Don’t you just love this interview question? All I have to do is consider what I was doing five years ago. Then look at what I am doing today. Then laugh at the thought that somehow this is where I would have seen myself five years ago. Do that right now. If five years ago someone would have told you that today you were doing x, y, and z, would you have believed them?
On the face of it, this question is answered with: I have no clue.
OK, so you probably won’t get the job if you answer the interview question with “I have no clue” even if it’s accurate. I get that. So lets look at the question a little more closely.
Remember, all interview questions have only three answers: you can do the job, you are motivated to do the job, and you will fit in with the manager and team. Just those three.
The “where do you see yourself five years from now?” question goes to what motivates you in your work? By thinking through this, you can show you mesh with the job at hand and show how you will continue to do good work in the future.
Of our three answers, you need to point your response to how you are motivated to do the work.
Think about how President Obama answers these questions. He always answers questions about what bills he would sign as President with the principles the bill should have in it. “It needs to not add to the deficit.” “It needs to provide as near universal coverage as possible.”
Using the same idea for answering this interview question, you should have a good idea of the type of environment where you work the best and working on what interests you about the job. That requires some preparation in that you need to know your best working environment as well as one or two items that interest you about this job.
If you work best in a collaborative team environment and are interviewing in a job where you are at the beginning of the possible career path, for example, answer with something like this:
“I hope to be working in a strong team that has well-balanced skills between its members. And I hope to have grown enough in this position that I’ll have proven that I can handle additional responsibilities in my work.”
What you don’t want to do is answer with some specific position or title like “In five years, I want to be the new CEO.” You have to tie where you “want to be in five years” with the current job you are interviewing for right now. You have to show the hiring manager that you want to improve your skills and responsibilities and this particular job is a great way to do just that.
Because the truth of the matter is that no one can predict the future and say what they will be doing five years from now, answer the question and then look at the hiring manager and ask:
“Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
Listen to the answer because this is a person who will have tremendous influence on your work while in this position. A person you could work with over the course of time in different departments or companies. Remember, the hiring manager is interviewing you to determine if you can help reach the hiring manager’s goals — and you are interviewing the hiring manager to determine the exact same thing.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations. In 2005, Scot started sharing these hard lessons at CubeRules.com, a site devoted to Career Advice for knowledge workers, whom he calls Cubicle Warriors.