Tough Questions: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Of all the dreaded interview questions, this may be the one that I get asked about the most. While I don’t believe it’s one of the best ways to get to know a candidate, it is an old standby that has recently come back into favor so it is definitely worth thinking about how to approach it. This question has a strong reputation of striking fear into the heart of interview candidates, but with a well thought-out approach it can be used to your advantage.

1) Think About What To Highlight

As with all interview answers, you should be doing more than just answering the question as presented: you should be using it as an opportunity to highlight your strengths and unique qualities. So to prepare for this question, think through which qualities you want to highlight for the recruiter or hiring manager. You can work this into your answer by talking about skills you want to build on and areas you want to develop.

2) Show Passion

Beyond using this question as a way to clearly position yourself, it’s also a good opportunity for the interviewer to determine how long you plan on staying in a role. Recruiting and training employees is incredibly expensive*, so companies want to know that you are interested in staying in your field for at least a few years. This is an opportunity to show your passion by talking about the impact you would like to have on the field in the future, as well as what types of work you would like to incorporate into your skill set.  This is a great way to show your excitement and commitment to the company and industry of your choice.

3) Keep it General

Rather than stating a specific job, I suggest talking about the things that are important to you and the areas you want to develop in your career. For example, rather than saying, “I want to be the CTO in 5 years,” talk about the goals you would like to achieve in that time. Everyone has a different definition of success, and how you answer this question can illustrate what success means to you. Talking about a specific job title or salary level will indicate that you care a lot about outside recognition or prestige, even if that is not really what you value most.  In contrast, discussing what you want to have learned and the impact you want to have can demonstrate that personal development and helping others are important to you. For example, rather than saying you want to be the CTO, say, “I want to be in a role where I can apply my leadership skills and lead other IT professionals to transform the way a company does business. I’m passionate about how IT can increase a company’s success, so in five years I hope to be in a role that allows me to find personal challenge and make a real impact on a company.” Focusing on both what you want personally and on what you can deliver to a company allows you to demonstrate your values and what you offer to the company.

*Average cost of hiring a new employee is 1.5 to 3x his salary. Source.

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