Where do you see yourself in 5 years … well?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? That's the question!

One of the most famous questions in job interviews is: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? I don’t know about you, but I’ve done a lot of job interviews during my career, and in practically every job interview I got this question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

And then I always thought: In five years from now? Who can look so far into the future? I even don’t know how my next week will look like, let alone my future in 5 years from now! And by the way, dear interviewer, do you know yourself where you will be in 5 years from now? And do you have any clue whatsoever where your company or your department will be in 5 years from now?

Later, I came to understand that this particular interview question had a goal. As soon as I realized that, my response to the question "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?", became totally different.

So, why do interviewers ask you this question anyway?

And how can you benefit from this question?

Please read on to discover the 4 magic ingredients which will help you in answering this question in a way that will make you stand out from the crowd!

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Why interviewers ask you: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years 1

As I came to think of this question, which at first I found foolish, I thought: while every interviewer is asking me this very same question, there must be some overarching goal.

But what is it?

Well, my take on this is that the interviewer wants to see if you are capable of thinking more strategically. Like a chess player, are you able to think two or three steps ahead? And at the same time, the interviewer likes to understand if you understand both the roles of the company and department you are applying for and how you will fit into that. Furthermore, the interviewer likes to know if his company and department are playing a role in your future or not. Why invest in someone who is not interested in working for the company?

Succeeding in the role you are applying for means that you have to fit into the organization’s objectives as well. So, the better you are aligned with that, the better candidate you will be for the interviewer.

Other variants you might hear the interviewer ask you might be questions like:
* How does success looks like for you in this position?
* What are you looking for in a new job?
* What is important to you in your career?
* What are your long-term career goals?

In essence, these questions come all down to the question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Hiring managers are looking for possible red flags when interviewing candidates. If they only would ask about familiar situations which play a role in the job right now, then it is easier for job candidates to give standard routine answers which every candidate would give. This provides the recruiter with a good idea, of course, about how capable you are, but not about how you think about your job and about what drives you and motivates you. That’s why they ask you questions like "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” because this will force the candidate to talk about his vision for the future.

While this question is more abstract than the standard interview questions, it will reveal more of the internal drives and motivations of the job candidate. And this is what recruiters want.

So, how do you answer this question in the best possible way?

By the way: a job interviewer doesn’t expect you to have psychic powers or so. He or she very well knows that no one really knows how the future will look like. So, important in answering this question is more the way you answer the question than the actual content of your answer.

How to answer the question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years 2

Before you go to the job interview, already start thinking about how to answer the question Where do you see yourself in 5 years with regards to the company you are applying for. The vital key to answering the question is that it will feel natural for the recruiter that you belong to the company, that you are part of its future.

You do this by helping him to create this picture in his head.

Follow these three guidelines to help you create an answer which will be compelling in the ears and eyes of the interviewer:

1. Focus your answer on the big picture and avoid too many details

You only know the top of the iceberg with regards to the company you are applying for and the market wherein it operates. So, it is fair to say that you can only guess what direction the company will move into.

This means that it is also hard for you to predict how your role can evolve in the future.

If you are too specific in your answer, then the chances are that there is a mismatch between your model of the world and the model of the world of your recruiter. While you are not working for the company, you don’t know all the details the recruiter does. So, like an excellent narrator, leave it to the imagination of your recruiter to fill in the blanks. Only hint in the right direction with a few specifics but leave enough blanks so that the recruiter has the chance to fill them in.

In preparation for your job interview, ask yourself what are the most critical drivers for the company you are applying for. For every company this will be growth and continuity but how does that apply to this particular company and its market? What are the main drivers?

Now blend these drivers into your role. How can you support these main drivers?

While being generic about the future, try to develop a story around this with some specifics because that makes your story stick in the memory of the interviewer. It is a real challenge to develop such a story, and I know you can do it! Just take enough time in your preparation to develop this story, and you will be good to go.

Anacoluthon rhetorical devices steps

Key point:

Focus your answer on the big picture and avoid too many details

2. Focus your answer on the long-term relationship between you and the company you are applying for

Recruiting a new hire is a very expensive process for companies. Furthermore, investing in someone new, is too. So, to get a positive return on that investment companies likes to hire people for the long-term.

Although this does not mean that they will not fire you in the short-term, but that’s a whole other discussion. So, if the company can choose among multiple candidates, then all other things being equal, they rather choose the person who wants to commit himself for a longer period to the company.

So, focus your answer on that.

The benefit for you when giving an answer like that, is that you will be able to plant a seed in the head of the recruiter. You can plant the picture of you working for the company for a couple of years.

The advantage to that is that it feels “natural” for the recruiter to hire you instead of someone who he literally doesn’t “see working” for the company.

So, “paint a picture” where the recruiter can see you working in the future for the company. This means that you need to add some specifics.

For example, if the company is located in both San Diego and Los Angeles, you could say something like “I will probably be driving a lot between our locations in San Diego and Los Angeles because I will be steering the teams in both locations.” Saying something like this makes it easy for you to make a mental picture of you steering the teams in both locations and driving back and forth between those locations.

Do you notice that you said “our locations”? This implies that you are already a member of the company. This acts as a subtle hint for the recruiter to see you as an employee and not as a candidate.

Anacoluthon rhetorical devices steps

Key point:

Focus your answer on the long-term relationship between you and the company you are applying for

Where_do_you_see_yourself_in_5_years - PIN1

3. Make sure that your answer demonstrates your excitement about the new job and company

The more motivated you are about that, the better you come across.

Most people who are going to a job interview will not be very excited when they answer this question.

Why?

Because they don’t have a clear picture of what they are going to say. They don’t know how their possible future within the company might look like because they haven’t really thought about it. If you don’t have a clear picture in your head, then it is impossible to be excited about it. This comes across. After having had ten job candidates, the job interviewer won’t even remember what people have answered that question. So, this is your chance to stand out from the crowd!

Think upfront about how your possible future might look like and make it as compelling as possible for at least yourself. This way you will come across with enthusiasm when you talk about it. Even more, it might also be that you already have hinted at this future scenario when answering other questions earlier in the interview. This is a subconscious process which will go automatically when you have thought through your future scenario within the new company before the interview.

To help you with this, ask yourself what you find important to working for the company you are applying for. Which of your core values will be fulfilled when working for this company?

For example, one of my core values is growth and optimization. When I think, about working for a new company, I get already very excited when I think of how this will contribute to my personal growth and how I can optimize myself through this new position. Moreover, I get very enthusiastic about how I can contribute to the growth and continuous optimization of the company I will be working for.

So, when a recruiter asks me “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” my answer might be something like: “Probably I will be thinking about my hundredth new business idea I am developing to grow the company even further, while driving between our locations in San Diego and Los Angeles because I am responsible for both the teams.”

Saying this with real enthusiasm because I really see this picture in front of me as a reality, will immediately make me stand out from the crowd.

Anacoluthon rhetorical devices steps

Key point:

Make sure that your answer demonstrates your excitement about the new job and company

4. Summarize your answer in one picture and think of this picture often before the interview takes place

This will do three things for you.

Firstly, your answer will come across very natural and authentic because you don’t have to think about the words. You only have to describe the picture you already have in your head.

Secondly, you will come across more enthusiastically and motivated because it is easier to be motivated by a compelling picture than a simple sentence you have written down as a possible answer.

Thirdly, your answer will be very believable because you already have internalized this future scenario.


“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse... but surely you will see the wildness!”
― Pablo Picasso

Anacoluthon rhetorical devices steps

Key point:

Summarize your answer in one picture and think of this picture often before the interview takes place

Conclusion

It’s no coincidence that most recruiters will ask the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” It’s a great question to test a couple of things at the same time. Does the job candidate have a vision? Does he fit in the company? What are the possible red flags?

At the same time, this question gives you as the job candidate a wonderful opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Picture a compelling future scenario where you are part of the company fulfilling the needs of the company. Bring it with enthusiasm and authenticity, and you will be the one who the recruiter will remember at the end of the day.

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Over to you

Please, leave a comment below by telling us how you deal with answering the question where do you see

yourself in 5 years from now? Thank you already in advance for sharing your thoughts and insights!

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Harry Heijligers
 

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here: HarryHeijligers.com. If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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