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How to answer the interview question: “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

  • November 29, 2017

When an interviewer asks, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” many interviewees find themselves flummoxed. They haven’t thought that far ahead. All they know is that, right now, they want this particular job. Where it will have taken them in 1825 days is anybody’s guess. And, after all, how can they possibly say what they’ll be doing then when they don’t even know what they’ll be doing this weekend?

So, why do interviewers like asking this question? The aim of the interviewer is, of course, not to test your psychic ability, but to dig deeper and find out more about you as a potential employee. In particular, they want to find out what your mid-term career goals are to see if they align with both the role and what they are able to offer you as employers. Will you be satisfied with the position and prospects, work hard and stay in their employment for a long time? They want to hire someone who is genuinely excited about the job and who sees it as a great career move.

Let’s start with what not to say.

  • Don’t joke about wanting to do your interviewer’s job. Nobody wants their own job prised from them by a competitive new hire.
  • Don’t go into a very detailed plan about how you will get promoted. It can look over-confident and inflexible.
  • Don’t mention unrelated dreams such as writing a novel or owning a business. An employer is interested in what you will do for them. Don’t joke about winning the lottery and retiring, either.
  • Don’t ponder for ages, suggest a few different things or – worst of all – say that you haven’t thought that far. It will make you look directionless.
  • Don’t make any references to their rivals. Some interviewees think that mentioning an aspiration to gain the skills to work for another notoriously selective or popular employer makes them look ambitious, but why would any firm invest in you just so that you can go to a rival?

When you give your response, the ideal answer will portray you as ambitious but not entitled; forward-thinking but adaptable; realistic but aspirational. The main thing to do is show that you are excited about this position and what you will learn over the next five years: you have a desire to succeed and be the best you can at it. The interviewer will be looking for evidence that this job will meet your goals for several years and that you will stay in it long enough to repay any investment – of both time and money – in you. Then, rather than focusing too much on where you want to go next, present a vaguer and more flexible desire to progress and develop, should opportunities arise. If you can do a bit of research into your employer’s long-term goals and show that your personal career goals align with them, even better. They’re looking for nurses to mentor new staff as part of a recently introduced induction programme? Great – that suits your ambition to guide and eventually train others.

Finally, be prepared for one or two follow-up questions which might be used to see if your answer is a rehearsed one or if it genuinely reflects who you are.

For more interview advice from the team, check out our posts here.

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