“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
This is probably one of the trickiest interview questions you’d be posed with, asked by recruiters for two specific reasons. They want to know:
- How important this role is to you
- How serious you are about growth
Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Would you prefer a candidate who takes the job as a stepping stone towards something bigger for his/her career, or one who is still ‘exploring’?
Essentially, recruiters are trying to understand what your career aspirations are. Providing a timeframe to understand your long-term career goals vis-a-vis the role would provide them with a tangible answer to assess your suitability.
Ask yourself: what are your long term career goals?
Those who have a rough idea of their career goals may find this question easy. However, they often make the mistake of either being too specific or unrealistic.
Interview tip #1: Be generic
Being too specific about your career aspirations may raise doubts in your interviewer on your job fit. Perhaps you want to join another sector but need more experience in the cross-industry functions that this role would provide. The interviewer may question your dedication to learn since you will eventually join a different industry. While there are plenty of organisations willing to provide the experience to such candidates, it is always better to position yourself as the ideal one for interviewers. In this case, leave out the details of your career masterplan and be more generic instead, while relating to the role and company.
Presently, my career goal is to develop and hone my skills in this field, and down the line, be able to mentor aspiring practitioners. I feel this role will provide me with the necessary challenges to sharpen my craft towards that goal and I hope to start by giving back to a company like yours.
Interview tip #2: Be realistic
You may know the advancements you can expect in the company based on your research and identify a role you eventually want to qualify for. However, refrain from explicitly mentioning the position name because this may change. Worse, you could appear overly-ambitious. Being realistic with your goals is key here – you do not want to promise with strong conviction, only not to live up to that standard.
I see myself advancing in my career with a firm where I can develop my skills over time and explore new opportunities. What draws me to your organisation is its strong interest in employee growth. Long-term commitment to a company goes both ways and knowing that your organisation takes career development as seriously as its people makes me want to work even harder to reach my goals with you.
What if I don’t know my career aspirations?
You may not know where you see yourself in five years, and there is no harm in that. You are still figuring out what will work for you so you prefer exploring certain careers before settling on an appropriate one. However, this may not appeal to the recruiter who is looking for someone who can show commitment to the role and organisation.
This means you need to answer with tact. You should never lie to your interviewer but you don’t necessarily have to reveal the uncertainties.
Interview top #3: Be tactfully honest
You could be an intern interviewing for a role at a bank with no prior experience, or a mid-career professional exploring alternative careers through a traineeship programme or a full-time job where he/she can apply transferable skills. You will not know what the future holds, but giving an idea of where you think you could go is sufficient.
Having a strong interest in this sector, I see myself working alongside experienced colleagues in the team I hope to join and gradually establishing a specialised career path in one of the main domain areas of the industry.
Coming from a different professional track, I hope to lend my expertise in this sector and establish a more holistic career. Joining your company would give me the first-hand experience I need to understand this industry better and at the same time, allow me to apply my past experience to the vocation. In doing so, I hope to contribute cross-industry practices that can lead the company towards greater success.