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Published on March 9, 2020

How to Answer: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

How to Answer: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? You don’t need to be a fortune teller with a crystal ball to find the answer. Although it may sound like a trick question, it’s not. The only trick in answering it is to try to align your own ambitions with a given company’s.

Let’s say you’re interviewing for a job at a start-up. A good goal may include growing as the company grows and learning about the space from the most ambitious people in the business. Then, you can answer the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” with a solid response: In five years, I hope to be leading a team of my own within the company.

Your answer should be forward-looking and optimistic. That said, you don’t want to come across as so ambitious that you would steal your interviewer’s job from under her. Think of your answer as a litmus test for how long you will stay with the company. However you answer the question, your interviewer’s takeaway should be that you want to stay at the company for many years.

The Psychology and Subtext of the Question and Answer

Why do interviewers ask this age-old question? Simple. The company does not want to go to all the effort and cost of training you, only to have you leave — taking everything you have learned with you.

Bringing on new employees is both time-consuming and costly. The subtext of your answer to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” should be to allay your interviewer’s fears that your only interest in the job is as a conduit to a better job elsewhere.[1]

How to Answer It Well?

Coming up with a good answer to this question can be complicated as it forces you to think of a future that is currently a complete mystery. However, there are some ways you can prepare a reliable answer that will satisfy any interviewer.

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1. Consider Your Five-Year Plan

To help you navigate the right answer, try jotting down a road map of where you actually see yourself in five years before you go on any interviews. Don’t worry about the exact title you’ll have (unless it helps you plan your future). Instead, think about the tasks you’ll be doing each day. Taking this one simple step can help you answer with conviction.

Plan to answer this question since it’s a perennial favorite of interviewers, and whatever you do, don’t show a lack of ambition by answering “I hope to be in this same job.”

2. Beware of Being Too Focused on the Future

Think of the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” question as a shiny object. The interviewer wants to distract you from the present interview by asking you this question. Why? She asks you about the future to see if you can use it to draw a straight line back to the present.

For this reason, a two-part answer often works beautifully. “I want this particular job…,” you might say as a way to reinforce your desire for the position. Then, in part two, explain your future plans: …“because it will help me build the outreach skills I will need as a foundation for a successful career in marketing. Your company has won numerous marketing awards, and I know I will be learning from the best in the business.”

Keep it short and sweet, but also include details that show you know the company you want to work for.

3. Walk the Same Career Paths That the Company Offers

When someone asks “Where do you see yourself in 5 years,” should you answer with absolute honesty? Yes, of course you should. Your answer should also reflect the research you put into the company.

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You never want to say anything about your plans to retire young. Never suggest that you’re independently wealthy and therefore won’t need to be working in five years.

Before you go to your interview, do as much homework as you can on the probable career path you will take. How does this job give you the entrée to that path?

For example, if you are applying for a receptionist position at a dermatologist’s office, do not say that you hope that this entry position will help you secure a job as a nurse at the same office. Instead, if you dream of becoming a nurse, learn the degrees and licenses you will need to earn to become qualified. If, indeed, becoming a nurse is your dream, it makes more sense for you to apply for a medical aid position instead of a receptionist so that your career path aligns with your goal.

One way to plan out your short-term career ambitions is to look up online job descriptions of the position you hope to attain and scrutinize the qualifications. In doing so, you will about realistic goals to bring up when you answer.

For example, if you aspire be a financial analyst in the investment firm where you’re interviewing, but you are currently applying for a finance program associate position, make sure you can attain the needed qualifications while working full-time. If you haven’t already earned the necessary degree, your interviewer may infer that you’ll be going back to school — and therefore either leaving your position or cutting back on your hours to attend part-time. That answer could backfire.

Better still, find out what training programs are offered through the firm or that can be reimbursed through the firm while holding down your full-time job. Reference your desire to hone your skills and learn more, and you’ll impress your interviewer with your future-focused aspirations.

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4. Don’t Fight the Question

The “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” question forces you to peer into the future. Sometimes this can feel frightening, but fighting the question will not help you secure the job. Lean into the question, instead of away from it.[2]

For example, do not say, “I can’t possibly know where I will be in five years from now. In the last five years, I got married, divorced, and remarried. Whew! Life’s a whirlwind.” Do your best to answer the question, and don’t be defensive.

If you are truly just trying to land a job and haven’t given much thought to what long-term career path to pursue, you may want to answer in a broad, nonspecific way while still showing an upbeat attitude. For example, you may have decided your major in college isn’t your passion after all, and you are interviewing at the company because your roommate works there and flagged your application.

Let your interviewer know that you’re excited by the opportunity and why, and that you are ready for a long-term role. In this case, you may simply answer, “This is a field I’m excited to explore for its growth opportunities and cutting-edge advances. I’m hoping that in five years I’ll have the expertise to help move the company forward and keep it competitive.”

5. Be Realistic

You may be particularly ambitious, and your plan is to climb as high and land as far up in the company as possible, as quickly as possible. Still, tamp down your determination to unseat the CEO in five years (unless you’re entering upper management). If you shoot too high, instead of impressing your interviewer, you will raise eyebrows and come off as over-eager, callous, or even unrealistic.

Root your answer in reality, realizing that advancing one or two positions above the one you’re interviewing for is the most likely scenario. If you can use a past job advancement experience as an example, you will show that you are advancement-worthy.

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For example: “My summer job in college was at a vacation resort where I started in the restaurant as wait staff, but after one summer, I was promoted to restaurant manager, and the next summer I became an assistant to the general manager. My hope is that in five years I’ll again be able to advance two positions above where I’d be starting in your company by showing my ability to learn quickly and gain others’ trust.”

6. Prove Your Staying Power

As today’s job turnover rates become as commonplace as upgrading your iPhone, employers are trying their best to discern which candidates will stick around and which will quickly become antsy and want to move on. In fact, applicants with a job history of changing jobs frequently may not land the interview at all, regardless of their qualifications.

Try to demonstrate that you see yourself staying within the company, learning and adding value as you go. If you then end up staying with the employer for five years or more, chances are it has turned out to be a positive situation for both you and the company — and the answer you gave to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” may actually have been realized.

More Tips on Interviewing

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Journal of Applied Psychology: The Situational Interview
[2] Language in Society: Answers and evasions

More by this author

Vicky Oliver

Author of 6 best-selling books on job-hunting and job interview questions, business etiquette, frugalista style, advertising, and office politics.

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Set Ambitious Career Goals (With Examples)

How to Set Ambitious Career Goals (With Examples)

Taking your work to the next level means setting and keeping career goals. A career goal is a targeted objective that explains what you want your ultimate profession to be.

Defining career goals is a critical step to achieving success. You need to know where you’re going in order to get there. Knowing what your career goals are isn’t just important for you–it’s important for potential employers too. The relationship between an employer and an employee works best when your goals for the future and their goals align. Saying, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll do anything,” makes you seem indecisive, and opens you up to taking on ill-fitting tasks that won’t lead you to your dream life.

Career goal templates’ one-size-fits-all approach won’t consider your unique goals and experiences. They won’t help you stand out, and they may not reflect your full potential.

In this article, I’ll help you to define your career goals with SMART goal framework, and will provide you with a list of examples goals for work and career.

How to Define Your Career Goal with SMART

Instead of relying on a generalized framework to explain your vision, use a tried-and-true goal-setting model. SMART is an acronym for “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic with Timelines.”[1] The SMART framework demystifies goals by breaking them into smaller steps.

Helpful hints when setting SMART career goals:

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  • Start with short-term goals first. Work on your short-term goals, and then progress the long-term interests.[2] Short-term goals are those things which take 1-3 years to complete. Long-term goals take 3-5 years to do. As you succeed in your short-term goals, that success should feed into accomplishing your long-term goals.
  • Be specific, but don’t overdo it. You need to define your career goals, but if you make them too specific, then they become unattainable. Instead of saying, “I want to be the next CEO of Apple, where I’ll create a billion-dollar product,” try something like, “My goal is to be the CEO of a successful company.”
  • Get clear on how you’re going to reach your goals. You should be able to explain the actions you’ll take to advance your career. If you can’t explain the steps, then you need to break your goal down into more manageable chunks.
  • Don’t be self-centered. Your work should not only help you advance, but it should also support the goals of your employer. If your goals differ too much, then it might be a sign that the job you’ve taken isn’t a good fit.

If you want to learn more about setting SMART Goals, watch the video below to learn how you can set SMART career goals.

After you’re clear on how to set SMART goals, you can use this framework to tackle other aspects of your work. For instance, you might set SMART goals to improve your performance review, look for a new job, or shift your focus to a different career.

We’ll cover examples of ways to use SMART goals to meet short-term career goals in the next section.

Why You Need an Individual Development Plan

Setting goals is one part of the larger formula for success. You may know what you want to do, but you also have to figure out what skills you have, what you lack, and where your greatest strengths and weaknesses are.

One of the best ways to understand your capabilities is by using the Science Careers Individual Development Plan skills assessment. It’s free, and all you need to do is register an account and take a few assessments.

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These assessments will help you determine if your career goals are realistic. You’ll come away with a better understanding of your unique talents and skill-sets. You may decide to change some of your career goals or alter your timeline based on what you learn.

40 Examples of Goals for Work & Career

All this talk of goal-setting and self-assessment may sound great in theory, but perhaps you need some inspiration to figure out what your goals should be.

For Changing a Job

  1. Attend more networking events and make new contacts.
  2. Achieve a promotion to __________ position.
  3. Get a raise.
  4. Plan and take a vacation this year.
  5. Agree to take on new responsibilities.
  6. Develop meaningful relationships with your coworkers and clients.
  7. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.
  8. Learn how to say, “No,” when you are asked to take on too much.
  9. Delegate tasks that you no longer need to be responsible for.
  10. Strive to be in a leadership role in __ number of years.

For Switching Career Path

  1. Pick up and learn a new skill.
  2. Find a mentor.
  3. Become a volunteer in the field that interests you.
  4. Commit to getting training or going back to school.
  5. Read the most recent books related to your field.
  6. Decide whether you are happy with your work-life balance and make changes if necessary. [3]
  7. Plan what steps you need to take to change careers.[4]
  8. Compile a list of people who could be character references or submit recommendations.
  9. Commit to making __ number of new contacts in the field this year.
  10. Create a financial plan.

For Getting a Promotion

  1. Reduce business expenses by a certain percentage.
  2. Stop micromanaging your team members.
  3. Become a mentor.
  4. Brainstorm ways that you could improve your productivity and efficiency at work
  5. Seek a new training opportunity to address a weakness.[5]
  6. Find a way to organize your work space.[6]
  7. Seek feedback from a boss or trusted coworker every week/ month/ quarter.
  8. Become a better communicator.
  9. Find new ways to be a team player.
  10. Learn how to reduce work hours without compromising productivity.

For Acing a Job Interview

  1. Identify personal boundaries at work and know what you should do to make your day more productive and manageable.
  2. Identify steps to create a professional image for yourself.
  3. Go after the career of your dreams to find work that does not feel like a job.
  4. Look for a place to pursue your interest and apply your knowledge and skills.
  5. Find a new way to collaborate with experts in your field.
  6. Identify opportunities to observe others working in the career you want.
  7. Become more creative and break out of your comfort zone.
  8. Ask to be trained more relevant skills for your work.
  9. Ask for opportunities to explore the field and widen your horizon
  10. Set your eye on a specific award at work and go for it.

Career Goal Setting FAQs

I’m sure you still have some questions about setting your own career goals, so here I’m listing out the most commonly asked questions about career goals.

1. What if I’m not sure what I want my career to be?

If you’re uncertain, be honest about it. Let the employer know as much as you know about what you want to do. Express your willingness to use your strengths to contribute to the company. When you take this approach, back up your claim with some examples.

If you’re not even sure where to begin with your career, check out this guide:

How to Find Your Ideal Career Path Without Wasting Time on Jobs Not Suitable for You

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2. Is it okay to lie about my career goals?

Lying to potential employers is bound to end in disaster. In the interview, a lie can make you look foolish because you won’t know how to answer follow up questions.

Even if you think your career goal may not precisely align with the employer’s expectations for a long-term hire, be open and honest. There’s probably more common ground than they realize, and it’s up to you to bridge any gaps in expectations.

Being honest and explaining these connections shows your employer that you’ve put a lot of thought into this application. You aren’t just telling them what they want to hear.

3. Is it better to have an ambitious goal, or should I play it safe?

You should have a goal that challenges you, but SMART goals are always reasonable. If you put forth a goal that is way beyond your capabilities, you will seem naive. Making your goals too easy shows a lack of motivation.

Employers want new hires who are able to self-reflect and are willing to take on challenges.

4. Can I have several career goals?

It’s best to have one clearly-defined career goal and stick with it. (Of course, you can still have goals in other areas of your life.) Having a single career goal shows that you’re capable of focusing, and it shows that you like to accomplish what you set out to do.

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On the other hand, you might have multiple related career goals. This could mean that you have short-term goals that dovetail into your ultimate long-term career goal. You might also have several smaller goals that feed into a single purpose.

For example, if you want to become a lawyer, you might become a paralegal and attend law school at the same time. If you want to be a school administrator, you might have initial goals of being a classroom teacher and studying education policy. In both cases, these temporary jobs and the extra education help you reach your ultimate goal.

Summary

You’ll have to devote some time to setting career goals, but you’ll be so much more successful with some direction. Remember to:

  • Set SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, and Realistic with Timelines. When you set goals with these things in mind, you are likely to achieve the outcomes you want.
  • Have short-term and long-term goals. Short-term career goals can be completed in 1-3 years, while long-term goals will take 3-5 years to finish. Your short-term goals should set you up to accomplish your long-term goals.
  • Assess your capabilities by coming up with an Individual Development Plan. Knowing how to set goals won’t help you if you don’t know yourself. Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are by taking some self-assessments.
  • Choose goals that are appropriate to your ultimate aims. Your career goals should be relevant to one another. If they aren’t, then you may need to narrow your focus. Your goals should match the type of job that you want and the quality of life that you want to lead.
  • Be clear about your goals with potential employers. Always be honest with potential employers about what you want to do with your life. If your goals differ from the company’s objectives, find a way bridge the gap between what you want for yourself and what your employer expects.

By doing goal-setting work now, you’ll be able to make conscious choices on your career path. You can always adjust your plan if things change for you, but the key is to give yourself a road map for success.

More Tips About Setting Work Goals

Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

Reference

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