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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

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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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50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry

50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry

LinkedIn is an excellent platform to network with great people to help you in your career and businesses. However, with over 575 million people on the site, who should you follow? This list will steer you to the right people to follow, organized by categories of expertise.

Job Search Experts

You will likely have several jobs throughout the course of your career, and you will constantly need advice on new trends and strategies out there in the job market. Here are the LinkedIn experts who you should follow on these matters.

1. Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of Human Workplace. Her articles on job searching are filled with creative and colorful cartoons.

2. Lou Adler is the author of The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired.

3. Dr. Marla Gottschalk will help you make an impact in a new job.

4. Hannah Morgan runs CareerSherpa.net, where she gives expert advice on job searching and how to be more visible online.

5. Alison Doyle is the CEO and Founder of CareerToolBelt.com.

Management Experts

They say that people leave managers, not jobs. These experts in LinkedIn will help you become your employees’ dream manager.

6. Jeff Weiner. How can we leave out the CEO of LinkedIn himself?

7. Nozomi Morgan is an executive coach. She can help you transition from a boss to a true leader.

8. Mickey Mikitani is the CEO of Rakuten. He constantly shares his expertise in managing a global player in e-commerce platforms.

9. Andreas von der Heydt was the head of Amazon’s Kindle Content and now the Director of Talent Acquisition. He has extensive experience in management, branding, and marketing.

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Productivity Experts

By maximizing your productivity, you can win in all aspects of life. The following LinkedIn experts will help you win big in your career.

10. Gretchen Rubin is a happiness coach and the bestselling author of the The Happiness Project.

11. Carson Tate is the founder of Working Simply. She advises us to include play in our schedules.

12. Greg Mckeown is an essentialist. Part of being an essentialist is saying no to many things so that we can focus on the things that matter.

13. Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha! Labs Inc. provides strategies on how to be productive and happy at work at the same time.

Marketing Experts

14. Sujan Patel is VP of Marketing at When I Work, an employee scheduling software. He is an expert in content marketing and he even shares his ideas on content marketing in 2020.

15. Megan Berry is the Head of Product Development at Rebelmouse, a content marketing and AlwaysOn powerhouse.

16. Sean Gardner will help you navigate the social media landscape. This includes how to use different platforms to help accelerate your career. He is also the bestselling author of The Road to Social Media Success.

17. Christel Quek is an digital and marketing expert. She is the VP of South East Asia at Brandwatch. Their products help businesses utilize social media data to make better business decisions.

18. Jeff Bullas is a digital marketing expert. His blog has over 4 million readers annually.

19. Michael Stelzer is the CEO and Founder of social media powerhouse site, Social Media Examiner.

20. If you’re looking for inbound and content marketing expertise, follow Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO of Hubspot.

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21. David Edelman is a McKinsey partner and is at the helm of the Digital Marketing Strategy Practice Department.

22. Dave Kerpen leads the social media software company Likeable Local. He is the author of Likeable Social Media: How to delight your customers.

23. Clara Shih is the CEO of Hearsay Social and the author of The Facebook Era.

24. Aaron Lee is Grand Master of Customer Delight at Post Planner. He is an excellent resource for everything social media.

25. David Sable is the CEO of Y&R, one of the largest advertising firms in the world.

26. Content marketing trumps traditional marketing these days, and who else better to lead you in this area than Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute.

Personal Branding Experts

Part of what we market in our personal career is our brand. When people hear your name, what kind of brand comes into their mind? What traits and qualities do they associate with you?

Here are some personal branding experts from LinkedIn to improve your own brand.

27. Dorie Clark is the author of Stand Out and Reinventing You. He can help you craft the professional image you’ve always wanted.

28. Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding. If you’re a millennial, Dan is the guy to help you craft your personal brand.

Other Notable Experts to Follow

29. Lisa Gates is the expert to follow if you’re negotiating for higher salaries and promotions.

30. If you’re a Baby Boomer, Marc Miller will help you navigate the continually changing landscape of the workplace.

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31. To avoid getting your resumé moved to the “No” pile, read Paul Freiberger’s excellent advice.

32. James Caan provides insightful ideas on careers in general. He is also a serial entrepreneur.

33. Jeff Haden writes on various topics, such as leadership and management. He is the owner of Blackbird Media.

34. If you’re looking for expert business advice on getting new customers and keeping them, follow Jay Baer.

35. Suzanne Lucas, aka Evil HR Lady, is a great human resources specialist.

36. If you need help in using Twitter to boost your career, Claire Diaz-Ortiz can guide you in the right direction.

37. Ryan Holmes is the CEO of Hootsuite, a social media management tool.

38. Customers are the lifeblood of a business and Colin Shaw focuses on revolutionizing this customer experience.

39. Brian Solis often reflects on the future of business and how technology can disrupt our world.

40. Nancy Lublin provides advice on more lighthearted topics, which are perfect after a long day’s work. She is the CEO behind Dosomething.org, a portal designed for social change; and the founder & CEO of Loris.ai and Crisis Text Line.

41. Katya Andresen provides advice on how to manage your career. She was the CEO of Cricket Media and now responsible for the SVP Card Customer Experience at Capital One.

42. Gallup has created a system to test what your strengths are and how to use them at work. Jim Clifton is the CEO of Gallup.

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43. Adam Grant is a Wharton Professor and the author of Give and Take, which provides advice on why being helpful at work can accelerate your career.

44. Hunter Walk is a partner at Homebrew Venture Capitalist Company and has specialty in product development and management.

45. If you’re running a nonprofit organization, follow Beth Kanter for expert advice on this area.

46. Emotional Intelligence is necessary to succeed in your career, and Daniel Goleman is your expert for that.

47. Rita J. King connects science, technology and business.

48. Tori Worthington Rose is a Creative Director at Mary Beth West Communications, LLC. She has extensive experience in sales and digital media.

49. If you’re looking for some advice on how to use writing and personal content marketing to boost your career, follow Ann Handley.

50. Tim Brown is the CEO at IDEO and shares his insights on Leadership and Creativity.

These are just some of the key thought leaders and movers in various industries. They will provide you with constant inspiration, as well as the willpower to pursue the career that you’ve always wanted. Their stream of expert ideas in their respective fields will help you become well-equipped in your professional pursuits.

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Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator via unsplash.com

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