So, where do you see yourself in five years?
The wrong way to answer: “Leaving my full-time job to pen my own novel. I’m already receiving interest from multiple publishers.” “Diving into a swimming pool filled with my Mega Millions winnings.” “Hopefully sitting in your seat and running this joint.”
While there will surely be a few tongue-in-cheek remarks that drift through your thoughts, these answers should be reserved for friends, family, or Mr. Snuffles the cat, and not communicated to your interviewer.
The problem: A majority of people have no clue what their life will look like in 5 years. Sure, you have goals and aspirations, but the question is still a tricky one to answer. Most hiring managers will ask you this question during an interview, but the good news is, this is the perfect opportunity to deliver an answer that not only impresses, but will amplify the employer’s interest in your candidacy.
What the hiring manager is really asking is: Are you ambitious? Have you established career expectations that are realistic? How well does this specific role align with your professional goals? Employers ask this question to gauge your ability to self-reflect, including whether or not you have a long-term vision for your career and if you’re a driven individual.
Next time you’re hit with this question, here’s how to a deliver an honest answer that’ll help you stand out from the competition.
Understanding Potential Career Paths
Before you can begin building your answer, you need to summon your inner Sherlock Holmes and hit up Google to conduct some research. It’s important to understand the realistic career paths that could stem from the position you’re applying for. While some companies will have clearly-defined career paths outlined on their website, you should still become familiar with certain details, like how long workers typically spend in this role. Or, what types of certifications will you need to procure in order to move into your desired role?
Don’t hesitate to connect with industry professionals on LinkedIn, attend networking events, or reach out to friends and family in the field for an authentic picture of what you can expect in this type of role. For example, if you’re a registered nurse looking to eventually advance into a clinical management position, take a look at the hospital’s career page to see if they typically hire nurse managers. Additionally, you can perform a quick LinkedIn search to determine if the hospital’s current nurse managers started out in the RN role with the company.
Make It Clear You’ve Done Your Homework
Your response should show that you’ve invested time in researching the company and have a firm grasp on their culture, values, and what’s trending in the industry. When you’re aware of how the company operates and the challenges they’re facing, you can craft an intelligent and educated response around how you plan to contribute to the growth and success of the organization over the next 5 years. Here’s an example of a response that can be adapted to fit your personal situation:
“In five years, I would like to have completed the company’s associate training program, which from what I read on your website, would align perfectly with my desire to strengthen my budgeting and procurement skills. I’m excited by the prospect of fast-tracking my career to become a project manager with the company, which is the position I’d ultimately like to procure. I also liked that the training program included working aboard at one of your international offices, as immersing myself in new cultures and experiences is something I place value in and I understand that’s something you look for in potential hires.”
Communicate Your Desire to Be Impactful
You can also wow the hiring manager by using your answer to express how you plan on impacting the future growth and success of the company. Whether you’d like to help the company expand its operations into the West Coast, develop a new software to streamline processes, take on a leadership role to inspire the next class of hires, or build a new marketing campaign to spread brand awareness and generate sales leads, you want to make a connection between the employers’ strategic goals and how you see yourself developing as a professional. Not only does it show your ability to be forward-thinking, but it demonstrates your commitment to making your aspirations a reality. Rather than simply sharing a job title you hope to have, give the hiring manager something authentic to chew on that shows you’re focused on results.
When the Career Path Is Not Clearly-Defined
Not every position is designed to be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Areas like teaching, sales, and computer programming, would require a different approach to the "where do you see yourself in 5 years” question. If this is the case for you, take some time to brainstorm the elements of your role that you can excel in. In a sales position, your five-year goal may be mastering your knowledge of the company’s product or services, expanding your book of business into other states, growing your clientele, or achieving a customer retention rate of 95%.
Likewise, a teacher could express their goals in terms of measurable results. For example, as a teacher, you may aspire to increase your class’s overall standardized test performance or to use creative lesson planning to raise student engagement and boost the percentage of your class that’s accepted into college.
By following these steps and doing a bit of research, you’ll save yourself from stumbling over your words or even worse, responding: “no clue.” When you’re prepared to give your interviewer a thoughtful and realistic response to your 5-year career goal, you’re guaranteed to make a lasting impression.