Acing the Interview Question: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years

Whether you’re interviewing for that coveted scholarship or a new role, receiving an interview invitation is always exciting. A mix of trepidation usually follows that momentary excitement. From here on, it is a fifty-fifty chance of getting a successful outcome. You’ll first need to ace the interview.

“How do I impress the interviewer?” and “What do I need to do next?” are common questions we ask ourselves.

Fret not. Besides the usual research on your future employer, you can start by anticipating some common interview questions that will come up. One of the most common questions that is bound to come up is, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” It often stumps candidates.

What Does This Question Really Mean?

This age-old interview question takes on many variations and forms. Some common iterations include:
· Tell me about your ideal career.
· Where do you see yourself within the company?
· What do you hope to achieve through this scholarship or in the company?
· What are your short- and long-term career goals?

Whatever the iteration is, there isn’t a perfect answer to this question. Interviewers are simply trying to assess three things through your response:

1 Your general career aspirations and goals within the company: Training a new employee takes time and resources. If you’ve a clear career goal and plan, it will likely demonstrate that you are motivated, organised, and responsible. This will also likely infer that you are thinking long-term in your career and is probably worth the investment.

2 Company fit: In line with the above point, it will also help the interviewer assess if the trajectory of the role you applied for aligns with the progression plan toward achieving your long-term career goals. They want to ensure that you’re the right fit, as it will reduce the likelihood of them having to hire again so soon.

3 Thinking process and articulation: A large part of the interview is to assess your thought process and how well you articulate your response within a short time. Hence, how you structure your answer to this question will speak volumes of your ability and confidence to handle and present nuanced responses to tough questions or situations.

Breaking Down the Response

The good news is, with adequate preparation, you can ace your response and impress the interviewer! Here are some practical tips to help you break down the question and structure your answer.

Deep dive into the company and job role: It is no surprise that you will need to research the company you are interviewing with if you have not already done so during the application stage. Doing the groundwork on the company culture, news, and people will give you an insight into its plans and the individuals you will be working with. Next, gain a clear understanding of the role. Look through LinkedIn or the company website to get an insider perspective on job responsibilities, learning opportunities, and areas for advancement.

Marry your goal with the company: Take stock of your short- and long-term career goals and evaluate how they match the job scope and company. Review and identify which of your aspirations and skills align with the needs of the company and its plans. It will help you sharpen your response.

Leave room for growth and evolution: While it is good to demonstrate your ambitions with well-defined goals, it is critical to keep your final answer general with the possibility for change. It means not going into specifics and drawing precise timelines. Leave a window for your goals to evolve alongside the company so the hiring manager will not walk away, concluding that the company or role cannot match your needs.

Structure your response: With the groundwork done, you can now formulate your ideal answer with these simple steps:

1 Choose a couple of career goals that best aligned to the job role and expand on their relevance. For example, if you are applying to be an art teacher and your goal is to become the department head, you could say, “In the next five years, I see myself as the department head, focusing on curriculum design and introducing new ways of engaging students to improve learning outcomes.”

2 Talk through your action plan. Continue your answer by explaining how you plan to achieve your goals, “Through my current role as an art teacher, I will gain hands-on experience in curriculum implementation and be able to observe first-hand which learning methods would suit different students. Additionally, I hope to undertake additional courses on instructional design, coaching, and learning methodologies to hone my skills and knowledge in the subject matter.”

3 Demonstrate your openness to change by talking about an alternate path that still fits within the company goals and is related to the job you are applying for. You could say, “I know that the school is putting emphasis on growing its in-house career coaching initiative. While my goals are important, I’m also keen to explore new opportunities that could complement my main scope. I would be happy to work closely with the career coach to assist students in fulfilling their passions through tailored programmes where possible.”

Common Mistake To Avoid

As you can see, a fair bit of legwork is required. Do not attempt to wing the question or interview! Here are some common potholes to avoid when answering the question:

· Being overtly generic or honest: Response like, “I hope to learn as much as possible and become a senior engineer in 5 years.” The response is lacking details on your learning plan. A more robust answer would be, “I hope to attend at least 2 – 3 courses annually through leveraging the internal learning programme and external seminars to further my knowledge and build meaningful industry connections. With my training plan, I believe I’ll be able to grow into the senior engineer role in 5 years.”

· Too focused on personal goals: Avoid focusing solely on your gain, as the interviewer is also trying to assess if you and the company are the right fit for each other. Be sure to align your goals with the company’s.

· Coming across as pompous: While confidence in your abilities and being witty is great during interviews, do not cross the line with responses like, “In the next five years, I’ll be sitting in your position interviewing candidates.” The interviewer may conclude that you are arrogant and competitive.

Practice, Practice & Practice!

There is no winning formula to acing the question; this applies to both scholarship and job interviews. Do your groundwork, prepare your answer in advance, and practice! Work with a mentor or friend to rehearse your response so it does not sound robotic or incoherent. Finally, keep your answer short and sweet. Aim to wrap it up in no more than two minutes!