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How to answer: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Sep 16, 2021
9 min read

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? This age-old question is practically a given in any (clichéd) interview, so it’s well worth having a perfect answer in your back pocket. Finding the balance between demonstrating long-term goals, whilst not suggesting a likelihood to jump ship after a year is a tough one, but we’re here to help you get it right!

Why are Employers Asking?

Employers ask this question because it is very important for them to understand where this position might fit amongst your long-term goals and how likely it is to be a good fit both for you and for them. Hiring a new candidate is a time-consuming, costly process, so it is in their best interests to hire someone they know is going to stick around. 

How to Answer: “Where do you See Yourself in 5 Years?”

Start by researching the company culture

It can be tempting to answer, “in this position!”, but this might not be what recruiters want to hear. Whilst hoping that you will stay for at least a year or two, many employers don’t want a personality who is just going to stagnate or get too comfortable. Most positions in established corporations fit somewhere on a career trajectory and getting people who will rise the ranks and follow this ladder is important for ensuring management positions are filled by experienced, well-prepared individuals. 

Many companies even offer training courses, to actively encourage their employees to pursue new opportunities and even make lateral steps within the business. Have a look at the careers section of your employer’s website to see if they promote such initiatives, as this can be a good glimpse into the company culture, and how your answer can reflect it. 

Determine your genuine 5-year goals

With all the strategy, it can be easy to forget what your actual 5-year career goals are. Just privately, try writing out a list of things you hope to have achieved in 5-years, being as specific as possible. For instance, you might be tempted to write “manager”, or “earning 70k”, but what value is that representing? Perhaps you want to be a manger because you value autonomy, personal accountability, or leadership. Under each goal write out three values that drive you to desire it.  Additionally, start work with your personal development plan.

Consider how this can be adapted for your interview

Once you’ve drawn up a list of values, consider how these might be achievable by staying within the company you are applying for. If you value leadership, what opportunities for project management are there within this role? Or in the senior position? How about elsewhere within the company? If you see none of your goals being achievable from within the company, consider whether it is worth applying for altogether. 

Remember: admitting a desire to progress within the company to a more senior role is rarely seen as a bad thing and is often viewed favourably. This can even be true for those seeking a future role in a different department (not always). Admitting a desire for a future in a different company (i.e., using this as a steppingstone to a role elsewhere) is viewed negatively.

Look to key skills in the description 

It is important to show your employers how well you can demonstrate mastery of the key skills in the job description. However, another good strategy is to also mention which ones you have limited experience in and want to develop. For example, if the description mentions networking proficiency, you can say that it is your goal to develop strong industry connections and become a regular participant in networking fairs. Again, this shows employers what you have to gain from this role, and why it might benefit you to stick around. If you were to already enter the role with 100% experience, you may get bored and move on. 

Remember: “Mastery” or “Progression”

The key point from this article, is that in order to answer this question well, you want to either choose a “mastery” focused answer, or a “progression” focused answer.

Mastery: Answering from a mastery standpoint means telling employers that your 5-year plan is to fully master and develop your skills in the specific role you are applying for. You will not be tempted to move to another job or position because you value becoming an expert in your field and developing your skills to a very high level. Not all roles offer such room for growth (such as basic data entry roles), but if there is a key skill involved, such as programming or design, this answer puts you on a very strong footing. 

Progression: Answering from a progression standpoint, means telling employers that your 5-year plan is to progress within the company, either through promotion or training. You might tell them that you hope to one day take on a management position or lead a project/team. So long as your answer is in keeping with company culture and reasonable timeframes, this is another strong answer. 

Excellent Examples: 

Mastery answer: 

“My 5-year plan is to master full-stack web development so that I can take my duties as programmer here to the next level and make this product a market leader. I want to continue learning as I work, so that I can constantly be innovating and implementing new ideas and developing a product that I can be proud of”. 

Do mention:

  • Ambition for continued learning and skills acquisition
  • Ambition to lead projects and acquire confidence
  • Innovate the position and contribute new ideas
  • Ambition to become a technical expert in chosen skill
  • Desire for stability and establishing deep roots within the company

Do not mention:

  • Dislike for change
  • Fear of new challenges
  • Unambitious, happy to do menial/repetitive work

Progression answer: 

“My 5-year plan is to progress within the company to a position of responsibility, such as management or project leadership. I want to discover new skills and push myself to continue developing and exploring new interests. I was lucky enough to benefit from excellent mentorship at my previous company and would love the opportunity to lead a team myself one day”.

Do mention:

  • Desire for success and progression
  • Desire to lead a team or take on more responsibility
  • Desire to engage with training courses or skills development resources within the company
  • Openness to different options/figuring out your path as you go

Do not mention:

  • Impatience to progress or be promoted very quickly
  • Desire to “have their job” or be on the other side of the table!
  • Desire to start your own business or progress elsewhere
  • “I don’t know”