Regardless of the industry that you’re in, you’re bound to get asked the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. And if you’re a graduate or applying for a temporary role, the particular company that you’re interviewing for may not be in your five-year plan.
So, navigating through this common interview question can be tricky. That said, it’s not impossible. To help you prepare an encouraging answer, we’ve listed a complete guide of what you should and shouldn’t say below, along with some inspiring sample answers.
Why hiring managers ask this question
Hiring managers ask this question for a handful of reasons. They first want to ensure that you are ambitious and driven — both desirable qualities in any employee. They also want to see if you are focused on personal and professional development. Harrison Tanner Baron, CEO and Founder of Growth Generators, said, “When hiring managers ask, ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’, what they are really assessing is the candidate's ambition. They are looking to see if the candidate is a go-getter, someone who will do a great job, and then maybe, in the future, progress in their career.”
How to answer the question
During the hiring process, you need to give an answer that is convincing and shows ambition and determination. So, how do you do it? Below are some useful tips to help you form the perfect answer.
1. Connect the job to your career goals
This first step is the most important when it comes to answering this question. Hopefully, you’re applying for a role in the industry that you want to stay in, so it’ll be easy to align the job to your medium- and long-term career goals. Explain how this position will help you achieve those goals and get you one step closer to your dream position.
That said, even if the role doesn’t directly align with your career goals, it could be one step in the right direction. For example, when I graduated with a Master’s in Fashion and Lifestyle Journalism, I was keen to get into fashion PR, but as the industry was increasingly competitive, I started out in retail.
Once I got my foot in the door at a company I wanted to stay in, I was able to move from retail to head office in the position that I dreamed of. So, if these are your goals, you could say that you wish to stay with the group and develop your career, whether it’s a managerial position or moving across departments.
2. Relay past experiences
When giving your answer, you can connect past experiences to where you want to be in the future. April Maccario, founder of AskApril, says, “Be consistent. Don't just spur out words that might sound beautiful. You must connect them with your experiences, seminars you've attended, and the skills you want to develop.”
For example, if you’re trying to become a marketing professional and have recently completed a Google Ads course, you could say that although you’re quite knowledgeable in Google Ads and Analytics, you hope to expand your SEO knowledge further through on-the-job experience.
3. Focus on your interests
When answering this question, it’s important to focus on your interests and showcase how they may evolve in this role. April Maccario says, “This way, you can directly give the answer the employers are looking for. They will see how you want to pave your career relating to the position.”
For example, if you’re applying to a graduate role for a writing position, you can explain how — since you love writing — your long-term career goals are to become editor-in-chief and be involved in the overall content planning for the publication.
4. Involve the company in your future plans
Involving the company in your five-year career goals is a great way to win them over and show that you’re keen to stick around. But how do you do that when you know little about the company? You do your research beforehand. Make notes of how the company can benefit your career and the ways that you can see yourself progressing with aligned company goals.
5. Be realistic
Be realistic about the goals that you want to achieve. Don’t say you’d like to be a CEO in the next five years if you’re a recent graduate. You want your answer to be logical and you want to show that you’re level-headed and eager to progress within your reach. For example, aiming for a step or two above your current position is a logical step within your five-year career plan.
Now is as good a time as any to start practicing your answers. To help you prepare your own concise answer, we’ve listed a few examples below that can be used as a guide.
Watch an example in practice:
“Since I’m only just starting out in my career, in five years’ time I’d like to be in a position where I know enough about the design industry that I can create reasonable long-term career goals. I am keen to get further training and feedback so I can really perfect my craft, and I believe your company is a great place to get started. I like how you work with a number of different clients, which adds plenty of variation for day-to-day responsibilities, allowing me to work on lots of different designs.”
"The most rewarding part about being a team leader is that I get to be a part of developing training sessions — it’s extremely satisfying to help my colleagues learn something new. In turn, I feel useful and look forward to going to work. So, in five years, I’d like to be more of an expert in learning and development and hopefully progress to a more senior position where I can assist a number of different teams or departments.”
“Over the next five years, I’d like to obtain further training and certifications that are related to my position. I noticed that you offer education advancement opportunities and grants for professional development, which largely attracted me to applying for this role. I would love to be part of a company that places employees’ knowledge at the forefront of their culture. In turn, I’d hope that this training will allow me to progress within your organization and help me advance to a management position.”
Things to avoid saying
When you’re attempting to answer this tricky question, make sure you avoid these common pitfalls.
1. Don't oversell your aspirations
As I mentioned above, your answer needs to be realistic. Gergo Vari, CEO and founder at Lensa, an HR and talent acquisition platform, said: “It's important to be aspirational, but you don't want to oversell yourself. If you say that you want to be the CEO of the company in five years, not only does it make you seem like you don't understand how businesses work, but it also makes it seem like you aren't serious about what you are actually interviewing for.” So, aim for realistic goals that you can achieve in 3–5 years’ time.
2. Don’t suggest that you haven’t thought about your long-term goals
What’s worse than suggesting that you’re going to run the entire business? Not saying anything at all! An “Uh, I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about what I’m going to eat tomorrow, let alone what I will be doing in the next five years” will be sure to get you crossed off the list.
It’s okay to not have all your career plans figured out, but it is important to show the hiring manager that you’re keen on advancing your career, learning new skills and have the ambition to succeed. They don’t want to hire a floater who has little work ethic and no drive.
3. Don’t be too generic
Saying something vague isn’t going to place you in a good position. Use hands-on experiences and align your goals with those of the company to ensure you’re tailoring your answer towards the job that you’re applying for. And if you can’t think of a great answer, then maybe you’re not a good fit for the company — or vice versa.
4. Don’t ramble
Regardless of the question, a major put off when it comes to an interview is an interviewee rambling on and on. You need to keep your answers concise and professional. A hiring manager doesn’t want to hear a monologue, but rather a well thought out answer on your professional goals so they can assess if they align to the role or the company that you’re applying to. If you talk for too long, they are likely to zone out and focus on something else, rather than what you are saying.
The formula to this common interview question is simple: list your career goals, make them relevant and provide a logical answer. If you’ve done the above, you’re likely to impress the hiring manager and get one step closer to your dream job!
Still unsure? Check out our video about common interview questions (and how to answer them):
How have you answered this question in the past? Join in on the conversation below to let us know your example answers.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 14 January 2019.