambitious with a pinch of realism thrown into the mix. What would make you happy, motivated and satisfied?

STEP 2:

Consider your skills and current career trajectory. Think about the above idea goals in terms of your current career path. Does it seem realistic? What kind of changes would you need to make to achieve those goals? What are the skills that’ll help you achieve those goals?

STEP 3:

Write down your goals and break them into smaller goals. Identify the specific situation you want to be in and the path to getting there. Use the SMART decision-making strategy.

STEP 4:

Create a roadmap for achieving those goals. Use the information to create a roadmap to your five-year goals. Establish short-term goals ranging from year 1, year 2 and so on to break these into months and even weeks.

STEP 5:

Have a look at your goals regularly. You should make sure to remind yourself of these goals regularly – you want to examine how well you are doing by examining your goals every week or month. Are you achieving your goals? What is going well and what might be going wrong?

Now, once you have identified your true five-year career goals, you should consider how this position fits them. You should think about your goals and the job position you are applying for and answer the following questions:

  • What are you looking for from this position?
  • How will the position help you in terms of your career goals?
  • What about the position appeals to you the most?

You want to start thinking about the ways this position can take you closer to your ultimate five-year goals and professional fulfilment.

ALIGN YOUR CAREER GOALS WITH THE ROLE YOU’RE INTERVIEWING FOR

The above is not, however, necessarily what you should say when asked about your five-year goals. It’s more to help you understand the reasons for applying to this role and to ensure you do have some kind of roadmap going forward.

It’s important to have both short- and long-term goals because they will give you focus and this will help you move forward and to stay happy and motivated.

The reason you shouldn’t just use the above information as your answer is down to remembering what the interviewer wants from your answer.

You have to remember it’s essential you align your own career goals with the role you are interviewing for and you make it obvious you are not just using the job as a stepping-stone for another role or even company.

You, therefore, have to find a balance between your actual career goals and aligning them with the role and company you are looking to obtain. You must make it so your goals are in harmony with those the organisation wants to achieve and the role you’re expected to perform.

This means having an understanding of what the position and the company are going to offer.

In order to answer this question, you must conduct research into the organisation, its vision and the role in general.

You should also try to understand what kind of career options it might provide so you are aware whether the company could cater to your career objectives or not.

First, you should research the company in broad terms. You want to consider things like:

  • What is the company’s vision and what kind of path is it on?
  • What kind of career path does the company offer?
    • Do they have job development and/or training programs employees can attend?
    • What kind of promotion policy do they have?
    • What are the roles you might be promoted to/apply for with more experience?

You can find this information from the company website and by talking to people who work or have worked in the company.

See if you know people working in the organisation or those who might have worked there. You can also consider reading company reviews from sites like Glassdoor.com.

After this, you also want to think about the role you’re applying for. You want to think about what it will teach you, the skills you’ll gain and the things you want to do if you get that position.

You don’t want to think about where it will lead – this is not just about how the job will move you forward, but more about what the job can give you while you’re in it.

You should keep your focus on the role and your enthusiasm for it. Your answer shouldn’t be about you and your goals but exactly where you see yourself in five years because of this role. In a sense, you want to answer this question like it was asked as, “Where will this role get you in five years?”

You want to highlight your desire to perform in this role and be the best you can be. Of course, you have to do this in a realistic manner and not make any sort of promises.

You don’t want to say things like “I’ll turn the company around” or “I want to sell more cars than anyone ever” at this point – this question is really more about development and progression rather than trying to predict the futuryye.

NAVIGATING THE 3 COMMON SCENARIOS WITH YOUR ANSWER

The above gives you the right balance to strike in your answer. You know what your own personal career goals are but you also understand how the company’s career path, vision and the role, in general, influence those.

Now, when you are trying to align your personal goals with what the company and role have on offer, you will likely encounter three different scenarios.

The three situations you might find yourself at this point are that you view the role as are:

  • Stepping-stone to something else – in five years, you don’t really want to see yourself still in the same role and you are likely to move beyond the company as well.
  • Opportunity for a career path – you’re not quite sure where you will be in five years because the role would be a career change for you and you are kind of testing waters.
  • Uncertain place – you don’t know enough about the company due to lack of resources available and you think it might not offer the kind of path forward you want.

Let’s examine those in detail and look at the best ways to answer them.

You find the company and the role as a stepping-stone

So, you know the job is just going to be a bit of a stepping-stone for you. It’s alright – you’re not going to hold a single job for the rest of your life and you will need to experience different roles in order to get to your thing.

While everyone knows this, you can’t really go out and say it to a hiring manager. Remember that they don’t want to be hiring a new person all the time.

So, how could you respond? You should find something you can commit to even though you might not be committing to staying in the company after five years.

You don’t have to lie – as you’ll read later, you should never lie, in fact – since you can simply talk about things you’d like to achieve in the role. You want to think about those small goals you want to focus on from day one in the new job and the goals you want to keep working on for as long as you stay.

You could say something like this:

“I’ve noticed you have an employee training program which I really want to be part of. I’m always looking to improve my skills and talent and I hope to continue doing so in this role as well. I’m also very passionate about small business and I hope the next five years, with your business projects, will give me a lot of opportunities to work with many different small businesses.”

The main thing is to focus on the good the role and company is going to offer and how this will help you.

You don’t want to get hung up on the knowledge you probably won’t be there in five years but instead, focus on what it might look like if you were – what are the things you are looking forward to in this role?

You’re changing careers and don’t quite know what the future holds

You might also be in the process of changing careers. You can’t really know where you are going to be in five years because you are currently in the process of finding it out. This job is your opportunity if this role and industry is the way forward.

What can you say that doesn’t freak out the interviewer? It’s important to focus on some kind of long-term goals and your vision for your career.

You should have some kind of idea what you’re looking for in this role. You can think about your answer in terms:

  • What do you want this position to teach you?
  • What are the things you are looking forward to in this role?

You can then talk about these with your answer and say something like:

“I’m applying to this copywriting position because I’ve always wanted to be more creative. I think this will help me learn more about the creative side of the world while still using my IT skills with the digital projects the company has. I think this combination will help me and I really want to make a mark in the industry – developing the creative side further.”

You highlight your desires and transferable skills without going too much into detail for how you’re searching for the right path.

You don’t know if the company offers a path forward

Sometimes you might not be quite sure about your five-year goals and how the company might align with those. You might not be able to find information to see if the path forward is there or you simply don’t know if it’s good for you at this point.

How to approach the question then? You really want to focus on the important things you think the position will teach you and things the company can offer without saying openly that you already know you want to move on.

You can do this by first answering these questions:

  • What kind of skills would the job teach me and which I’m eager to gain?
  • What kind of projects might the company offer to me?
  • What long-term goals or visions does the company have and do they align with mine?

You can use your answers and create an answer that talks about how you are looking forward to developing yourself in this position.

Furthermore, you can take this approach further and focus on the ability to develop your skills.

For example, you could think if there are courses you could take to be better in the role you’re interviewing for (and which would help you in moving forward).

For example, you could say something like:

“As a programme developer, I want to keep developing my skills. In five years, I really want to have learned about new software in the field and have a better understanding of AI. I really think this opportunity will help me use AI more and so I’m thinking of taking courses to help me with the role and be the best I can in five years time.”

You are focusing on specific skills and talking about personal and professional growth without talking in detail where your career, per se, is going to take you.

DON’T MAKE THESE MISTAKES, NO MATTER WHAT

When you’re answering interview questions like this one, you often have to think about what not to say to ensure success. Few things could damage your changes, especially in terms of talking about your five-year plans.

The three things you have to avoid mentioning when answering this question are:

1. Saying you don’t know

In all honesty, we can’t know where will be in five years time.

But this isn’t about predicting your future – as mentioned above, the interviewer is looking to see if you have thought about your career path and if you will be loyal to the company if hired.

You don’t have to have your whole life and career planned out and things can always change. But you do want to show the interviewer how you’re serious about the role.

Here’s an example answer of what you shouldn’t say:

“Five years? Oh, I don’t know… I hardly know what I’ll do tomorrow!”

2. Lying

If there is one universal thing to avoid when answering any type of interview question, it’s lying. You can’t lie during a job interview because the likelihood of being caught in a lie is huge and the consequences of that could ruin your career aspirations for good.

You don’t have to say what your exact aspirations are. As mentioned, you do want to tailor your answer to be encouraging in terms of your motivation towards the role.

However, you can omit things but you don’t want to make things up.

For example, you might well want to be in an executive position within five years but you don’t necessarily want to mention this if it’s unlikely to happen in this role.

Instead, you can talk about your desire to have more responsibilities and succeeding in your job. The key is to just avoid lying in order to cover your actual plans.

3. Joking about your future

Job interviews are not about cracking the best jokes – unless you are applying for some stand-up job. It’s important to stay professional throughout.

Saying you see yourself living with 20 cats in five years is unlikely to get a laugh from your interviewer.

5 EXAMPLE ANSWERS & WHY THEY ARE GOOD

You now have the tools to create the best answer to “Where do you see yourself in five years”.

To help make it even easier, it can be helpful to examine some common answers to this question.

These are not answers you should copy, as your own situation will always be unique.

However, you might find them inspiring and they will help you understand the good points your answer should always focus on.

“I’m glad you asked that because one of the big reasons I wanted to apply to this position was how well it aligns with my idea of a good employer in terms of my career path. You are known for your commitment to employee growth and advancement and I find this important. In five years, I wish I had been able to take part in the training opportunities you have and improve my skill set in leadership. I’m a driven and passionate person so I hope in five years I would have improved my skill set and perhaps advanced to a managerial position.”

This is good because it shows you’ve done your company research and you understand what kind of company you are dealing with. You showcase your fit in the company environment and focus on your desire to improve your talent and desire to stay in the company.

“I’m always looking to improve and in five years, I want to be better at what I do than I am right now. I like to work with start-ups and I wish this position would help me take on interesting projects that allow me to support start-ups in the field. I hope to meet innovative and inspiring people and perhaps even become a mentor myself.”

It’s a good, short and descriptive answer. Again, it focuses on the position at hand but also shows you are interested in additional responsibilities, such as mentoring. You show ambition and desire for growth.

“My five-year goals are mostly to do with growing my design portfolio. I’m really excited about this particular opportunity because it would allow me to work with more companies and projects, using my innovative and creative ideas to help others. I would love to take on bigger projects and perhaps even lead a team of other designers.”

This is another example of a specific example that’s focused on the actual profession and the company. It focuses on the things you’d do in the role and highlights desire to take on responsibilities.

“In five years, I wish to have gained more knowledge in consulting. Since my background is in accounting, I really want to be able to apply these skills with the financial consulting field and be able to help clients realise their financial potential. I’m looking forward to taking more courses in management and leadership as I believe these would help me.”

If you’re transitioning from one career path to another, the above is an example of a good answer. It showcases your understanding of what the position requires and highlights your willingness to learn more.

It acknowledges the doubts the interviewer might have (regarding your background in another industry) and mentions the benefits and strengths this might bring about.

“I’m most passionate about working for non-profits and this position is, therefore, like a dream come true. I’m looking forward to working with new clients and to learn more about how the investment sector can help these organisations to flourish. I’m also interested in taking a few IT courses on my free time as I believe these skills would help me further down the line.”

You talk about the role and what you are most passionate about it. You don’t go into too much detail because you might not know too many details about the company or you’re unsure if you’ll stay, perhaps.

However, you do present yourself as a passionate and forward-looking person who wants to develop their skillset.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

When it comes answering the question “Where do you see yourself in five years” is not a trick question. It has a lot of weight and it’s another opportunity for you to sell yourself for the role.

The key is to remember to stay honest to your own goals and align those with what the role could mean for your career.

Above, you’ve learned the importance to research the organisation and to avoid the common mistakes you could make with the question.

You know how to be realistic, enthusiastic and how to present yourself as the best candidate for the role – no matter what your ideal career goals are.

HOW TO ANSWER – Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

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