How to Answer the Job Interview Question: "Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?"
Your Future and Loyalty
Questions surrounding your future and loyalty to the company are becoming more and more common in interviews. Gone are the days where you collected your carriage clock in your 60s for forty-odd years’ service at the same company. People move onwards and upwards; employment is more transient than it has ever been, so the interviewer needs to know if it is worth investing their time, money and energy into you, or if you will be off with a hop, step and a jump as soon as a better offer becomes available.
- “What are your aspirations beyond this job?”
- “Talk to me about your career progression plan.”
- “Once in this role, what would be your next step?”
We’ll come to “Where do yourself in five years' time?” in a second. The questions above are more immediate and can be answered only by knowing how the promotional ladder and departmental structure within the organisation is laid out.
You may already have found out some of this information in your initial research but it is always worth asking the interviewer to give you an overview of what career progression may look like and cater your ambitions around their answer.
All the interviewer is looking for is your commitment and passion to succeed together with what value you can add to the organisation in the future.
It is important to let them know that you are a good investment, and while your focus will absolutely be on the position you are interviewing for, you also have the desire to develop and move onwards and upwards.
This doesn't mean that you have to be power-hungry and desperate to climb the career ladder. If you would be happy doing the same job for the rest of your working life, that's fine. Every company has the stalwart members of staff who are doing a great job and don't care to change roles.
Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years' Time?
Here are a few more variations of the same question:
- “Where do you see yourself in three (or five or 10) years' time?”
- “What are your goals for the next five years?”
- “What is your dream job?”
- “What are your goals in this job?”
So onto the old classic and an almost guaranteed question. Let’s start with what not to say.
Gone are the days where “I want your job” or “I want to be running the company” or even worse “I want to be your boss” were acceptable answers.
Ambition is one thing but being cocky is another. Even if you do actually believe that one day you will be running the company; you need to structure your answer around what benefits you will bring to the company in the long term and you are fiercely loyal and determined to succeed without alienating the rest of your co-workers along the way.
Avoid these answers like the plague:
- “I want to be the best I can be.”
- “I want to get promoted.”
- “I want to be in a more senior role”.
The reason you want to avoid these types of answers like the plague is that they are vague and scream “me, me, me”. Show you are serious about your career and you are committed to the organisational success, while understanding the company’s structure, vision, culture and mission.
Try not to state specific job roles, but instead talk about leading, managing or having increased responsibility and the action you would take in the offered role, in order to get there, such as new experiences or training and development.
In my experience, the most successful answers come from developing a two-way conversation with the interviewer showing interest in the corporate structure.
If you are not interested in career progression in this way and would be quite happy doing the same role, you could say:
- "I would like to think that I would still be here doing this job to the best of my ability where I am regarded as the 'rock of reliability' within the department."
It's all very well saying that you would like to still be at the company in five years' time or you envisage a promotion, but some hiring managers will want to dig a little deeper.
- “Why do you think this industry would sustain your interest in the long haul?”
- “What excites you about this role/industry?”
- "How passionate are you about your chosen career?”
Consider your answer in advance, so that you speak with sincerity and a degree of authority.
- “This industry is always moving forwards and changing. I enjoy the challenge this brings and how it is essential to keep up with advancements. It excites me that in some way I am a part of the changing face of the industry.”
- “I believe in the company products and the benefit they bring to the customer. I notice that this company uses customer feedback to develop the product range and that is what attracts me to work here long term.”
How many jobs have you had within the past 10 years?
What Will You Do If You Don't Get The Job?
Now, this is a tricky question, so really think about what you would say before opening your mouth!
Here's another version of the same question:
- “What will you do if you don't get this position?”
Even if you are only joking, please don’t reply “I’ll cry”. I can’t even remember the number of times a candidate has said this to me. No blubbering wrecks, please!
- “If I don’t get this position I will ask for feedback and take that as an opportunity to correct whatever stopped me from being successful so that I can apply in the future. Is there anything at this stage that is preventing me from being the strongest candidate?”
Bold, maybe, but you have nothing to lose. By asking the question at the end of your answer, you may have the opportunity to influence their decision before you leave the room and it certainly shows assertiveness.
Avoid stating that you will be disappointed but you have more interviews lined up so you’re bound to get something or that you will apply to one of their competitors.
Asking how you will feel if you don’t get the position is more commonly asked if you are applying for an internal promotion so the interviewer can either establish if it is just the progression you are interested in, or how they may have to manage your disappointment. Will you leave if you don’t get the promotion or will your current work or confidence suffer?
If you are interviewing for an internal promotion, aim to reassure the interviewer that you are committed to the company and once again you will take on feedback to establish what you need to do should the opportunity represent itself. Let them know that you are the best candidate for the job though!
Your Career Goals
- “How do you plan to achieve your career goals?”
- “How do you plan to further develop your career?”
It’s all very well saying that you would like to progress up the career ladder but how are you going to get there? There are not many companies who promote solely based on longevity of service.
Does the company offer in-house training or are there any courses you plan to attend in your spare time? Are you a member of any professional organisations which offer CPD (continued professional development) or are you an avid reader of career and personal development books?
Do you attend business conferences, presentations or master-classes?
Really think about what you want to do and how you plan to get there to give your answer more substance. It doesn’t have to be specific; in fact, far from it. You want to be able to demonstrate your flexibility and not a tenacious desire to follow out your carefully constructed plan to the letter.
- “Which other companies have you applied to?”
Another of my recruitment favourites and an interesting one for interviewers. Be very careful that you don’t trip yourself up if you have already answered questions stating that you don’t want to work for their competitors yet then say that you have applied to them!
It can work in your favour though if you have applied to other companies if you are a strong candidate as it could speed up an offer letter as they may press you to accept before you attend an interview anywhere else, and it could also help you in your salary negotiations if they know you have more than one offer on the table.
Avoid saying that you have applied for loads of companies and can’t remember all the names as this will certainly look like you are not serious about the position on offer and are desperate for any job.
A Competitor Offer
This is a killer question to determine how serious you are about working for the company you are interviewing for.
- “What would you do if one of our competitors offered you a position?”
This is where your answer should be based on why you want to work for this company.
- “This is the company I feel I have the greatest synergy with and can offer the most value. I already use your products and believe in the brand so I will be sincere in my sales approach.”
You’ve already researched the company, role and person specification so you know that they stand head and shoulders above their competitors, right? Use the information you have gleaned from your research and talk to the hiring manager about how your skills and experience are most suited to them and not their competitors. This is the company you want to work for long term, so stress that in your answer, but make sure you don't say anything derogatory about any of their competitors.
Being Offered a Pay Rise
- “What would you do if your current boss offered you a pay rise to stay?”
This question was an old favourite of mine when I was a recruitment consultant to establish how serious a candidate was about leaving their current company. Often I would be informed that they would stay!
It begs the question “Why haven’t you asked for a pay rise?”
Are you leaving your job because of the salary? If a raise isn’t possible, then you may feel compelled to tell the interviewer this, but in my experience it signals alarm bells that you are only wishing to change roles due to the money and nothing else.
If you were asked earlier in the interview, “Why do you want to work for us?” use this as ammunition to make it clear your reasons for the job change and how it relates to your career progression or ambition rather than the dosh.
Your Career Level Expectations
- “What is the highest level job you expect to hold in your career?”
This is simply to find out how career focussed or ambitious you are and once again can give the interviewer an idea of how loyal you will be to them.
If you say that you aspire to a position the company will not be able to potentially offer in the future, then this may reduce your chances of securing the role unless it is in the far away future so they will retain you for a long time.
A Final Thought
There are many questions an interviewer may ask to determine how serious you are about not only working for them, but sustaining a career with them in the long haul. Take your time to really think about how you can add value to the organisation in the short and longer term, while showing passion for the brand.
Do your research, plan your answers and practise, practise, practise until you feel confident.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.