A friend of mine has an interesting take on what he calls “annoying interview questions” – and that includes questions like where do you see yourself in five years. (Others are about your greatest strength or weakness.)
While there’s certainly no one “right” answer for a question like that, some approaches work better than others. So without further ado, here’s what my pal L. Bosco has to say about it:
THOSE ANNOYING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
by L. Bosco
Interviews are a pain in the neck!
Ideally you want to see if there’s a good fit between you and the employer. But most interviews are full of those “pat questions” that have been written up endlessly in books and even on blogs. Must-do advice where so-called experts give job applicants handy-dandy “pat answers” to those over-used questions.
So basically both sides could just as well email in their parts and save everyone a lot of time. It’s a rare interviewer who knows how to create a really informative interview. One that gives them a real picture of the candidate as they would be once employed. And not just who they are on their best interview behavior.
So job seekers must still sit through these often painful interviews (some where the interviewer is barely listening) and be prepared to answer these same silly questions: What is your greatest weakness? What are your strengths? How would you handle an angry customer?
So where do you see yourself in five years?
That one is my personal LEAST favorite. I always want to answer it with something like “living in Bora Bora on my lotto winnings” or “King of Siam” or at least “Sophia’s latest lover.” (The name to be filled in by you based on your own gender, age, preference, and imagination.)
(Note from Ronnie Ann: Uh … I don’t recommend you do that! 🙂 )
It is a question where virtually any answer can get you into trouble, since you don’t know your interviewer. If you aim too high, you might come off as too ambitious. And either won’t be around long enough to cover the cost of training or you’ll threaten their own position.
If you aim too low, you lack initiative and won’t contribute enough to cover the cost of your salary.
So how the heck does one reply? I puzzled over this for days. And then weeks. And then more weeks. Finally, I could find no good “pat” answer that also felt safe. Therefore, I opted to tell the truth and the interviews be damned!
So from then on when I was asked where I wanted to be in my career five years from now, I told them:
“I don’t have a specific plan! I would like to advance. However, I am flexible. I will do my current job to the best of my ability and keep my eyes open for opportunities within the organization to advance even if it means changing roles.
I am prepared to learn new things and contribute to the overall success of the organization in a number of ways. The only specific within that “plan of willingness” is that the opportunity be within my ability to learn, interesting enough for me to dig in and do a good job. And the compensation increase a reasonable amount in relation to the demands of the position.”
I was hired!!
I have since been interviewed for a number of promotions by a number of different people (most of whom have come and gone and never even met each other.) When they asked me where I see myself in five years, I gave them all the same answer!! And I’ve earned eight promotions in thirty-one years.
The truth has one advantage over the best prepared scripts. No one is expecting it!
A few more thoughts (from Ronnie Ann)
For most of you who get a bit nervous at interviews, sticking to a quasi-pat answer still may be the best idea — or at least using a shorter hybrid version of L. Bosco’s answer: “In the next five years I’d like to see myself here advancing to the next level or at least learning new things and taking on new responsibilities if at all possible.”
Or if it’s a job where learning and advancement are not the goal, then a simple “I’m happiest when I feel that I’m an essential part of the company I work for — hopefully this one. In the next five years (and hopefully more) I plan to take advantage of whatever opportunities are available. But mostly, I want to do the best I can — and know that I’m making a difference.”
Of course, if you are interviewing in a high-powered company that expects you to be hungry for advancement … well, if that’s who you are. you sure don’t need help with a question like this!
But no matter what your answer, when I interview people I strongly prefer candidates who are real and natural. Whatever you do, try to be yourself — even if yourself is a little nervous. Just look the interviewer(s) in the eyes and take a moment to connect. And then, with as much truth and sincerity as possible, make the words yours.
Since I know L. Bosco, my guess is that he won over his interviewers with his honest down-to-earth manner as much as with his words.
So where do you see yourself in five years? Hopefully not having to answer that annoying “where do you see yourself five years from now” question ever again. But please DON’T use that as your answer. 😉
[Post updated in 2020]
More posts to help
For more help with interview answers: