Tricky interview question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Tricky interview question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” – This is one tricky question that we often hear in many interviews. And no matter how well prepared you are, it can be difficult to imagine the next five years of your career, especially when you are just taking the first few steps in that growth journey.

So, how should you respond to this question? What if you do not have the next five years planned out?

Before we find an ideal way to address this question, let’s first understand what hiring managers are truly trying to assess while asking it.

Alina Gaber, Director of Talent Acquisition, Progress, a provider of application development and infrastructure software, says that employers typically ask this question with the hope of assessing long-term commitment, ambition and goals of candidates.

She says that she personally never liked this question as it can be intimidating for some candidates. “Instead, I would usually ask questions such as what are you hoping to achieve in this role; what are some skills or experiences you would like to develop; what are your learning objectives and work priorities? This gives us a good understanding of whether the candidates have self-awareness and an insight into how they would like to grow within the company or their domain,” adds Gaber.

Nonetheless, based on her 17 years of experience in recruiting, she says that how one answers the question — “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” — strongly depends on one’s personality, confidence and the general disposition to career progression.Not every person has a 5-year or even a 1-year plan, which is okay. Having a concrete plan is also perfectly okay, says the hiring expert.Responses employers often hear
As the times and hiring strategies have evolved, Gaber says she is coaching her hiring teams to no longer ask this question. However, back in the day, she was a part of several interview panels where the question was asked, and she saw candidates feeling confused and struggling to address it. This impacted the rest of the interview and influenced the decision-making process. Besides, she has also seen some candidates clearly outlining their career objectives. Common mistakes candidates should avoid
Elaborating on the common mistakes that candidates must avoid while answering the question, Gaber says a lot depends on whether the candidates see or do not see themselves in the next five years. In the former situation, the biggest mistake one can make is not demonstrating self-awareness but being overly ambitious. Another aspect that can negatively impact the interviewers’ perception is the inability of candidates to align their goals with the job and company. In the latter situation — where candidates are unable to envision their next five years — the biggest mistake they can make is feeling intimidated and showing their frustration with the question. “Transparency is the best approach, and the candidate should focus on short-term goals, express their desire for learning, and talk about the values that guide their career decisions and the aspects of work that are most important to them,” says Gaber.

What is a suitable response to this question?
In Gaber’s opinion, an ideal response to this question is an honest one. If candidates have a 5-year plan, share it with the interview team. Ideally, the interview team will also be transparent, and both parties could determine whether there’s a good match for the given role or not.

If candidates do not have a plan, being upfront about it would be the best approach. After that candidates should shift the interviewer’s focus to their short-term career priorities — securing a job with a good employer, stepping into an inclusive environment, being a part of a team where there is learning and development, and so on — Gaber adds.

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Author: Shirley