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“So, Where Do You Want to Be in 5 Years?”

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 several of our career experts to weigh in and here’s their advice for navigating this complicated question.

Sarah Terlaga | Human Resources

The “where do you want to be in 5 years” question, seems simple enough, but I have unfortunately seen candidates fall into this pitfall where they answer with specifics. (“I want to be a senior partner.” “I want to manage a team.” “I want to own projects.”). However, if those opportunities aren’t a possibility at the time, the interviewer could assume the job seeker wouldn’t be happy in the role or would leave fairly soon. A candidate also doesn’t want the interviewer to think they’re gunning for their job, either.

In my experience, it’s best to talk in broader terms vs specifics. For example, you could talk about the skillsets you want to gain. Or, the type of company you want to work for. Or, the kind of employee you want to be. Just try to avoid specifying a certain leveling within the company (“a manager with 4-5 direct reports”).

Patty Coffey | Technology

I agree with Sarah, this can be a tricky question. If a candidate is too aggressive with their answer, it can scare the employer off. If you downplay the query, though, 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, 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.

Kelly Ratliff | Finance, Human Resources and Administrative

According to my candidates, this is one of the most intimidating questions an interviewer can ask. And, as my colleagues have pointed out, 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.

Jill MacInnes | Software Technology

In my opinion, the most important point to stress when asked the “where do you want to be in 5 years” question is your desire for a long-term career. Whether you have made several job changes in the past or have been at the same company for years, you should show honest intention to stay long enough to be a good investment for the company. Doing your research beforehand is important, you want to show that your personal career goals align with the company’s long-term goals. You want to stress to the interviewer that you’re enthusiastic about the position as it stands but you should also express your interests about growing and developing in a realistic way.

Companies invest substantial time, energy and money in both hiring and training their employees. The question is asked to ensure the position will satisfy you and that you have honest intentions to grow with the company. If this is the case, they will be willing to invest in you.

For advice on how to handle other common interview questions, read our blog on the same subject.

Photo by José Sánchez on Unsplash