Nobody has a crystal ball, but that doesn’t give you an excuse when it comes to predicting your future. When an interviewer asks you, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” they are testing your level of career ambition. Joseph Wessner, assistant general manager of Coughlin Printing Group in Watertown, New York, says despite its ambiguity, this question, when asked, does have a definitive answer.
“I can tell by your resume and cover letter if you have the skills and education necessary to fill the position—that is why I am talking to you,” he says. “What I need to know is, do you fit in with our company’s team, vision and culture?”
These guidelines will help you develop a winning answer to this common job interview question.
EXPLAIN HOW YOUR GOALS ALIGN WITH THE COMPANY’S
You should’ve already done your research on the company, so you can easily pick out some points from the company’s mission statement that resonate with you and your goals, and mention how you hope to expand on those in the coming years.
“We want to know these people want to work and not outgrow us,” says Curtis Boyd, co-founder and CEO of Future Solutions Media, a Los Angeles-based agency specializing in online reputation management. “We want to know our employees are striving to grow within the company.”
You say: “I respect how this company develops its employees, and I hope that in five years, I’ll be managing my own team and helping to expand my department.”
SHOW THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF AMBITION
Employers want to know their employees have some desire to grow in their careers, says Helen Chalmers, a career counselor with Dallas-based Thoughtful Therapy. You can include an interest in management training or a desire to work your way into a specific position you have your eye on.
Don’t go overboard, though. “The temptation for job seekers is to be too ambitious about their plans,” Wessner says. “I do not want to hear about how you will be a CEO or working for my competition in five years.”
You say: “I want to explore management training opportunities and also learn the finer points of this industry, so I can eventually become a company leader.”
SHOW AN INTEREST IN LEARNING
Let’s face it: A lot of people don’t know exactly what they want to be doing in five years, but you can always express a desire to learn and grow more in a certain area.
Talk about some aspect of your work life that you’d like to improve. Maybe there’s an area of the business you don’t understand and would like to learn more about. Or, maybe there’s a new language you’d like to learn or a class you’d like to take. Show them you’re interested in knowing more than you do right now.
Keep in mind that this question can also offer a jumping off point for you to find out where others who started in this position five years ago are now, Chalmers says. “Just make sure your tone of voice is conversational and curious.”
You say: “I hope to take an accounting class, so I can learn more about the financial aspects of this industry and gain a better understanding of how the business, as a whole, works. But actually, could you tell me where the last person who held this position ended up?”