Five years’ time is a long way off when you’ve just left university, making this is an especially difficult question to answer.
However, it is still widely asked at interview, so it’s worth preparing a response beforehand. Maybe you don’t know exactly what you want to be doing, but you don’t want to come across as though you’ve never thought about where your career might be heading.
With that in mind, here are some things to think about when practising your answer:
Do: Be honest
If you don’t know the one thing you want to be doing five years from now, you don’t have to say so. But what you can do to keep your answer honest is think through the possibilities, all the directions you might go in, based on your interests and skill set. Then, research the company’s place in the market and what their five-year plan might look like, and choose the answer that matches up best with it.
Do: Show your commitment to them
Interviewers ask this question to check you’re a worthy investment. They don’t want to put resources into training you for a job and then find themselves interviewing candidates for your position all over again a few months later.
They’re also looking to separate the candidates who are going to coast along doing the bare minimum, because it’s just a job 'for now', from the candidates who really want to excel. Demonstrate you fall into the latter category by linking your long-term aspirations to the job at hand and how it will help you achieve them. Be sure to express your excitement to get started.
Don’t: Go off-topic
Think of this question as, “where do you see yourself professionally in five years?” Leave out anything that doesn’t relate directly to your future responsibilities at the company.
Don’t: Tread on the interviewer’s toes
Perhaps the worst answer to this question is: “In five years, I see myself doing your job”. It may have taken the interviewer ten years to get to where they are now – your assumption you can do it in five won’t go down well. And, if the interviewer is still planning to be around five years from now, they aren’t going to love hearing you’ve got your eyes on their job.
Do: Be realistic
Before preparing your answer, research where your role fits in within the company. Check out people who held similar positions there via LinkedIn, see what they went on to do after a few years and pitch your answer around that level.
It’s best to avoid naming a specific job title or stating too narrow a goal for the future, though. Focus your answer on skills you will hone on the job, things you can achieve at the company and set yourself some development goals.
You can also identify how you will reach your goals and make those things happen. This shows you aren’t expecting progression within the company or a promotion to just be handed to you down the line and you know the work you will have to put in to make that happen.
Don’t: Be afraid to be ambitious
Realism is good, but don’t forget to show some ambition in your answer when setting yourself goals. The interviewer wants to see you’re motivated to work hard, aim high and significantly contribute to the company.
If you were interviewing for a junior Sales role, you could say: “In the next five years I would like to have a comprehensive understanding of our product and its customers, which will allow me to bring us significant new business. I would also be very interested in any opportunities that come up to learn more about leadership and take on more responsibility wherever needed. Ultimately, in the next five years, I will seek to become an expert in Sales within this industry and be making a meaningful contribution to the company’s growth.”
This answer doesn’t make any grandiose claims or tread on the interviewer’s toes, but it shows a commitment to growing with the company and that you are excited to contribute to their success.