It’s funny to imagine that a simple interview question can either make you lose or get you that dream job of yours. You would agree with me that this question always has a way of popping up in every job interview: “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
For some applicants, this interview question is a strategy by organizations’ Hiring Managers to weaken their chances and cut them off from being shortlisted for the job. The reality is that these HMs are always looking for any red flag not to hire someone. The question sounds easy but it’s a test and how you answer could determine whether you get the job or not.
Often times, several job applicants don’t prepare enough for this interview question. And for the fact that it comes at the end of an interview, they pay less attention to it. I can tell from experience that when an interview gets to the point this question is asked, the HM becomes alert and keen on listening to what you would say.
Over confidence isn’t a trustworthy ally at this point. You have to pause for a moment, take your time to think of what to say and how to tactically relay it to the interviewer to show that you are truly excited about the job. If whatever you will say has very little or nothing to do with the organization you desire to work with, you should think again. I will tell you how I lost a job for this reason.
What’s the big deal in this interview question anyway?
The big deal in answering this question is that it gives the HM of every firm a vivid perspective on your personality, your career path, goals and vision, and how they align with that of the firm.
To an extent, knowing whether you are the right candidate for the job is determined by this question. For instance, a graduate engineer applying for a position in a leading engineering firm was asked “where do you see yourself in 5 years”, says, “I intend having a clothing line and owning big boutiques across the country.” Sounds strange right? So I thought.
He was simply being honest with his career path, goals and vision. But his honesty can’t get him that job. Engineering and clothing line; what’s the connection? You wonder why go through a rigorous 5 year study of engineering only to desire being like Versace? It doesn’t make sense right? So will every Hiring Manager feel. Such a person has no place in the organization and hence, he or she remains unemployed.
Until I had a thorough evaluation of myself and good priority check, I had thought similarly with the graduate engineer. I had wanted a Masters Degree and become a Digital Marketing expert (I haven’t given up on these goals). What’s bad in all of these?
A friend hinted me about an opportunity with a classified organization as a moderator. You know the likes of OLX, Craigslist, JiJi, etc? I applied and was called for an interview. Before then, I had done my research and homework, and believed I was landing the job for sure.
On that wonderful Tuesday morning, I had woken up as early as 5am, committed the day unto God and prepared for the interview. The interview was scheduled for 10am. I am really not the suit type but that day was an exception. Let me spare you the details of the suit, tie and shoes.
I got to the place about 9:30am, registered my name with the receptionist and was feeling relaxed. You know one of an interview’s ‘golden rules’ – be calm and don’t be nervous. Being the second applicant, I greeted the first person who was casually dressed and perhaps, pinging or doing something else with his phone. I took my time to survey the premises I was becoming fascinated with and not long, the third and final applicant came. All suited and tensed up.
To cut it short, the HM came to address us and relayed the order at which the exercise was to be conducted. The first applicant went and came out smiling. I was the second and the interview went as expected. ‘Tell me about yourself’; ‘What do you know about the firm?’; ‘What are the roles of a moderator?’; ‘How much can we pay you?’; and other usual interview questions.
I had so impressed the HM with my knowledgeable responses (no intention to brag) that her gesticulations made me believe I had gotten the job. The third applicant went and wasn’t too happy. We thought that was the end until the boss came in and asked to interview us all over again. For me, the boss was courteous and amiable. We exchanged pleasantries and the only major question he asked was, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” This was where I slipped. I narrated my Masters Degree ambition as mentioned above and was confident about it.
The boss’ reactions said it all. I couldn’t work with them because I had other plans to pursue that didn’t align with the firm. So I thought anyway. Truthfully, it was obvious I needed the job to raise capital for my other projects but it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t put in my best at work or that it will diminish my aspiration to learn and contribute positively to the organization.
This was how I lost the job. It’s in the past now and I have learned my lesson the hard way. I have gone for several interviews after this and have gotten a good job I want to build a career in. Though I rarely have time for myself, I still read up on anything related to digital marketing and related interests. As for the Masters Degree, that’s still in the bigger picture.
Advice for answering this question
- The interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is a test. Lying is never an option but that doesn’t mean you have to be 100% sincere about all of the directions in your career path.
- Make your answer as truthful as possible but broad (not specific) enough that it doesn’t raise doubts about whether you would be a good fit for the position you are applying for.
- Show some sense of ambition and give the impression that you have thought about your future and want to build a career in the chosen field. But avoid making it seem like the job you are applying for is a stepping stone to another destination.
- Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job as an exciting next step for you. Pamela Skillings noted that nobody wants to hire an applicant who is halfhearted about the job. “It’s like dating someone who is using you for free dinners until someone she’s really attracted to comes along.”
- Know that the HM is not your career coach, so there is no need to share all of your goals and aspirations. Doing this might just raise red flags for you not to be hired. As aforementioned, don’t be too specific in your answer but try to make it brief and straight to the point.
- It would be wrong for you to memorize a script for this interview question. You just might miss a step in the script and completely freeze with nothing to say (I have been there before and know how terrible it feels to go blank in front of a Hiring Manager). However, do practice how you will describe your long-term career plans in a way that will be relevant to the interviewer and help you tell your story about why you’re the best person for the job.
Check out these suggested responses from Pamela
“My goal right now is to find a position at a company where I can grow and take on new challenges over time. Ultimately, I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and get involved in product strategy. But most importantly, I want to work for an organization where I can build a career.”
“I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”
I believe you now know the big deal in this interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” So the next time you go for an interview and you are asked this question, how would you answer it?
Feel free to share your sentiments by leaving a comment on what your answer would be to this question or how you actually responded to it in your recent interview. You answer can help someone else land a dream job tomorrow.