How to Handle Difficult Interview Questions #6

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

When you are interviewing for a job, it can be hard to know what you want to do next year let alone what you want to be doing in five years.  Even if you have a clear vision of where you want to be, it is important to be careful in how you answer because you will have to tailor your answer to the job for which you are interviewing.
This popular question helps interviewers and hiring managers get a sense of how your career goals align with the company’s and whether you are likely to have a long tenure.

There are several wrong answers

“Retired.”  “Fishing.”  “On the beach drinking Pina Coladas.”  “Touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”  These may be your dreams, but they indicate a lack of commitment to the company and position you are interviewing for.
“Well, I see myself in your seat doing your job.”  That isn’t funny, it’s not ambitious. It is a red flag that the interviewer will immediately see – and eliminate you as a serious candidate.
“Hmm, that’s a really good question.  Let me see, I guess I really hadn’t thought much about it.”  This shows a lack of ambition and direction.  An interviewer may interpret this as not having an interest in learning and contributing.


The right answer

Remember you are interviewing for the current position not for a position in five years.  So, your answer has to be rooted in today’s reality, but also show you have a plan and are interested in your career.
Start by researching the company and the role to identify what the potential career path might be.  Is this role clearly defined to be a developmental step? If so what are the next logical steps in the progression, you can talk about those roles.
“My goal is to learn everything there is to know about being the Associate Potato Sorter.  As I develop my skills I would like to assume more management responsibilities and become a Lead Potato Sorter managing a crew of sorters.  I want to work for an organization where I can build a long-term career”
Sometimes there isn’t a clear career path from the position you are interviewing.  Emphasize your desire to make a contribution, learn and achieve in the role.
“I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects and work with people I can really learn from.  Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”
Nobody wants to hire an applicant who is halfhearted about the job.  Your response to “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is your opportunity to sell the interviewer on your commitment to the career path and the position.
This is the sixth installment in a series devoted to answering the difficult interview questions.
Below are links to the first four:

Rick ChristensenRick Christensen: Director, Career Transition Practice

Rick has been a career consultant for over 20 years, serving a very broad-based and diverse clientele. His specialties include effective group facilitation, one-on-one coaching and consultation at all levels including senior executives.

Rick’s passion is coaching individuals through career transitions, developing career management strategies and in identifying and sharpening competencies to open doors to new opportunities. His efforts have assisted thousands of individuals achieve their full potential.