By Mike Simpson
So you want to know how to answer “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”…
Well to do that, we need to get back in our magical time machine and go to a time most of us remember fondly.
Do you remember as a kid playing with the Magic 8-Ball? It was always popular at sleepovers!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it…let us explain:
It was a goofy novelty toy; a giant pool ball filled with mysterious blue liquid.
You’d shake the ball, ask your question, and then flip it over…reading the answer on the bottom as it drifted up in ghostly white letters.
Regardless of the question you asked, you were only guaranteed one of twenty possible answers and odds were, if you weren’t happy with what you got…you’d shake the ball and ask again. And again. And again.
It was fun to pretend we had a window into the future by using the toy, but we all knew…it was just a toy and that there was no real way to predict the future.
So why do employers ask you to do just that?
Have you ever been in an interview and been asked the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Why do they ask this question? Do they think that at some point between putting down our 8-Balls and joining the real world that we’ve developed a bit of ESP?
Of course not!
As much fun as it would be to actually have these skills (can you say Lottery Winner?!?), no employer actually assumes you have those powers.
Their reason behind the question isn’t to test your precognitive abilities but rather to see how well your answer lines up with the company’s long term goals.
Now before you rush into a long winded explanation of where you think you’ll be and all the money you’ll be making at your new and fabulous job, let me stop you for a second and give you a serious word of warning.
THIS QUESTION IS A TRAP.
Unlike many of the other questions we’ve explored before including Traditional and Behavioral ones, a question like this is intended specifically to trip you up.
Why would an interviewer want to trip you up? Simple…
Because they want to get rid of you.
Wait…isn’t the purpose of an interview to hire someone? Why would they ask questions designed to get rid of applicants?
Yes, the ultimate goal of any good hiring manager is to find an employee to fill their vacancies, but they’re not looking for just anyone.
They want the Perfect Candidate and trick questions like this one are meant to weed out everyone but the best of the best.
How To Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years”
So how do you answer this question without falling into the trap?
By sidestepping it.
Rather than leaping directly over it and avoiding the question all together, we’ll show you how to work around it in such a way that you not only answer the question, but that you do it in such a way that your answer aligns with the company’s long term goals and values.
First off, let’s stop and look at the question itself.
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Seems like an easy question, right?
Amazingly enough, this question is one that most job seekers get incorrect.
Because they’re answering it just like you’d answer it if you were shaking that Magic 8-Ball and peeking into the future…a future where you see yourself as driven and motivated.
Answering this question with a demonstration of your ambition (“I see myself as CEO of the company driving a sexy new sports car and bringing in unprecedented profits!”) might seem like the answer a hiring manager wants to see, but in actuality…it’s not.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t answer with “Well, I see myself in your seat doing your job.”
No. No. No. That answer isn’t funny. It’s not ambitious. It’s a red flag…and you’re waving it right in an interviewer’s face.
If you’re interested in getting more word-for-word sample answers to this interview question then Click Here To Download Our “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years Cheat Sheet”
Top Tips For Avoiding the Traps While Outlining Your Future Goals
The thing you have to keep in mind is…they’re interviewing you for a job right now.
Not a job in the future…so why would they want to hear you wanting to do any job but the one you’re going for right now?
Rather than demonstrating your ambition and drive for future jobs…a hiring manager wants to see you demonstrate your level of commitment to the job you’re interviewing for.
They want to know what your career goals are for the career you’re interviewing for right now.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however…
They do want an answer to the question. Yes, it’s all fine and dandy to show them that you are committed to the position, but they are still looking for an intelligent and well-balanced answer to the question.
So firmly plant your answer in the reality, which is, doing your best to do the job they are hiring for. But make sure you show that you are a candidate that is ambitious and sees a future within the company, but is also a realist about what the future may hold.
What are your career goals?
Ask yourself this question, and research the company to find out what a potential growth path might be for you. This should be the foundation for your answer.
So without further ado, here are the tips:
Keep the job in mind: Yes, you’ve already demonstrated your desire for the position based on the fact that you’ve applied and are now interviewing for…but this question is meant to dig deeper than that and find out just how much you really want the position. Many job require training and no employer wants to hire someone and invest time and money into them if they’re planning on leaving. They want someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about the position. The hiring manager is looking for a hire that is also a good investment.
Be specifically generic: Remember how your Magic 8-Ball gave you somewhat vague answers? You’d ask it a question and the answer you got sometimes was just fuzzy enough that it seemed to apply? Think of your answer to this question in the same sort of light. First off…you’re not psychic so don’t pretend to be. Make sure your answers are broad enough that they don’t make a hiring manager question your dedication to the position you are interviewing for. Keep your answers tailored to the position and realistic in scope.
MIKE'S TIP: "Generic" can be a particularly dangerous interview strategy when not used properly, so only use it for your answer to this interview question. Job interviews are all about specificity and real-life examples, and being generic won't cut it anywhere else. Furthermore, as I mentioned above, you still need to show that you are ambitious so do your best to outline a realistic growth strategy using the next few tips.
Be enthusiastic: Like we’ve said time and time again….a hiring manager wants someone who is enthusiastic…not just someone who is looking to collect a paycheck and move onto the next adventure. Be genuinely invested in the position you’re applying for and do your research ahead of time so when you do your 5 year projection, you know what you’re talking about and your answer is realistic and grounded.
Be Realistic: Instead of pushing your future self into a ridiculous position of power that probably won’t happen…look at the job you’re applying for and take into consideration just how you might grow and develop within it and how that might also relate to the company’s needs and long term goals. Study the department you are applying to, including its structure and the previous path others have taken to get to where they are. If you can’t find the information, this would be a good question to ask the interviewer during your interview.
Don’t be funny: When confronted with this question, the first thing you want to do is avoid a knee-jerk funny answer. Remember, they’re looking for reasons to get rid of you…and if your first answer is a funny but not serious one, you run the risk of waving that proverbial red flag we talked about earlier.
Don’t make up a position: As I just mentioned, you’ve hopefully already done your research on the company and know what sort of chain of advancement is available for the position you are applying for. Just throwing out a random title (“I want to be the senior manager of sales and acquisitions.”) might seem like a good idea…until you find out the job doesn’t actually exist. Oops.
Make your answer 2 parted: The first part of your answer should focus on the immediate position you are applying for and how you are excited by that opportunity. The second part of your answer deals with your future plans and expectations. By making it a 2 part answer, you’re reaffirming your desire for the job while at the same time answering the long term component in a logical and responsible way.
So how do I answer this question? Is there really a right way or am I just doomed from the start?
Just as there’s a wrong way to answer, there’s a right way as well…and we’ll walk you through three different scenarios so you can get a feel for how to approach this well laid trap.
Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years Example Answers
“Let me start by saying that I’m really excited about the position we are discussing and my number one goal is to do the best job I can at this role. Having said that, if down the line there’s an opportunity for advancement and I’ve proven that I have not only the skills and experience needed to take on this next level of responsibility, then of course I would be interested.”
Well played there! You’re showing that you’re dedicated to the position and that you are ambitious, but not ridiculously so. But why not take it one step further and outline what you plan to do if and when that advancement becomes available?
“I’m also really passionate about the work I do and would love if there were opportunities for me down the line to also be able to mentor other employees or new recruits to be successful within this position, perhaps as a manager or supervisor.”
Well, well well…future employee…nicely put! You’re showing with this second statement that you are grounded enough in reality that you’re aware astronomical leaps forward in careers don’t normally occur within 5 years, but ambitious enough to know that advancement does happen…and when it does, it leave vacancies that you’re willing to help fill by providing training for potential replacements down the road.
“From the moment I read the job description for this position I was really excited about your company’s role in the community, and for this reason, am thrilled at the possibility of working with you for a long time.I’m very passionate about outreach and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be heavily involved in this area.”
First off, good job complimenting the company! You’re showing that you’ve done your research and that you’re also looking for a position that allows growth.
“While my main focus moving forward will be on the position we are discussing today, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to grow within this position to take on more and be a part of new and exciting projects in the community.”
Again, nicely done. You’re letting the employer know that you’re dedicated to the job you’re applying for right now but that you’re also committed to the long term growth of the company…and your role within that growth.
“I’m glad you asked! One of the reasons that I applied to this company was because of your company’s reputation for helping with its employee’s career growth as well as providing advancement opportunities. Long term commitment from an employer is important to me because it creates a sense of belonging and really brings out my desire to “go to battle” for the company.”
Again, you’ve done a nice job complimenting the company culture as well as reaffirming your desire to be a long term employee. A hiring manager loves to hear that you are a solid investment.
“I’m really driven to achieve both mine and the company’s goals, and it is my belief that this stability will allow me to do so as I grow within this role.Five years down the road I see myself growing into a supervisor or manager where I’ll be able to use my skills to support and influence others.”
Again, you’re dedicating yourself to the position but at the same time, letting the hiring manager know that you’re also interested in growing and increasing your level of responsibility.
Putting It Together
There you have it…three solid examples of how to answer the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” as well as tips on how to avoid the dreaded hidden trap employers like to spring on unsuspecting job applicants.
Keep in mind that the interviewer wants to hear what you plan to do with the job you’re applying for right now and that your answer should reflect reasonable and realistic growth… More than anything, you want your answer to reassure the hiring manager that investing in you isn’t risky and that you’re the Perfect Candidate for the job.
So put your Magic 8-Ball down; put your Ouiji board back into the game closet and leave the Tarot Cards at home.
You don’t really need ESP to see a future with a company…you just need a few easy to remember tips and a healthy dose of reality.
And above all…
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Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years? (Example Answers Included)4.6 (91.95%) 87 votes
FREE: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years PDF "Cheat Sheet"
Ok the next thing you should do is Download our PDF Answer "Cheat Sheet" that gives you "word for word" example answers to this dreaded question.
In it you'll find answers to fit a variety of scenarios including: if you are applying for an entry level position, mid management and more!
CLICK HERE TO GET THE "CHEAT SHEET"
Interviewer: Where you do you see yourself in 5 years?
Me: Well, I am going to tell you that I see myself at your company at a role where I contribute to the organization’s success… and you will not believe that I am genuine but then I will say that anyway because this is the only answer I know you are looking for…
Such a ridiculous question to ask. But, it’s one of the most common ones. In this guide, I will show you exactly how to respond to, and genuinely impress your interviewer, when talking about where you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, or so on.
Trust me, if you stay until the end of this article, you will have significantly increased your chances of not only giving the perfect answer but also increased your chances to get that job.
First things first, let me introduce myself. I am Deniz Sasal. I am a manager with PwC Consulting in our strategy consulting business unit. I am also the creator of The Career Mastery and the now famous LIG program.
I launched The Career Mastery blog as a side project in 2016 because I wanted to help unemployed and underemployed find better jobs with large multinational employers and management consultancies.
See, I’ve joined a lot of interviews as a hiring manager. And one thing I noticed very clearly is that today’s job applicants – you – are extremely misled. There is so much complete nonsense advice out there given by completely unqualified non-achievers who have the audacity to teach you. And as a result, a lot of candidates end up wasting so much valuable time and settling for sub-par employers. I blame HR for this not just the ones currently working but also the ones with their online blogs. But that’s another day’s topic…
Long story short, if you stick with me until the end of this article, I will provide you with the best advice, sample answers, and insider tips to increase your chances of passing that interview.
Alright. Before we learn what to do, I just have this overwhelming urge to share with you 1 no-no.
- Don’t try to be funny with the interviewer. I remember at least 4 candidates who said they saw themselves in my position in 5 years. Where are they learning this from? Who’s that guy teaching them it’s okay to say something that's just awkward and obnoxious?
Now that we’ve gotten this what-not-to-do out of the way, I’ll share with you some of the best answers to this interview question. We’ll start with a conventional approach then progressively move towards riskier but more rewarding answers…
So, Deniz…where you do you see yourself 5 years from now?
Let me first share with you the boring yet conventional approach. This answer will only let you “tick” the box and move on to next questions. You will not gain any “points” out of this. So, If I wanted to be conventional and safe, I’d answer this way:
Or I could spin it some more and respond with:
As you can see, these are perfectly fine — and if I may say, boring — answers. You can try these and the interviewer will smile but probably not remember you later from Adam. Everybody uses this safe approach because it ticks all the boxes.
Yes these above sample answers may check all the boxes and prevent you from taking any risks, but at the end of the day, it’s just BS…all fluff not meant to show who you are.
So, now let me share with you a more exciting answer.
The way I see, crafting this conventional response needs to show the following:
- That you are committed and are not a 2-year jumper (which most of us suffer from)
- That you are looking at the company not as a quick solution to unemployment but rather as the last and main destination of your career (Remember, from a hiring manager’s perspective, finding the right member consumes too many valuable resources...time being the most important one. So, show your loyalty and commitment to the organization.)
- Being ambitious and assertive are characteristics that are in high-demand for certain roles, especially sales-related ones. So, feel free to clearly state positive traits associated with the job you're targeting and how you're looking to learn from the best and, when ready, take on more responsibilities.
Then, how to do it? How to impress the hiring manager?
How to get an edge with your answer to where do you see yourself in 5 years?
First think about this; if you are interviewing with the hiring manager, you need to recognize the fact that you will be working with that person for quite a long time. Do you really want to start that relationship with lies? Don't you think he is smart enough to figure out that you are just BS'ing your way through the answer?
When I interviewed for PwC Consulting 4 years ago, I didn’t. I didn't want to start that relationship based on a lie. So, here is how my answer went;
Hmm. Let me gather my thoughts for a second…[Yes, I literally took my time to think. You should try it too…just don't stretch it to an awkward silence.]Judging by the fact that where I saw myself in the past is never where I ended up, it’s really hard to say where I will be 5 years from now. If you asked me this question 10 years ago, when I was working at Standard & Poor’s as an analyst, I’d tell you I wanted to be an investment banker and make a million dollar bonus. Then 5 years later, I was a project management consultant, then sustainability consultant...and now here I am interviewing for a management consulting role which I can confidently do very well.
So you see, where I wanted to be almost never happened, and it’s really hard to say now where I will be in 5 years.
But I guarantee you this. I will do my best in this role and have a wonderful career at PwC with your team and with your leadership. And when the time comes, I will assume more leadership roles, hopefully easing some of your intense work load.
When I gave this answer, something incredible happened...
The partner was definitely shocked, and I could tell he wasn’t expecting my answer.
He was also incredibly impressed. I could see it in his eyes. His mood instantly changed.
After my answer, he started to pat me in the back, saying “Son, it’s okay. It’s very normal going through things like this at your age, we don’t always get to have the career we want. But, don’t worry, things will be a lot clearer for you moving forward with us of course if you choose to work with us.”
And I was like; did you just say "choose to work with us?" Did you really just say that??? Nooo!! You didn't...
He was completely engaged for the rest of the interview, conversing with me, giving details about the way they work, and telling me that he’d love to have a talent like me in the team.
Then, he asked how soon I can join…
I couldn’t ask for a better interview, for sure!
Imagine, my interviewer was a Senior Partner at PwC Consulting... a position that only few partners have. And my answer impressed him!
So, what happened?
It wasn't because I showed my uncertainty of what I wanted to accomplish...
What worked was very simple. After so many years in his career, he finally heard a true answer to his question.
I was probably one of the few who opted not to give a BS answer and to show a less than perfect version of myself. But what he saw was someone who will never give excuses or lie or BS (I just realized I used "BS" way way too many times in this article) his way out, no matter how stressful the situation may get.
Finally, I have one more tip for you that will significantly increase your chances to impress the hiring manager.
Once you pull off a speech like above - assuming it fits your situation, you can then take out a 1 page slide (like the one below), and show him your career progression. Show him that when you worked for the employer A, you learned a lot about "investment banking" which really got you excited about a career in that field, but then later in your career with Employer B, you had a change of heart and you found yourself into "project management". Basically, use a visual aid to amplify your story. This will not only help you deliver a better answer, but also will show your interviewer that you are prepared and determined to get this job. Trust me, the hiring manager will be incredibly impressed the moment you take out that slide. The rest of your interview will go so much better just because of this 1 little page... It's that good of a tactic.
If you'd like to download these PowerPoint templates, please register here to access download page
So, next time a hiring manager asks you where you see yourself in 5 years, try to do the same thing. Aim to give an honest and genuine answer without selling yourself short or going overboard.
Finally, I strongly suggest you take a look at our LIG program. It's developed to completely transform your career. It works!
I am really determined to achieve my and company’s goals. I’d like to deliver to the best of my abilities while learning from the best. Having said that, I see myself 5 years down the road growing into a managerial role and demonstrating my leadership capabilities.
I am really looking forward to spending the next five years in an organization where I feel I share all of its values, especially when it comes to [some values]. I would love to have the opportunity to demonstrate my leadership capabilities when the time is right, hopefully within 5 years and contribute to its growing success.