By asking “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” hiring managers are basically trying to establish if:
- You have ambition, with a work ethic to support your ambitions;
- You are worth hiring and investing in;
- You will benefit the company in the long run.
And these benchmarks are the means by which an employer gauges your suitability.
If your responses to these criteria are positive, it tells the recruiter or manager that, given the right encouragement and support (and a desk) that you could be a perfect fit.
It boils down to you being able to make a good impression.
But what about an impression in the long term? How does a company gauge your fitness for what may be decades of employment?
No-one can see into the future, so how can a recruiter know that the qualities they see in you today will still be evident tomorrow, or next month, or in 5 years’ time?
The truth is – luckily or otherwise – they don’t.
Why is the question asked?
While some employers will use facets of your personality they see in you on the day to judge how you will fair over the course of time, others will be more direct.
In asking Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? they want to know some general yet useful information:
- How settled are you?
- How ambitious are you?
- How motivated are you?
- How “long-term” is your thinking?
These are big giveaways of your character. To put it bluntly, your answers will help an employer to decide whether you are worth hiring or not.
So, let’s answer these questions here and now in the best way possible:
- I like to settle in with an employer and build my career.
- I like to grow with my employment and I look forward to opportunities within a company.
- I’m goal-oriented and love new challenges.
- This is my real field of interest and I’m committed to this move.
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But if you were being truthful, what would your answers be?
Not all of us have a specific career path in mind or even a personal five-year plan.
After all, who knows what will happen in five years’ time?
Those that do are fortunate. But this looking-ahead business is a tough nut to crack.
And if we were being honest our answers instead may look a bit like this:
- I’ve no idea, let’s just see what happens? The world may end.
- I’d like to be the boss in 5 years’ time.
- It’s a job. If something better comes along I’m off.
- This is just a stop gap. I need some money. I won’t be here after Christmas.
A great many of us when we apply for a job will be doing so because of one overriding factor: the chance of earning money – to help build the lifestyle we want for example, or get rid of student debt.
And money, as you know, has the ability to keep us tied to a job for years, perhaps even a lifetime (but that’s not something you should mention).
Should you be honest?
Let’s get one thing straight: an interview is not about being as honest as you can be. It is by its very nature a contrived situation; a test if you like.
It’s not a case of lying. Be honest, by all means, but omit answers that you know will have you red-pen struck from the list of candidates.
You will have wasted your time and theirs and, of course, your money.
On the other hand, you may be genuinely excited about spending the rest of your life with this employer.
And in which case: congratulations! You’ve found the holy grail of employment and the money you earn is just a nice perk.
But it is more likely you’ll be nervous about devoting the next five years of your life to the company, let alone 15 or even 50 years.
Let’s have a look at some in-depth stock answers that will put you in a more positive light.
But first, remember:
The trick to a quick and confident answer is to plan and rehearse, whether you want the job for life or not. Don’t waste your time!
- Know the company and its plans for the future
- List goals that you think will match the job
- Think about why you applied for the job in the first place
- Think about how you can help the company in the long term
Here are three example answers:
“I’m keen to stay with the company, to learn about its products and services and to adapt to new ways and increased responsibilities. I would like to have an opportunity to use my own expertise and enthusiasm to aid the company’s future focus.”
“I would relish the chance to aid the business in its long-term objectives and to be a part of its place as a market leader in the industry. Your mission is very important to me and I hope that I am able to develop my skills and use my work ethic to secure a bright future.”
“I am very excited about this role. I intend to develop my skills and expertise over the course of the next few years, to be a part of a great team and show my worth. I would love to have the chance to grow in the business and would be keen to progress.”
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What does the interviewer not want to hear?
You should be clear by now about what are the best and worst things to say.
But there’s another angle to looking good. Namely, what does the interviewer not want to hear?
Put it this way – the employer is interviewing you for work.
They want to know that, out of a hundred other candidates still to see, he or she has a reason to hire you.
As friendly as an interviewer may seem, and as chilled out as the situation is, you will want to avoid talking of your long-term personal goals and situation.
And there are two good reasons for doing so:
- Your personal five-year plan may include children, or moving house or even a surgical procedure. And as much as one person may be interested in another’s future, such talk bears no relation to the task at hand. Except that is, by impacting on the next reason…
- If your personal circumstances are set to change are they going to be a hurdle of your long-term dedication to the job?
What this all comes down to…
Hiring managers do not often enjoy the recruitment process.
It is exceptionally time-consuming, and most are probably seconded from another part of the business to conduct interviews.
Understandably, an interviewer won’t want to spend time talking to someone who has obviously applied for the job with no long-term intention.
Nor does your employer want to invest time, money and effort inducting and integrating you into the system for you to turn around in a few months’ time and leave.
Consequently, if a recruiter can find a reason not to short-list you, they will. And how you answer Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? will tell them everything they need to know.
The poor way you answer it, the vague words you use and your nervous body language can be sufficient ammunition. Hence: don’t give them a reason!
An employer wants to hire someone who is excited and enthused by the job they have applied for; someone who is obviously keen both to stick with challenges and, even better, who hopes to progress.
Make your answers truthful and candid but non-specific enough to avoid raising any doubts about your long-term suitability.