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Probably one of the trickiest interview questions (and definitely one of the most cliché), finding the perfect answer to “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” can be a minefield. Although when answering most interview questions (like ‘do you have any questions for me?’ and ‘why should we hire you?’) we advocate being as specific as possible, in this case being more vague about your goals is likely to be the better approach.
Working out the best way to answer this interview question requires careful consideration – because you need to avoid sounding unrealistic, while at the same time making sure that you don’t seem indifferent. It’s clear that answering this question can be tricky – so in order to work out the best answer, it’s important to look first of all at the reasons why employers choose to ask it…
When employers ask you what you’ll be doing in 5 years’ time, they don’t actually expect you to know exactly where you’ll be. Instead, what they’re looking to hear is that you have a long-term plan, and that this particular role (and their company) fits in to your plan. From your answer, the employer will be able to assess whether your career goals align with where they see you progressing in the role, and confirm to them that you are both on the same page. To really impress them, you can drop in some things you’ve researched about the company, and explain to the employer how these align with your personal career goals.
Employers want to know that you are sticking around for the long-haul, and seeing how this role fits into your long-term plan will reassure them that you’re not going to leave as soon as you find a better offer. If possible, it’s a great idea to try to express that in 5 years’ time you hope to still be at this company (probably in a more senior position) to show that you are committed to the role and the progression that it will offer.
Your answer to what you’ll be doing in 5 years’ time will be indicative of your ambition, and the employer will want to know that you have the desire and the drive to progress. While you don’t need to be specific about the position you’re after, saying that you would be interested in being in a managerial position in 5 years, or that you’d like to challenge yourself by moving to a different office, will indicate to the employer that you have big aspirations and the drive to grow in your career.
Saying you want to be a CEO in 5 years will be a big red flag to any employer. Not only is this likely to make you sound egotistical, but it’s also, let’s face it, an unrealistic expectation – one that may indicate to the employer that you won’t be fully committed to this role.
Equally, saying that you’d still like to be in this role in 5 years' time is a big no-no – you want the employer to know that you have ambition, and are looking to progress at their company rather than staying in the same position.
And finally, avoid saying that you don’t know where you’ll be! The employer needs to know that you have clear career goals, and that you are committed to the opportunity – saying that you don’t know is likely to make you sound uninterested.
No-one can predict exactly what they’ll be doing in 5 years’ time – but to avoid falling into a trap during your interview, make sure to prepare your best answer to this age-old interview question.
Read our complete guide to Interview Questions!
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