How to Answer the Hiring Question: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? was originally published on Ivy Exec.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” – This is a quintessential interview question that many of you would have faced or even struggled to formulate an answer for.
As a hiring manager, I personally use two variations of this question –
“How do you see yourself in 5 years?”
OR “What are your career goals?”
No matter how well you prepare for an interview, it can seem daunting to answer this question, and you might even stumble because you’re faced with the mammoth task of breaking down your vision for the future while expressing your ambition and drive.
Two Reasons why employers ask this question
This question goes beyond understanding your specific skills, training, or experience.
Rather, it looks into a defining trait of who you are not only as an employee but also as a driven and passionate individual. You need immense clarity and years of reflection on your end to clearly articulate what career moves you have made or would like to make to reach there.
Tara Goodfellow, renowned career coach and consultant (Borsellino, 2022), sheds light on how this question is “an attempt to measure a candidate’s motivation and future goals.” These are the two key elements that a hiring manager is mining for through this question.
1️⃣ Your natural drives
The answer to this question reveals a lot about you as the candidate.
It helps to understand what drives you. As hiring managers, we like to hire ambitious candidates who are driven by their personal goals and do not necessarily need to be shown a path. As Steve Jobs (as cited in Roemmele, 2016), celebrated entrepreneur and co-founder of Apple, says, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
So what makes you stand out are your natural drives that you don’t wait to be told what to do.
2️⃣ Your ability to set realistic goals
At the same time, the answer to this question tells us if you are being realistic about your own career goals.
The ability to articulate realistic, achievable big goals is a skill that might win you the job. Thus, as a candidate, it is essential to articulate where you want to see yourself in the near future.
Two Guidelines to best answer this question
The best answer in that context I have ever gotten is – “First, I honestly hope that you progress faster to be a director.
I am confident I would work hard, and you would see my potential and ability to sit on that side of the table, on your seat.” Such an answer is unbeatable.
Let’s break down why this answer works. It shows not only your goals as a candidate but also your confidence to see those goals through to the end. It also highlights your ambition while also being humble enough to know that the aim is not just for personal growth but also for the company and its leaders.
The answers you provide can often sway the hiring manager in your favor only if you express two things clearly.
1️⃣ Express realistic and achievable goals.
Robin Ryan (2008), a career counselor and bestselling author of the book “60 Seconds and You’re Hired!” says, “The interviewer wants to see how focused you are, how realistic, or even if you have a clue about what you want to do.”
This only shows how earnest you are during the job interview. Thus, make sure that your answer aligns with the specific position you’re applying for, the skillsets you bring to the table, as well as the scope of growth realistic within the period of five years. While it’s commendable to be a visionary, make sure you’re only etching out plans that you can deliver.
Ryan (2008, pp. 88-89) also provides a crucial insight about breaking down your goals into “short-range” and “long-range” goals. This additional step can make you stand apart from other candidates, as it shows how realistic you are with the timeframes of achieving your goals, knowing what to prioritize while also highlighting the long-term vision you bring forth.
2️⃣ Express what drives you beyond money.
Among other things, as hiring managers, we want people who work for their goals and not just to gain income.
Such individuals who are focused on their goals will have an innate motivation to perform better, stay goal-directed, and thereby produce better results.
As Ryan (2008, p. 101) rightly points out, “The premise that you must work from is this: whoever mentions money first loses. Don’t let it be you!” Make sure you’re bringing the focus on your goals and motivation. Understand that your value lies in your goal-driven approach, the income will follow when your value is brought to the table.
Three Tips to Make a Memorable Impression
Once you understand this question from a hiring manager’s perspective, it would be easy for you to respond in a way that helps them see that you are a person who will help them reach their goals, too.
However, the response needs to be “personal” and “humble” instead of ranting about your accomplishments. Keep it reasonable, realistic, clear, and confident. Adopt three tips to make a memorable impression on the hiring manager.
1️⃣ Be Who You Are
You might try to tackle this question by lauding yourself with your ambitious ideas, sometimes even fictitious, to impress the hiring manager.
That’s one thing not to do because recruiters can pick apart a fictitious answer from an authentic one. There’s only one thing that can add authenticity – Truth, Truth, and Truth. So before you even sit down to prepare an answer – ask yourself, “Am I being honest? Is my vision authentic? Is there truth in my goals?”
If you are looking for a change and someone asks you this question, then I recommend exposing your true personality here because this is a crucial moment to be who you are, and it’s a golden opportunity to show your energy, passion, and vision.
2️⃣ Use stories or anecdotes.
You could add an example of an anecdote to your response, showing how quickly you progressed in your previous job role. But make sure to keep it factual and less dreamy. Be prepared to explain the rationale why you say so.
Dino Martinez, Assistant Director of The University of Alabama at Birmingham Career Center, in his TED Talk titled, “Telling Stories to Improve Interview Success,” highlights the importance of showing the interviewer who you are, what sets you apart, and what you bring to the table.
Thus, telling your stories allows you to show that your vision for the next five years is rooted in your past experiences and abilities and is representative of who you are (TEDx Talks, 2019).
3️⃣ Build upon your past progressions.
It would be best if you avoided a ‘template’ answer.
Most hiring managers can see through the responses easily. They can assess if the same candidate has shown that kind of progression in the past. Thus, make sure your answer aligns with what you’ve proven in the past. Is there a similar challenge that you were faced with earlier? What resources did you use? What do you think you could have improved? What new skills have you gained from that experience?
This ensures that your answer stands out from other ‘template’ answers by showing your unique journey.
Focus on what you truly want as opposed to eagerness to impress the hiring managers at all costs.
You’ll be able to see how this question can open windows for giving the interviewer a glimpse into your motivation, goals, vision, and ambition – while seeing you for who you are!