Here it comes…the dreaded question, the one that will have you feeling trapped in the interviewer’s claws with no way to escape when they ask – ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’

You may find yourself looking around in every direction for a time machine to transport you to the future. After all, isn’t that what your interviewer is asking? The answer to this is, no. No interviewer expects you to know exactly what will happen to you in the future. So then, why bother asking such a ridiculous question?

What your interviewer really wants to know

Simply put, your interviewer is looking for the PERFECT candidate to sweep them off their feet. Answering this question can help them see if you are ‘the one’ by getting a sense of your long-term career goals and how well your vision fits what the company is looking for.

Interviewer’s want to know if you:

  1. Understand what the position entails
  2. Have a positive attitude
  3. Are dependable
  4. Possess the strengths to succeed
  5. Are a good fit for the company

The truth is, most companies don’t want to invest time in hiring and training new employees when they are likely to leave as soon as a new career opportunity pops up. The most desirable candidate is one who is motivated, hard-working and interested in staying around for the long run.

However, there’s no need to worry if you still want to keep your options open for other career paths and opportunities. The trick is to be honest about your CURRENT career aspirations instead of being too candid about your future hopes in another field of work. Even if you want to be a millionaire who drives a Ferrari and has a summer house in Fiji, then good for you…just keep that to yourself!

So, how can you answer this futuristic question?

We’ve already established the fact that nobody can see into the future – even Doc from ‘Back to the Future’ made some faulty predictions. Luckily, your interviewer isn’t asking you to do that; rather, they are asking about want you want NOW. Seems misleading? Well, that’s the whole trick!

Steps for preparing your answer:

If you want to come up with the best possible answer, you may want to do some brainstorming beforehand. Our suggestion is to start from the bottom, working your way up to the underlying question; namely, your career goals.

  1. Know WHY you want this job – What are the specific qualities that attract you to this company and position?
  2. Know HOW you want to spend your time – What are the tasks you will be asked to perform and the type of interactions you will have?
  3. Know WHAT your goals are – What goals do you see yourself achieving in this job?
  4. Know WHERE to research the employer – Check out the company’s website to find desirable job opportunities and role requirements.

Tips to consider:

  • Be general: True, most interview questions are best answered in detail. This answer is different, you need to attempt to be honest but broad, so that you will appear fully dedicated to the position you’re applying for.
  • Show interest in a long-term career: Like we said before, companies are looking to hire dedicated applicants who can fit well and grow with the company. Be clear that you will be a good investment for a long-standing position.
  • Be passionate: You want this career after all, so show it! Do some research before the interview to prove just how much you care and want this job right now.
  • Be realistic: You may still be dreaming of that Ferrari (or for some, a nice Lamborghini)…you may even dream of having a high-ranking position in the same company you are applying for. But the main points to focus on are your realistic career expectations, your ambitions and your goals (which meet the company’s needs).

Answers to avoid

Now that you know what your interviewers wants to hear, let’s discuss the big no-no’s:

  • Don’t overthink your answer: Trying to give the most calculated reply can lead you down a dark road, filled with ‘I don’t know’-s and half-hearted speeches. Remember, you aren’t being tested; this is a time for you to reflect on your goals and impress.
  • Don’t be inconsistent: When discussing your hopes for the future, try to make it seem like you have a sturdy plan. Even if you are looking into several different career options, choose one and stick to it.
  • Don’t go into too much detail: You don’t want to jeopardize your future career by going on about your big dreams. It’s good to be ambitious but saying that you want to be the CEO of the company is not going to open doors for you. In fact, it will likely shut that door right in your face before you can blink. Be vague and realistic.
  • Don’t talk about a different career path: If you plan on leaving in 5 years to pursue a different field of work; don’t bring that up. It’s fine and dandy to keep your options open but advertising this fact to your interviewer is NEVER a smart move.
Example of a WRONG answer: In the next five years I see myself being a manager of the customer-service team and working my way up to becoming the CEO eventually.

As you may have guessed, this answer will put you in a bad light because you are focusing on a position that may never be available or relevant to you, Your interviewer may also see this as a red flag; assuming that you won’t be satisfied and will leave the company if you aren’t moving up in status fast or far enough.

Example of a RIGHT answer: As a customer service representative, I want to enhance my communication skills. In five years I want  to know how to handle challenging situations and understand the job market fully. I wish to acquire new skills and achieve the best results.

This answer is undeniably better because it focuses on your long-term career goals related to the job position and the company you are applying for. By mentioning the specific skills that aren’t currently required but that will help you down the line, you will show how dedicated and motivated you are.  

We at JobTestPrep are here to help you succeed throughout the hiring process. Prepare with our pre-employment tests and interview practice to improve your performance today.