No matter what age we are, whether we are working on not, we all dread this particular interview question. Many of us feel stumped by it and cannot begin to think of an appropriate response.
“It’s a very profound question. At the heart of it is ‘where does meaning reside for me?’” says Timothy Butler, Director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School, in Amy Gallo’s article Where Will You Be in Five Years?
Still, it’s a question you have to answer thoughtfully and honestly, you cannot fake it – and an interview with a hiring manager is neither the time nor the place to begin improvising. So, you just have to construct a response that makes you stand apart from other job seekers.
In Gallo’s article, Joseph Weintraub, a Professor of Management and Organization Behavior at Babson College, says that to come up with an appropriate response to this question, first, you should ask yourself these three questions:
- What are my values?
- What are my goals?
- What am I willing to do to get there?
While reflecting on these three questions, you have to identify what you are good at, what you are not good at, and what you like doing, says Weintraub. Too many people spend their lives doing jobs they’re not right for or they do not enjoy. If the fit is not right for you, then you have to make a change, he says.
If you’ve thought about what’s really important to you and still can’t come up with an appropriate answer, simply convey to the interviewer that you have a desire to grow and commit to the position, says Weintraub.
In his article Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? Harry Urschel, an Executive Recruiter and Job Search Coach, recommends using this response:
“I have hopes of taking on new challenges and advancing my career when it’s appropriate. However, I’m focused on the job at hand, and the pace that any advancement happens will be determined by whether I’ve earned it or not. If I perform beyond the company’s expectations for as long as I’m needed in the current role, I would hope there will eventually be opportunities to grow in the organization.”
Truthfully, most companies don’t know where they might be in five years. By asking this question, hiring managers are actually probing for other information about you, that is:
- Will you stay for a while?
- Is this job a good fit for you?
- Will you like doing the job?
- How ambitious are you?
A hiring manager wants to be confident that if she hires you that she will not have to replace you anytime soon. Remember, it costs companies lots of money to replace an employee. The hiring manager also doesn’t want to hire you if your answers indicate you will be leaving after a short stint or your ambition level is not in synch with the energy of organization.
To develop a well-polished, thoughtful response to this interview question, use these two guidelines from Butler and Weintraub.
1. It’s about what you want to learn, not a job promotion
Talk about how you see yourself developing professionally, what you want to learn. This is a better route than declaring a particular position, or title, you want.
In his article, Weintraub suggests your answer reflects, “What capabilities will you have wanted to build in five years?”
For example, ‘I can’t say exactly what I’m going to be doing in five years, but I hope to have further developed my skills as a strategist and people manager.’ This is a safe way to answer regardless of your age or career stage. ‘You don’t want to ever give the impression that you’re done learning.’ ”
2. Reframe the question to your advantage
Reduce the timeframe of the question to better define your value. Butler suggests, “I don’t know where I’ll be in five years, but within a year, I hope to land several high-profile clients.”
He stresses conveying enthusiasm for the job when you respond. Hiring managers want someone who genuinely wants to work on their teams.
In summary, follow these Do’s and Don’ts outlined by Weintraub and Butler.
- First, do the contemplative work to develop a personal answer to the question
- Understand what the interviewer is trying to gather from your response
- Shorten the timeframe of the question so you can give a more specific, reasonable reply
- Make up an answer you don’t believe is true about your ambitions or future
- Provide a specific position or title; instead focus on what you hope to learn
- Feel limited to answering the narrow question asked — broaden it to communicate what you want the hiring manager to know about you
If you provide a thoughtful and honest response you’ll stand out from other job seekers and no longer feel dread when a hiring manager asks, “So, where do you see yourself in five years?”
Quotes from Timothy Butler and Joseph Weintraub
Where Will You Be in Five Years? By Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review Blog Network
Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? By Harry Urshel, Career Rocketeer