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How to answer “How do you see yourself in 5 years”?

Almost everyone was asked with this question in your interview. This question is not designed to test your psychic power. No interviewer expects candidates to be able to describe EXACTLY what they will be doing in 1,820 days. In fact, a truthful answer about what you HOPE to be doing can easily sabotage your odds of landing a job offer. So why do interviewers insist on asking this question and how will you answer?

The interviewers want to understand more about your career goals and how this position would fit into your grand plan. They care about your career goals because they want to hire someone who is motivated, proactive, and likely to stick around and work hard if hired. If succeeding in this role is important to you as part of your long-term career strategy, you are much more likely to perform well. On the other hand, the organization is going to be investing considerable time, energy, and money in hiring and training someone for this job. You must at least show an honest intention to stay long enough to be a good investment.

Apart from asking you literally how you see your self in 5 years, you may also hear one of these similar/related questions that are not quite as clichéd as the old “5 years” question:

  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • Tell me about your career plan?
  • What’s your ideal career path?

How to answer these questions then?

Firstly, forget about this position for a while; answer this question truly and faithfully to yourself. What would you like to do in long term? The reason for doing a thorough reflection is to see if this job really a good one to take or merely A job.

Then come back to this particular position, open your browser and Google search what’s the typical career path of this function and borrow them for now and articulate with yours. At the same time, it’s important to know the nature of the position and company culture. If you are applying for a management trainee position, most probably they would expect you to rotate a few positions and heading towards management roles in a few years. Meanwhile if you are entering an administration / operational role, then sometimes to be a specialist before you moving out makes more sense. In short, it’s essential to show your enthusiasm for the job and interest in having a long term career in the company.

Integrating a clear rationale into your answer regarding how this job fit into your long term career goal can help to alleviate any concerns about whether you are motivated to do this job.

If you want to give interviewer an impression that you have really thought through this question on your own, you can break down your goal into short term and long term. Do not forget to define the terms here. (1 year? 5 year? 10 years?) You can state different skills to learn, achievements to deliver, responsibility to assume in different stage. This is where normally you incorporate the typical career path of this position you’ve researched.

A few things you can add into your answer to make it more plausible and convincible. Be an expert, establish yourself within an industry, recognize the gap from now to the expert status.

Stating your goals in terms of results which you would like to produce is another angle for responding. So, for example, a supply chain professional who is trying to continuously optimize the logistic of a parcel deliver company might say” I would like to optimize the route planning of parcel pick up through modeling and testing therefore to reduce the cost and increase the efficient of company performance.” Of course, you would need to be able to share some examples of how you would achieve this.

There are a few jobs where you are expected to move on after a couple of years, including some analyst positions in investment banking and consulting, as well as legal assistants and scientific research assistants (for new college grads). In those cases, you will have more leeway in your answers, but you will still want to establish how the job at hand makes sense given the skills and interests you would bring to the employer.

To sum it up, every interview question can be prepared, so is this one. You can either approach this question by saying the typical career path of job (finance, supply chain, marketing etc.) or stating in these years what you’d like to achieve and learn on job. As long as showing your enthusiasm and energy toward the company you are interviewing with, you should be ok with the answer of this question.

If you need more personalised advice, why not try our 30-minute free career consultation?