Whether you are a fresh grad or a seasoned professional, one of the scariest questions an interviewer can ask is “where do you want to be in 5 years?” Providing you even know the answer, what’s the best way to respond? Do you go for the gusto and say you picture yourself in their seat? Or say you aren’t quite sure? We asked some of our career experts to weigh in and here’s their advice for navigating this complicated question.
This can be a tricky question. If you are too aggressive with your answer, it can scare the employer off. If you’re too specific (“I want to be a senior partner”) and those opportunities aren’t a possibility at the time, the interviewer could assume you wouldn’t be happy with the job or would leave fairly soon. And, if you downplay the query, you can be viewed as lacking goals. The best approach is a well thought-out response with room for interpretation.
Look at your history and career path as well as investigate the trajectory of the role you are interviewing for. Be realistic about what you are looking to achieve and be sure the “plan” is attainable at your future employer.
Preface the response by mentioning you first wish to succeed in the opportunity being presented to you. Then discuss the areas in which you would like to grow. Be somewhat specific – for instance, technology, skills, leadership, etc., but also be realistic with the timeframe and consider whether the 5-year plan you present is available from your future employer.
When you present the response be sure to mention that you are open to various paths. Reinforce that your goals may not always be measured in terms of job titles or a position with the organization, but rather on contributing to a company’s success and professional happiness.
According to my candidates, this is one of the most intimidating questions an interviewer can ask. And, it can be a double edge sword. On one hand, you want to show that you are driven, and have plans to grow your career. The flip side is to remember that you are interviewing for a specific job. Be careful not to come across as someone who will immediately grow out of the role you are hired for.
A good rule of thumb is to start by highlighting the reasons why this job aligns with your current goals. I would then suggest expanding on that by discussing how being with a company that values the opportunity to learn and grow, would put you on the right path to reach your career goals in the coming years.
For advice on how to handle other common interview questions, read our blog on the same subject.Interviewing tips for job seekers | Job search advice