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

At one point, "where do you see yourself in five years?" was a great question. It let interviewers gauge your ambition, or lack thereof, as well as your thought process.

Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years

Slowly, it became a cliché. Yet, it’s still asked. Your challenge: to take it seriously and turn the predictable into an opportunity. Here are five formulas that can guide you toward a great answer to “where do you see yourself in five years?”

I would love to still be working here

This is the safest answer. It communicates enthusiasm and dedication. Churn costs money, so companies love commitment.

The only slight risk is sounding like you’re kissing up. Provide sufficient detail about the company and its work so your answer is genuine. Be able to describe the role you’d like to play in the future.

I would like to move toward (fill in the blank)

This approach involves some excavation into the company’s organizational chart and into developing areas in your field.

Do some research and identify gaps in the company’s capabilities. Analyze your field, and figure out where it’s headed. Next, pinpoint where the two intersect. You’ll paint yourself as a forward thinker who’s already invested in the company.

If, for example, you work in IT, describe your future in information security. If you’re in marketing, talk about your interest in digital platforms and targeting various demographic groups.

I see myself as the holder of an MBA

A passion to learn is always a good thing, even more so if you can draw a direct line from your extra credential to company needs. “I work in public relations, but I need to understand more about marketing so I can help reinforce the company brand.”

Be sure to point out that you don’t plan to quit after a year or two and throw away the time the company’s invested in you. If the MBA program you’re considering requires a capstone course, point out that your employer would make a great case study.

Beware that a desire to pursue another degree can come off as wishful thinking if you can’t express how it would further your career. Make sure you’re ready to discuss a goal, not a dream.

I’m interested in management

Tread carefully here. You want to make it clear that you’re looking to eventually make the move, but you don’t want to sound like you’ve already mentally redecorating the corner office.

Use this answer as an opportunity to outline skills you know you need to develop and as a chance to make a pitch for cross-training. It also alerts the company early on that you’re interested in moving up.

Make sure your goal is achievable. Proclaiming yourself as CEO in the next half decade will paint you as unrealistic and arrogant.

The unvarnished truth

You will stand out because few people are nervy enough to say, “I have absolutely no idea.” It’s risky, though, so be prepared to defend yourself lest you appear flip.

Start by reviewing your resume. Maybe the housing bust doomed your fledgling career in real estate, obliterating your last five-year plan. Describe how you assessed your skills and plotted another direction. You hadn’t planned on making a move, but when opportunity arose – or was forced – you adapted.

The trick here is sounding assured in your uncertainty. Aimlessness is not an attribute. Being open to new possibilities and nimble enough to make a change is. So is resilience in the face of a failed plan.

The other neat part about this answer: you acknowledge that you’re aware of the break-neck speed at which change can occur today and declare yourself ready to respond.

There are many credible ways to answer the “where do you see yourself in five years” question. What they all have in common: They require forethought and planning. Usually some research, too. If you do that in advance of the interview, you can craft a response that makes you stand out.

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