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Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
April 26, 2005 11:37 AM   Subscribe

"Where do you want to be in 5 years?" How do you answer this question when it is asked of you in a job interview?

Despite being asked (too) many times, I do not have a good answer. Is there a good answer?
posted by suchatreat to Work & Money (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
What about by expressing what you actually want to be doing in five years?

If you really don't know, maybe it's worth giving it a little thought. You can slide by by bullshitting, but it's worth having a sense of your own goals.
posted by mdn at 11:54 AM on April 26, 2005


I have to say, I agree with mdn. You can tell them what you think they want to hear, but that is usually transparent. Where do you want to be in 5 years, which track do you want to take? For instance, I work in a technical field, but there is a variety of paths. I could stay technical, move to more program management, concentrate more on people management, or maybe I want to shift away from the technical side of things entirely and go to sales or marketing.

Think of the things your employer might do becuase of your answer would they:

*Offer you training
*Choose different assignments
*Suggest a mentor
*Suggest that you mentor someone else
*Help you focus your goals

Generally employers want employees who want to be there. Let your prospective employer know where you would want to be, and also what you would want to do. Perhaps you are willing to travel for the first few years, but then would like to travel less. Your employer may appreciate that kind of feedback.
posted by jonah at 12:04 PM on April 26, 2005


I've asked this question during interviews. I was trying to gauge how well the candidate understood what they wanted to do, to help increase the chances of hiring somebody who will not only work for me, but who will grow in a way that is compatible with the company's goals.

Saying you want to be in my chair would probably get a laugh out of me, but it's a useless answer.
posted by mosch at 12:05 PM on April 26, 2005


mdn -- Your advice is exactly what I did and it freaked the guy out. I told him I wanted to get a business degree and start my own business. He wondered why he would hire me if I'll be gone in a couple of years anyway. I don't understand. Doesn't an employer take that risk with every new hire?
posted by suchatreat at 12:05 PM on April 26, 2005


Yeah, I think mosch is on the right track. This question is more along the lines of: what do you want to be doing for me in 5 years? This is where you show them that you're ambitious but not too ambitious and that you understand the company's goals and markets, maybe even its weak spots, and that you're a bit of a dreamer. Generally the best answer involves taking the company's mission statement, focusing it through your strengths and then tossing in some optimism.
posted by nixerman at 12:12 PM on April 26, 2005


I told them the following in my last interview:

"I'm hoping to be in grad school. so that when I complete my PhD, I can be an even greater asset to this company."

That said, they thought I was angling on them paying for grad school, and so didn't want to hire me. Whatever, I didn't want to work for a defense contractor anyway.
posted by Netzapper at 12:14 PM on April 26, 2005


yes. this is a very problematic question for those of us that need a job at the moment but aren't planning to be climbing the coporate ladder.

In five years, I hope I ain't working for you, buddy -- sorry, but there's things with my life I want to do aside from sitting behind a desk.

of course, this isn't going to go over real well with a lot of people.

i've never had a particularly good answer for interviewers with something like this -- usually I mention something about wanting to go to grad/law school and hope they realize that i'm aspiring to be at least a little more than a junkie when I grow up.

but yeah, it's likely if a job is asking me this question, i'm probably not the best fit anyways, so I suppose i should just be honest.
posted by fishfucker at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2005


fishfucker, why do you say "...it's likely if a job is asking me this question, i'm probably not the best fit anyways..."? I am curious.
posted by suchatreat at 12:22 PM on April 26, 2005


My plans for the future aren't tied to any particular job or career track.
posted by kenko at 12:26 PM on April 26, 2005


Just tell them what you think they want to hear, if you really need/want the job. Truth is not an issue in job interviews, no matter which side of the desk you're sitting on.
posted by scratch at 12:39 PM on April 26, 2005


Your potential employer would like to know that you have long-term professional plans and that employing you might suit your needs as well as the needs of the company. An informed answer shows that you have career ambitions and discipline. How have you prepared yourself for entering this field and how does working with this particular company fit into your professional development? This question goes well with 'what are your weaknesses?'-- which seems weird, but I think both are meant to gauge how well you know yourself and whether you are floating along with whatever comes along or deliberately guiding your career in a specific direction.
posted by dfowler at 12:46 PM on April 26, 2005


FWIW, I took the "what they want to hear" approach and got the job...
posted by knave at 12:55 PM on April 26, 2005


Playing the interview game isn't about what you say, exactly, it's about saying what they want to hear, and showing that you can say what they want to hear. I don't think they care if you mean it or not, just how well you know the "rules" of interviewing.
posted by agregoli at 12:59 PM on April 26, 2005


Your advice is exactly what I did and it freaked the guy out. I told him I wanted to get a business degree and start my own business. He wondered why he would hire me if I'll be gone in a couple of years anyway. I don't understand.

I think that's when you convince him that it's to his advantage to take you on while you're still available, even though your long term goals will not be within his company. He'll get your talent & skill for those years, and he'll have you as a network connection afterward.

I realize there will be some cases where it feels safer to just say what you think they wanna hear because you really don't care anyway, but I don't think you'd be asking the question if you were already all set to bullshit for the sake of securing an income. If you're really concerned about how to come across well in an interview, I think it's actually pretty important to be honest, so that you can be sure you'll get a job with the kind of person you want to work with. Show them that you're resourceful, intelligent, motivated, & willing to work hard, that you want to be involved with their project, but that you still plan to eventually start something of your own. If you're both confident and realistic in your discussion of plans, it should not be seen as a minus by any but the most insecure/old fashioned employers. These days, loyalty to one company is far less expected.
posted by mdn at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2005


I think that's when you convince him that it's to his advantage to take you on while you're still available, even though your long term goals will not be within his company. He'll get your talent & skill for those years, and he'll have you as a network connection afterward.

Yeah right. That will work maybe one out of ten times. Honesty and personal ambition have no place in the corporate world.
posted by xmutex at 1:22 PM on April 26, 2005


What about by expressing what you actually want to be doing in five years?

Drinking gin and tonics on the deck of my yacht off the Marquesas? I don't think that's going to go over so well.

If you're both confident and realistic in your discussion of plans, it should not be seen as a minus by any but the most insecure/old fashioned employers. These days, loyalty to one company is far less expected.

I think you've had better luck with employers than many of us. In my experience employers expect loyalty as much as they ever did, and generally in inverse proportion to their pay scale and treatment of their employees.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 1:57 PM on April 26, 2005


If I were to walk into a job interview these days (unlikely, as I contract), I'd tell them that in five years, I want to be working at a company where the people around me are competent, hard-working, and friendly, and where the same is expected of me. Maybe also where I have the respect and friendship of whoever's under me. (That's the "I'm management material" line there.) And in a position where I'd get rewarded for doing good for the company.
All of which would be true. If you want a slackworthy job, you can leave out the "hard-working" part.
posted by mistersix at 2:14 PM on April 26, 2005 [4 favorites]


You could also try taking a tip from Napoleon Dynamite. When asked where you plan to be in five years, incredulously answer Wherever I want to be! God!
posted by xmutex at 2:41 PM on April 26, 2005


I've asked this question in interviews, and nobody has ever been able to give me a decent answer. And I hate asking the question, because it is not a question anyone that I'd be interested in hiring could be reasonably expected to answer in any meaningful way. But if anyone did answer it like mistersix just did, I'd be dead chuffed, because that's a great answer. I must remember it if I ever go for a job interview myself.

Truth is not an issue in job interviews, no matter which side of the desk you're sitting on.
Utter bollocks.
posted by chill at 3:39 PM on April 26, 2005


The last time I was asked this question, my answer was "I want to be in a position where I have learned at least as much as I have in the previous five years and also made a meaningful contribution to your business." I didn't get the job but at least I was saying what I really meant.
posted by keijo at 4:30 PM on April 26, 2005


In my experience employers expect loyalty as much as they ever did, and generally in inverse proportion to their pay scale and treatment of their employees.

Yes. My advice is to tell them whatever you think they'll want to hear, because nine times out of ten they're not going to like your honest answer. Unless you're really interested in being a single rung higher on the ladder than when you were hired.

Utter bollocks.

Absolute truth. Perhaps honesty and cleverness are rewarded in Great Britain, but they are definate liabilities in the U.S.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:20 PM on April 26, 2005


When my mom was 18 she was asked this question on a job interview. She said in 5 years, she'd have the manager's/interviewer's job. The manager was taken a back for a bit and, before an uncomfortable pause set in, mom explained that if everyone did their job well, everyone will move up the corporate ladder. The manager was impressed with her honesty and confidence and mom got the job.

Many years later, she's still at the same company (one of the biggest in the state). She's a VP in charge of 60 people and her former manager retired a few years ago, also a VP. They remained close friends throughout their careers.

I don't know if this helps you, but it sure does me. I've sinced moved out of state and I miss my mommy.
posted by Tacodog at 5:43 PM on April 26, 2005


When I was asked this question I told the guy, truthfully, that I hoped in five years I'd be doing something I found interesting as that was my main ambition in life. He said he hoped the company could keep me interested for a long time and I got the job.
posted by Skyanth at 11:49 PM on April 26, 2005


I've gotten this question asked of me during employee reviews, and it's just as hard when your current employer asks as it is when a prospective employer asks. The most obvious answer to where I wanted to be in five years was "not here, probably doing my own thing" but I eventually answered with "probably specializing in the weblog type work I do as a full time job, perhaps at my own company."
posted by mathowie at 11:57 AM on April 28, 2005


I have been asked this question many times, and also I now ask it when interviewing - I use it to measure achievement/motivation - and see whether people are driven to progress in the jobs I recruit for. Typically I recruit graduates into their first job, and so its a good feeling of whether someone sees themselves making progress.

However two caveats:

1. I always ask a supplementary - about how they see themselves getting there, what qualities they have to help themselves achieve their goals.

2. If I sense that the candidate has very little sense of 5 years out (as some very young candidates do), then I often shorten to 3 years, or even just 'next'.

When I get asked the question - I answer it honestly, what do I think the next steps are based on what I know about the position.
posted by mattr at 1:48 AM on April 29, 2005


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