Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years” is a common interview question used to find out more about your ambitions and how suitable you are for the role being applied to. The interviewer can find out a lot from how you answer this question and rank you against other candidates. Both are reasons this question is so popular.
This interview question seems simple enough to answer yet there are a number of pitfalls to avoid. Each of which could cost you the job opportunity. Later, we will cover six pitfalls it is best to avoid.
Preparation and careful thought are needed to answer this question well in an interview situation
The interviewer is looking to find out:
By asking “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, the interviewer is firstly testing your level of ambition.
For most of us, we have a rough idea of where we want to get to or at least the next job move, or two. If you are not at all sure, a safe goal to state is an aim to reach the role that is head of your function at a divisional level or of the overall business.
You don’t need to be precise in answering this question as five years ahead is a long period for most of us.
Pitfall 1 – having realistic ambitions
If you have just finished your first professional qualification and you say you want to be CEO in five years, the interviewer is probably not going to be impressed.
Make your ambitions realistic for the timeframe. There is nothing wrong with being really ambitious and wanting to get to the CEO role – it is just that other candidates will give a better answer.
Getting a job is a competition – the quality of each of your answers matters.
Pitfall 2 – your ambitions don’t align with the role
The job that you are applying for should be a steppingstone to the position you want to get to in five years. There should be a sensible path between the two.
If you don’t have a clear connection, the interviewer with be left confused and your candidacy will suffer.
For instance, if you are going for a Supply Chain Manager role and you want to get to Supply Chain Director, this makes sense. If you say you want to get to Head of Marketing, you may have talked yourself out of the running for the role.
Pitfall 3 – not showing enough ambition
You don’t have to be reaching for the stars when you answer the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question. Show a desire to progress at least at an average or typical pace toward your future 5-year position.
For instance, waiting 5 years for a promotion is unlikely to show enough ambition. A safe period is to expect to wait 1-3 years before promotion (depending on the level and role).
Judge the level of ambition that would be expected from a good employee doing this role and pitch your answer according. If you are not sure, ask ex-colleagues, friends, or anyone with knowledge of the industry and function.
Pitfall 4 – being a threat to your line manager
Few people are looking to hire individuals that want to take over their manager’s role before that manager gains their own promotion.
Make sure your answer takes account of this important point. Do not indirectly threaten your potential manager’s position.
Preparation for the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” question.
The best start to preparing to answer this question is to be clear on where you want to get to and what roles will help you get there.
A clear direction helps your career progresses further faster as you would expect to take a more direct or planned path.
When you are clear on where you are heading and which roles you need to do to get you there, you can create a strong answer to this question.
Don’t make something up as you are likely to be less enthusiastic when delivering your answer when in the interview. Your confidence, energy and enthusiasm all contribute to giving the interviewer confidence in your answer.
How long should you take when answering?
You should answer this question clearly and concisely. It should not take a lot of time, so we suggest answering within 30 seconds.
Example answers for “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
In the next five years I would ideally like to get to the Financial Controller position. I appreciate this is probably two promotions away and I will have to work hard and do a good job to earn them. I also know that next two positions will need to become available and I will support my managers to help them get promoted.
[A reasonably specific answer, with emphasis on supporting managers to get there]
My first priority is to achieve the targets that you have sent out, so we can double the turnover of this company over the next 5 years. The sector is very competitive so that growth level won’t be easy. It will give me a lot of personal satisfaction to get there and it will be great on my CV. I haven’t planned beyond that at this stage.
[A more circumspect answer, which emphasises achieving collective goals]
Make your answers structured, clear, credible, and relevant to get job offers