When an interviewer asks you about your 5 year plan, they’re trying to get to know you as a person, but there are two other strategic reasons they ask this specific question. First, they want to know if you are likely to remain with the company. And second they want to make sure your long-term goals align with the job’s reasonable growth expectations.
For example, let’s say you’re applying for a job as a truck driver at Acme Trucking, and you’re asked about your 5 year plan. If you reply that you would love to be a dispatcher or manager in five years, that makes perfect sense.
If you go on at length about how you hope to have a hit play on Broadway, that’s nice, but it shows you aren’t really interested in a future with Acme trucking company. Your dreams of a Broadway play might also suggest that you aren’t a very realistic planner, since driving a truck rarely leads to success in the theater world.
What your interviewer ultimately wants to know is that if hired, your plan is to remain with the company. Of course, anything can happen--the company might go out of business or you might move to New Zealand and become a sheep farmer. But your answer should reassure the hiring manager that you have every intention of investing in a long-term career with the company.
This is especially important if your resume shows that you’ve frequently moved from one job to another. Keep in mind that hiring managers look bad if they offer someone a job and that person quits after a few months. So it’s essential for you to express an intention to stick with the job you’re interviewing for and make it a long-term role.
How to Answer the Question:
“Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
The interview has been going great. It’s about to wrap up when you’re asked, “So… where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
Take a deep breath. This question seems innocuous, but is a potential landmine. And there’s a very simple reason why you can’t get away with being completely straightforward when asked this question. Because the interviewer isn’t really asking where you see yourself in 5 years. What they are really trying to gauge is your level of ambition. Your expectations for your future growth potential. And most importantly, how well you understand the career trajectory of the job you want.
So the key to answering this question properly is understanding what the role you’re interviewing for might realistically lead to, if you’re hired and continue working for the company for the next 5 years.
When you answer this question you have a golden opportunity to remind the interviewer that you will be committed to the company for the long-term. This reassures them that all the time spent training you will be a good investment.
Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer to the question of where you hope to be in 5 years, and the interviewer is not expecting you to be a psychic. They are asking about your hopes and aspirations. So you don’t need to memorize a specific reply. But as you answer the question, you should focus on your desire to learn, to excel at your role, and your ambition to achieve even greater success in the future
Try to use some of the same terminology and language used in the job listing. This lets the hiring manager know you’ve not only carefully read and understood the job listing, but also done your research and you have a clear grasp on the position’s growth potential.
Your answer to this question is also a way for the interviewer to get some insight into you as a person, because it will reveal a lot about your character if you have a realistic understanding of where the job could lead, and how that aligns with your personal career ambitions.
For example, if you are interviewing for a position as an associate graphic designer, you might say something like, “I’m really hoping to learn enough about using the InDesign software suite, and grow my own skill set so that in 5 years, I’m qualified to be an art director.” That shows that you understand what skills are required for the current role and you also have a realistic understanding of the job’s likely career trajectory. The critical thing is to understand what the likely best outcome is for the job you want.
Some jobs may offer a great learning experience but not a direct way to climb the ladder. For example, if you get an entry level job as an administrative assistant in a financial firm, that probably won’t lead to you becoming a financial analyst. For that you would probably need to leave work and get an MBA.
For the same reason, if you’re applying for a position as a nurse, you might not want to say your 5 year plan is to become a doctor because that isn’t the logical career trajectory for a nurse. Obviously, nurses aren’t promoted until they one day become doctors. So your answer to a question about your 5 year plan should reflect a realistic knowledge of where you can expect a job to take your career.
Similarly, if you’re applying for a job as a paralegal, that’s not going to lead to a job as a lawyer unless you quit your job and get a law degree. In such cases, you can say something like, “I’m really not sure where I want to be in 5 years, but I am confident that this role will help me learn more about what it’s like to practice law on a daily basis, so I can gain the insights I need to make an informed decision.”
In other words, you should tell the truth but make sure you’re being realistic.
If your plan requires you to leave the job and get additional education or certification, that may be something to keep to yourself for the time being. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with not having a clear vision of where you want to be in 5 years. As long as you can explain why the job holds appeal for you and what value you can bring to the company, you’ve answered successfully.