“So, where do you see yourself in five years?”
It’s one of the most dreaded interview questions, and it’s one you’re likely to come across at some point in your job search. No one really knows where they will be in five years, and even if you do have a plan, there’s no way to know for sure it will pan out. Still, interviewers will keep asking the question, so it’s your job to learn how to answer it.
What Not to Say
Delivering a strong answer to this question depends on not only saying the right things, but also avoiding the wrong things.
1. Avoid Titles
Don’t get too ambitious or unrealistic. Saying you want to be a director or executive is an instant red flag. Since there is no way for a hiring manager to know what title you’ll actually hold in five years, it is best to avoid using specific titles in your answer. Instead, you want to emphasize the things you’ll be doing for the organization.
2. Never Say You Don’t Know
“I don’t know” may be a completely honest answer, but total honesty isn’t the best policy in this case. Hiring managers know you can’t answer the question in great detail, but they do want to see you have a desire to grow and add value to their organization. If you convey that you plan to simply go with the flow, you’ve basically sunk your ship before you even set sail. Just as you shouldn’t inflexibly aim for a specific destination from which you refuse to change course, you can’t give the impression you are at the mercy of whichever way the wind blows. Such an answer inspires little confidence that you’ll actually be invested in the role if you get it.
3. Don’t Share Your Big Dreams
You may plan to open your own company one day, or you may have your heart set on working in a completely different field. In either case, that makes this particular job just a means to an end.
You may think that sharing big goals like these makes you look like a hard worker, but what it really tells the hiring manager is you have no intention of sticking around for the long haul. Companies make investments in their employees through training and development programs. They don’t want to hire someone who will walk out the door before they’ve gotten a return on that investment.
How to Craft a Great Answer
Now that you know what not to do, here are the three things your answer should convey:
1. Show Interest in the Role
Let the interviewer know you’re excited about this position because it will allow you to utilize your natural skills and talents. Your hiring manager wants to know you are truly interested in the position and not just using it as a stepping stone to another job down the road.
2. Stress Your Ability to Grow
Explain that the role offers you great opportunities to both learn more about the industry and grow within your own career path. Hiring managers are looking for high-potential candidates. You don’t need to know everything before you start the job, but you should express an interest in learning, growing, and developing your skills and expertise through the job. This shows hiring managers you are a candidate capable of growth and offering long-term value.
3. Commit to the Company
Conclude by communicating that you’re looking to refine your expertise in this role and increase your value to the organization along the way. Hiring managers aren’t looking for you to take on the world; they just want to know you are growth-minded, can add long-term value to the company, and have an interest in doing exactly that at their organization, not somewhere else.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.
Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing‘s resident career expert.
Michele Mavi has nearly 15 years of experience as a recruiter, interview coach, and resume writer. She is Atrium Staffing’s resident career expert, as well as director of internal recruiting and content development. She also founded Angel Films, a division of Atrium Staffing focused on the creation of recruiting and training videos.