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

It is always hard to know how to answer interview questions and if you are not very experienced at interviews, then the whole process can seem daunting. So just how are you supposed to answer their questions?
Well the basic principle to bear in mind, whatever the interview, whether on a one to one, at a recruitment agency or for a permanent contract, is that you need to sell yourself in a way that is confident and assured, but without sounding too big headed or arrogant.

Always try to ensure that you establish eye contact with the interviewers. Try to sound confident when you answer and if you think you are about to freeze, or dry up, then just take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is not life or death, it is only an interview and then continue.

The question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is considered to not only be one of the most hated and laziest questions asked during an interview, but also the most common. In other words, are you going to bail on them in a few months for another job, or are you going to stick around and make their training and investment in you pay off? Is this a stepping stone on your career path, or is this a job to pay the bills until you can do what you really want to do?

Because you are certain to be asked this question at least once during your job search process, it is a good idea to have an answer ready and waiting. It generally comes towards the end of the questions posed to candidates so try to anticipate it being asked and be proactive about getting the information you need to answer it.
During the interview there is generally a give and take between you and the interviewer. Use this to your advantage by asking the interviewer about projects that are currently being worked on at the company and what types of projects you are likely to be immediately assigned to. You know, that sort of thing. You want to have enough fresh information to be able to give a good answer should this dreaded question be asked, and also to properly formulate any follow-up questions later on when asked. Many, many people believe that the best answer is some version of: “I see myself in your job!” or, “I want to be in management” because they think it shows ambition
There is no correct answer to this question, but there are several wrong answers that you should avoid. Any answers where you seem arrogant or glib are to be avoided at all costs. You also want to avoid sounding as though you have no future plans and haven’t considered your role and impact on the company. Planning for your future is an important quality and one that companies look for in an employee.

If you are interviewing with a very large company, it might be just fine for you to talk about your desire to be promoted and to grow within the company. There’s room for you to do that in a large corporation.
But if you are interviewing with a smaller company, an answer like that just might be considered a threat to that person’s job. If they don’t have anywhere to go, they’re certainly not going to let you push them out.

When you are finally asked the question, talk about how the projects you mentioned previously have been completed successfully, how you have moved on to other projects and expanded your role with your current company. If there is any continuing education involved, talk about how you anticipate it will positively impact your role within the company, completion of projects, and your work with assigned teams. This kind of answer makes you look thoughtful, like a team player and a potential asset to the company.

A much better answer (in both situations, really) is to say something more along the lines of “I want to grow and develop my skills,” or “I want to be all I can be.” You can talk about how you look forward to greater responsibility as you learn more about the company, and that you hope to be ready to do more things. Then you can say, “if you are looking at me for a management position at that time, I would be interested in it, but that’s not necessarily my end goal. What I really want out of this is to learn, to grow, and to contribute in a meaningful way.”

An important note is that when you specifically tailor your answer to your potential impact on the company you are interviewing with, you save the interviewer the trouble of trying to picture how you would fit in with the company and what you would offer to it. This is a winning approach to an often dreaded question. Now you are all set if someone tries to nail you with it!

There is no hiring manager who won’t be impressed by a strategic job interview answer like that.