Dear Career: Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

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Dear Career,

Lucky me, I got an interview. But right in the middle of the interview, the guy asked a pretty standard question that I don't know how to answer. He asked, "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

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I was shocked that people still ask this. I feel like it's a weird question these days anyway, but add in the fact that I don't even know what zip code I'll be living in five years down the road ... what should I have said?

--Perplexed in Point Loma

Dear Perplexed,

I hear you. With the way today's employees move through the workforce, thinking five years in advance does seem a little strange.

To be honest, I think some employers still ask this question out of habit and the thought that they're "supposed" to ask something along those lines. Others, however, ask the question because they're trying to decide if you're looking at their open position as just a stepping-stone, or a short-term stop to fill your time while you pursue your own goal.

The bottom line is: No matter why they're asking the question, you can't dismiss it as nonsense and you need a good answer.

My advice: Don't focus on the literal "where" in the question, but think about what they want to know. Are you going to take this job seriously? Are you going to stay long enough to make it worth my while to spend the money and time training you?

One approach I really love is to flip the question on its head. Ask the interviewer, "Can you tell me where you see the company in five years? I'd like to consider that in my answer." Or "How do you see this position growing in five years? I'd like to consider that growth in my answer."

If you let them tell you a little about their vision, you're not only showing your interest in what they're doing, but you may also hear something you can latch onto. Perhaps they say they'd like to add a training aspect to the role, and you can talk about how you loved training in your last job. Or you can tell them that you've been itching to get into training roles and you'd love to explore the possibility with them.

The other option is to focus on a particular skill set you'd like to grow and, again, leave geography out of it. Simply talk about the fact that you'd like to see your ability to use that skill set in a larger way. Clearly, you should choose a skill set somewhat related to the position at hand. That shows you're looking for growth, but doesn't mean you're going to start looking for a different role on day one of the new job.

Hope that helps!


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