Careers advice

Answering the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question

Let’s make a plan for talking about your plan.

What you'll learn:

  • Why do employers ask this question?
  • 4 steps for answering the where do you see yourself question

Interviews are generally nerve wracking, but there are some job interview questions that are more feared than others. Included in this list are the “biggest weaknesses” question, the “tell me about yourself” question and the “where do you see yourself in five years” question.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on the last. We’re guessing that, like most people, you don’t like this question because it’s hard to know exactly where you’ll be in five years, and how you’ll get there. On top of this, should you say “I see myself at this company?”, even if this isn’t true? Let’s dig into why employers ask this question in job interviews, and the best way to answer it.

Why do employers ask the “where do you see yourself in five years” question?

First, the good news. Employers aren’t asking this question to hear you say “I will be working here in five years”. This question is a bit more bigger picture than that. In fact, what interviewers are interested in here is that you have a coherent and realistic plan for your career that features the role you’re applying for.

In other words, employers want to see how you think this job fits into your longer term professional plan. If it's obvious that the role fits with your planned career trajectory, they’ll know that it’s something you’ll put a lot of effort into in order to gain the skills, experiences and contacts that will enable you to keep moving forward. If, however, you answer in a vague way, or show that you don’t really have a career plan, they might start to think that you’re just taking this job to bridge a gap in your employment history while you wait for something else.

Your future work plans need to be realistic.

So, what should you say (or not say)?

1. Have a plan to talk about

We get that it’s a little daunting to think about where you’ll be in five years (especially if you're 25), but you don’t want to be umming and ahhing your way through your answer. Importantly, you don’t need to be able to name the exact role you want to be working in in five years’ time , but you should be able to show you’ve thought about what you want professionally.

While you don’t need to say that you want to work for the company you’re applying for now, it’s obviously not a good idea to say that you want to work for their direct competitors (even if this is true).

Bonus tip: look for ways that you can weave specific skills and experiences you would gain from this job into your answer. For example, if you’re aiming to be a marketing manager, and you know that this role will give you exposure to elements of the marketing mix that you haven’t previously experienced, this is a good thing to mention.

2. Be realistic

Having a plan is one thing, that plan being realistic is quite another. In fact it’s probably as much of a red flag to an employer if you have a completely outlandish plan as having no plan at all.

Answers like “I want to own my own million dollar business” when you’re applying for your first job constitute the kind of answer that might come across a tad unrealistic. Side note: if you have a real plan to own your own seven figure business, that’s awesome, but we’d still advise not talking about it in your job interview – it, again, insinuates that you’re not overly serious about the role you’re currently going for.

Be confident when talking about your career plan.

3. Don’t show a lack of confidence

On the direct flipside to the above is showing that you have a plan, but not being confident in your ability to achieve it. Here, we’re talking about answers like “well, I’d like to be a marketing manager, but I don’t think I’ll be able to get there in five years.” Employers want to hire people who are confident in their abilities and who will bring energy and motivation to the role because they know they’re up to the task.

So, be self-assured without being cocky, demonstrate that you have a route planned out, that you know what you need to learn to get there, and how this role will help you fill these knowledge gaps.

4. Don’t joke about taking their job

It’s a common reaction, when we’re nervous, to try and make jokes. Don’t get us wrong, there’s definitely a place for humour in a job interview, but answers like “I want to be sitting where you’re sitting” probably won’t go down well, even if they’re meant as a compliment.

While ambition is a good thing, if the hiring manager thinks you’re after their role, it will probably ring some alarm bells. It’s not so much that they’ll be worrying about you taking their job, outside of office TV dramas, that very rarely happens. It’s more that they know that you’re more likely to be focusing on promotions than doing the work they need you to. What’s more, if they themselves have no plans of moving on in the next five years, they know that you’re unlikely to stick around too long.