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

How to Answer: ‘Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?’ was originally published on Forage.

As you prepare for your interview, you know you’ll probably be asked about your strengths and weaknesses and to tell the interviewer about yourself. But did you know that another common interview question you may encounter is, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” It’s true — interviewers often want a glimpse into your future professional plans.

So, where do you see yourself in five years? How do you explain that to the hiring manager in a way that makes it clear you want the job, have a lot to offer, and aren’t going to jump ship in a few months? And what if you have no idea where you want to be in five minutes, let alone five years?

Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered! Here’s why employers ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years,” along with some great tips for answering.

Why Do Interviewers Ask, ‘Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?’

Even though the interviewer probably suspects you’ve prepared for this question, they may ask it anyway. Why? 

“Employers ask about your five-year plan to assess your long-term goals and career aspirations,” says career coach Jan Tegze. “They want to understand your ambition and see if you have a clear career path in mind. It also helps them evaluate if your career objectives and potential growth align with the opportunities within the organization.” If you’re looking for something high-impact that offers promotions regularly, but this company can’t give you that, you likely won’t be happy in the long run.

And given that in 2022, the average length of time someone stayed in a job was 4.1 years, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), asking where you see yourself in five years makes perfect sense! The interviewer may be wondering if you’re going to use this job “for now” and leave when something else comes along.

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But “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” may not be the exact question you’re asked. The hiring manager may also phrase it as:

  • What is your five-year plan?
  • What are your short (or long) term career goals?
  • Why did you apply for this position?

In short, anything that asks about your career plans is asking how you see your career evolving in the future.

Tips for Answering, ‘Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?’

To best answer, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” you need to analyze your career plans and find a way to explain how this particular position helps you accomplish your goals, without making it sound like this job is a temporary arrangement. Here’s how to get started.

Think About Your Goals

Start with your career goals. Have your figured out what career you want to pursue or what industry you want to work in? And, if you have, have you identified and set SMART goals to help you know what steps you need to accomplish to get where you want to go? How does this job help you achieve those goals?

If you don’t have a career plan or specific goals, that’s OK. That may be why you’re applying for the job or internship: to learn more about the industry and the job.

Make Your Answer Relevant to the Role

Once you’ve identified your goals, you can frame your answer around the specific role. You’ll want to explain how this job will help you take the next step in your career. So, if you know you want to be a QA analyst in five years, you can explain how working as a QA tester is the first step to getting there.

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What Will You Get Out of It?

As a rule, you’re supposed to talk about your skills and abilities and how you’ll use them on the job, not about what you’ll get out of the job. But this is one case where you can (mostly) ignore the rules!

A photo of career coach Jan Tegze

Expert words of advice

Be yourself and let them know you’re open to exploring opportunities within the company. Express your excitement about where these opportunities might lead. — Jan Tegze, career coach

When explaining where you see yourself in five or even ten years, you can mention a skill or area you hope to develop. If your data analysis skills are fair, for example, you can mention how you hope to build and strengthen that skill in the role you’re applying for. Likewise, you can mention that you’re strong in X skills and want to learn skills Y and Z in the next few years to complement your existing skill set.

Don’t Be Too Specific

Though employers don’t necessarily expect you to stay in an entry-level role for five years, you also don’t want them to think that this particular job is a brief stop on your way to bigger things. “Avoid answers that hint you may not be with the company long-term, such as aspirations to start your own business or moving to a place where the company doesn’t operate,” says Tegze.

Be Authentic

When the interviewer asks where you see yourself in five years, you may feel pressured to give a detailed answer about your hopes and dreams. But not everyone has their career planned out in such detail, and that’s OK!

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If you’re not sure where you’re going to be in five years, say so. It’s better to give an authentic, honest answer than blurt out some answer that sounds good but maybe doesn’t feel true to you. The trick is to explain how you think this job will help you figure things out and get a clearer idea of where you want to be five years from now. 

“Mention that you’re keen to develop certain skills, take on new responsibilities, or master specific roles. This shows you’re eager to grow, even if you’re unsure of the exact position you want,” says Tegze.

>>MORE: What Is a Growth Mindset?

He also suggests you can share what’s important to you professionally. “For instance, you might say you want to be in a role where you’re making a meaningful difference, collaborating with a team, or leading projects.” 

Sample Answer for, ‘Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?’

The best answer to the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” interview question will vary depending on your situation. However, Tegze offers two formulas to help you come up with a genuine answer:

  • I see myself further honing my skills in [specific area], taking on larger projects, possibly in a leadership role, ensuring I contribute significantly to [company goal].
  • In five years, I see myself excelling as [your future role], further developing my expertise in [specific skill or area], and making substantial contributions to [specific project or domain].

Here’s what that can sound like:

In five years, I’d like to move into a product design role. I started in software engineering, and it turns out that wasn’t the best choice for me. I moved over to UX design because it allowed me to use my coding skills but in a more creative capacity. As I’ve been in UX design, I’ve discovered I want to have a much bigger say in the overall product design, and this role is the next step on that journey.

In five years, I’d like to be in venture capital. While I have a lot of experience in an analyst role, I don’t have as much experience in the research side of things. So, this role will help me build and develop my research skills, and that will complement my analyst abilities.

I’m not exactly sure where I want to be in five years! But I’ve always liked working with data and numbers. It’s what I majored in, and I did a few virtual job simulations in data visualization to get a feel for the different career options open to me. This role allows me to dabble in a few things: data visualization, data analysis, coding, and even training an AI model. This job will let me try everything and hopefully figure out what I want to focus my career on.

How Not to Answer, ‘Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?’

A good answer to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is balanced. It explains why you’re pursuing this particular job while also making it clear you plan on sticking around for a while.

Inadequate answers don’t have this balance and are often the kinds of things employers don’t want to hear. Here’s how not to answer, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years.”

‘I Don’t Know’

Even though being unsure of your five-year plan is OK (it really is!), you can’t say, “I don’t know,” shrug your shoulders, and leave it at that. “While you don’t have to provide a detailed roadmap, simply saying ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I haven’t thought about it’ can make you appear unambitious or disinterested in your own career,” cautions Tegze.

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‘You Tell Me’

While it’s true that many employers have a specific career path you can follow, that doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. It’s one thing to ask the interviewer what kinds of professional development opportunities the company offers. But it’s another to essentially ask the interviewer to figure out your five-year career plan for you!

‘In Your Job’

Whether or not you mean this as a joke, it’s not going to land well. Implying that you’re going after your supervisor’s role, or plan on running the whole department or company, can come off as arrogant or unrealistic, warns Tegze, unless you’re positive that bold statements and ambition are what the company wants in candidates.

‘Somewhere Else’

While entry-level and even some mid-level roles are stepping stones in your career, employers don’t want to hear that you’re planning your exit before you’ve even accepted the job. You need to make it clear that you’re planning on sticking around, even if it’s not in the same role you start in.

Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Though your hope might be that in five years you’re on the beach drinking margaritas, in a job interview, you want to explain how this particular role helps you accomplish your professional goals. Talk about what you hope to learn from the job and the company and how that will help you grow as an employee.

You can also work toward your career goals by enrolling in a virtual job simulation. Whether you know exactly what you want to do and hope to demonstrate your abilities to a potential employer, or you have no idea what comes next and want to test the waters of a few careers, Forage has hundreds of free job simulations that can help you find the career that’s right for you. Try one today!

Image Credit: Canva

The post How to Answer: ‘Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?’ appeared first on Forage.