How To Answer The Classic Interview Question: Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?
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How To Answer The Classic Interview Question: Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?

Interviewing for a job these days isn’t quite the same as it was during our parents’ generation, much less that of our grandparents’. For starters, we’re all job hopping a lot more to find the right fit. Interviewing via a video/web chat isn’t uncommon. The gig economy (think Lyft, TaskRabbit, Uber) is bigger than ever. And, we’re all trying to squeeze in at least one side hustle. Amid these new employment trends, though, there remain some aspects of the job hunt that haven’t changed much. Like, the kind of interview questions you might get asked. Near the top of the list? “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s one of the classic interview questions that almost all job candidates get asked because its meant to reveal some pretty important personality traits.

To find out how to answer the classic interview question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” like a pro we reached out to three experts: Dory Wilson, founder of the career advice site, Your Office MomShefali Raina, an executive coach, and Kathy Caprino, a career coach and host of the Finding Brave podcast.

Here’s what they had to say about what it takes to answer the sweat-inducing question…

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

First, understand what it is they’re *really* asking you

You already know that the current job market is ever-changing and that asking anyone to project where they will be five years from now…is damn near impossible. “In the modern day landscape, five years is an incredibly long time, where the marketplace can shift dramatically and not just job functions and companies, but entire industries can be disrupted,” said Raina.

Understand that no one expects you to have specifics in your answer (again, how could you?). Still, your answer should be succinct and broad in scope. “No one has a crystal ball, but you should be able to formulate in a sentence or two what excites you about your field and the opportunity at hand without worrying about title or pay grade,” Wilson explained.

To do that, understand what the hiring manager wants to learn most.

What employers want to know…
  • That your job and career path aligns with theirs

When interviewing, the hiring manager wants to “get a sense of your strategic alignment,” Raina said. That is, did you think about how this job fits into your broader career goals or was it just on a whim? (No one likes a desperate candidate!) “They want to understand your motivation and commitment,” Raina added. “Would you likely be happy staying in this job and remain motivated for a period of time?”

  • That you’re a motivated individual

No one is going to fault you for being goal-oriented. But, make sure during the interview that your goals are, A) aligned with the company’s and, B) realistic. When you’re asked this question, Wilson says to keep in mind that a company is trying to determine the following: “First, whether or not a candidate is goal focused, motivated and ambitious and secondly if the candidate has a realistic sense of self, their talent, and capabilities, or if they are too grandiose.”

How you answer the question will give some insight into whether you’re an employee that’s hirable in the short-term, or if you’re a good candidate for longer-term employment. Keep in mind that as much work as it is for you to be job hunting, companies are also wary of investing resources in employees they think might bounce as soon as a better gig comes along.

  • That you’re realistic and hard-working

The interview is really meant as an opportunity for hiring managers to try and learn more than what’s readily explained in your resume, work history and portfolio. It’s a chance for them to see how well you’ve thought about your career ambitions and whether you’re the kind of employee who can grow within the company (and, in turn, help the company grow). Specifically, employers want to “gauge your passion and interest in the work itself, your commitment to growing, your interest in expanding and stretching and taking on more,” Caprino said.

Still—and this is key—be realistic about what’s doable within the five year timeframe. Otherwise, you might come off as flippant about how long it takes people to progress professionally. Or, you might come off as being too focused on the next big promotion. “For instance, if you’re interviewing for a manager role and you indicate you’d like to jump three levels in 5 years, that’s a sign that you may desire advancement quickly, but may not be willing to do the hard work to be ready for (or to have earned) that type of advancement,” Caprino said.

How to answer the question…

Aim for an answer that shows you’re excited about the job opportunity and have spent your most recent work building up to it. “Consider saying that in the last five years, you have gained incredible skills and experience and now have the opportunity to deliver in this specific job, and you would like nothing better than to spend the next 5 years building on the experience so far, and learning and contributing in the new role,” Raina said.

Wilson advises steering your answer away from particular titles or roles. “Focus on what you hope to be doing collaboratively with others,” she said. A better approach, Wilson added, is to consider your passions, talents and the kind of work you hope to do in a few years’ time.

Finally, a good way to round out your answer is to mention your willingness to take on managerial roles or learn new skills, Caprino explained. By focusing on how you hope to contribute to the company’s mission, she said, you’re showing that you want to strengthen the reach, impact and reputation of the organization.

We dare these gold talking points to not bring a smile to your prospective employer’s face.