It’s a common interview question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? And, truthfully, it’s a common life question. But, the real question is how do you answer it in the interview while still being true to yourself and impress the interviewer.
Of course, perhaps the real ‘real’ question is why with all of the turmoil and mobility in today’s job market, this question continues to get asked. It’s becoming rarer that a person stays with any given company past the 5 or even 10 year mark.
But, the reasoning for asking the question is still the same: interviewers want to know you’ve given thought to your future and how their company fits into your plan (and on the reverse they’re calculating how you fit into theirs’ based on your answer.)
They also want to know that you have goals and direction, no matter how big or small, and your response gives them insight into how your interaction with your goals will impact their business.
There are those of us who know exactly what we want out of life and can map out each necessary step to the letter. There are those of us who just aim for ideals and let life take us on a journey. Then, there are those of us who have yet to ponder the questions or avoid it all together and have no clue.
The best way to start figuring out how to answer the question is to first ask it of yourself, before you ever step foot in an interview. What do you want out of life, what’s achievable in 5 years, 10 years? What is important to you–is it tangible things like money and titles or is it an esoteric thought of inner peace or happiness?
It’s a great exercise even if you never get asked this in the interview because you’ll know more about what you’re looking for in your next position to get you closer to where you see yourself. Whether you land the job is one thing, but you should always be assessing if each job opportunity is the right fit for you, too.
And, if you don’t ponder the question before an interview, you’re likely to fall flat, during it, trying to grasp for ideas or seeming as though you’re lost.
But, as with many interview questions, the tricky part is, is that there is no ‘right’ answer.
The best answers are those that come from within, that are honest, but not too rigid or lengthy.
It’s great to know exactly what you want, but circumstances constantly change, and showing attributes in your response like flexibility and adaptability can be important in seeing how you will fit into an organization over time.
Some job seekers go full force stressing that they want to achieve certain titles and levels of leadership in a number of years, and while it shows confidence, if an interviewer thinks for any reason that the company can’t provide what you’re looking for, it could pull you out of the running for the job.
Other candidates go into too great a detail of their life plans and forget that the goal of the interview is to assess their ‘fit’ for the position. Save all of the drama, history lessons, and personal anecdotes for lunch with friends. In the interview, try condensing what you have to say about your goals in 1-3 sentences.
Then reassess your sentences to make sure they fit the situation: the job interview, and that your response also helps to address the company’s needs and not just your own.
Sure, you could try rehearsing one of the thousands of supposedly ‘great’ interview responses to this question found on the internet such as:
“My first goal would be to contribute as much as I can to your company in the position I’m applying for. After that, I would enjoy growing into roles where I hold more responsibility as I enjoy managing people and projects. I strive to set an example to others and know I would enjoy the challenges of leadership as I work my way up in an organization.”
Or, “I don’t have a specific plan for the next 5 years but I would like to grow and continue to learn and share my knowledge. I am flexible, will work hard, and contribute to the overall success of the organization I’m with, but will always keep my eyes open for opportunities to advance even if it means changing roles internally.”
But, here’s the problem with these when you say them (versus someone else): they sound rehearsed and boring, and the last thing you want is an interviewer to tune you out.
Why? Because interviewers hear a lot of answers to the same questions over and over again. When you pull a response from the internet, one, you run the risk that you’ll have the same answer as someone else because you’re both plagiarizing from the same source.
And, two, because interviewers hear so many responses they can often tell when someone has a connection with the words they are saying, and when they don’t, they lose interest in the response.
After all, when you hear a story, isn’t it more interesting to listen to the person who connects with the words by showing emotion and doing the voices than the person who just recites the words.
If you need to use one of the examples online, by all means, but make it your own. That’s why they are called examples. They’re starting blocks to help you build upon.
First, decide your own 5-10 year plan. Summarize and condense it into the larger ideas and goals you hope to achieve. Then, relate your plan to the job and company you are interviewing with. Address their needs and your own while taking into account that no one can predict the future and make your response your own.
It would be easy if there was a road map to success and a perfect answer for every interview question, but the only perfect answer in a job interview is the one that connects you to the job you want and connects the interviewer to their desire to hire you.
So, where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Robin L. Rayburn is the Editor & General Manager of Interviewing.com. Robin was introduced to the recruitment industry in 2007 and her passion for people has never let her stray far from it since. In her spare time she manages her blog, RestlessPillow.com, tweets from @interviewingcom and @chitowntexan, and is always striving to help those around her who have a vision for success. You can also find Robin on LinkedIn and Google+.