The interview is either just beginning or slowing down from technical or behavioral questions. Then, you are asked where you see yourself in five years, which is usually a difficult question to answer. Unless you know exactly what career progression you will have, a map of promotions or further education that you want, and the company (or companies) you will work for, this can be a stressful question. It’s hard to answer where you will be in five years because life is unpredictable. We never thought there would be a global pandemic during our time at college, but here we are! There are two ways of approaching this question. The first is to discuss your goals in a way that does not dive into unnecessary specifics (such as any specific company names) that could hurt your interview results. The second is to talk about absolute truths, as in, specifics that you do not see changing no matter what happens. I will discuss both methods.
Talking about your career goals, especially if you are pretty confident and sure of what you want to do professionally, is a really great way to answer where you see yourself in five years. Remembering that the question isn’t geographical, it’s fine to mention a city or an office location that you would prefer to work in five years, only if the company you are interviewing for has an office that you know is in that general area. It seems like common sense but even if the job you are interviewing for is not your dream job or end career goal, you want to maximize your chances of impressing the interviewer to get that position. Saying something like “In five years, I see myself being in a leadership position at Company Z” when you are in an interview for a position at Company Y can be a really easy slip-up to make, if Company Z is a lifelong dream or is always on your mind. Avoid those issues by avoiding unnecessary specifics. You also do not want to pretend as if you’ve already gotten an offer for the position you’re interviewing for and use what you know of this company’s hierarchy to create your answer (such as, “I see myself being a senior associate here”). Instead, talk about how maybe you want to move around within a development program (if this company offers one) and explore many different aspects of a business. Discuss how your educational background has prepared you for certain tasks and that you would like to further your education in the next five years by either getting a CPA, CFA, MBA, etc. Talk about your interests in technology or how you would like a more client-facing or creative role. Be genuine but strategic. Almost everybody wants to advance in their career within five years (or maybe even switch tracks), but you can’t exactly say that. You want to convince the employer that you are a worthwhile investment, that you have some aspirations for the future (even if they aren’t totally clear), that you are open-minded, and that you want to work for them!
The second method focuses a little bit more on what you know you want in five years. This could mean having great job security, working at a company with strong sustainability initiatives, or being able to try new roles and continuously improve your skillset. A good answer with Method 2 could include “adding value to a company that has a corporate responsibility vision that aligns with my own” or “making a difference in the world through the work that I do”. Method 2 is usually vaguer, but not necessarily worse than Method 1. For example, as a Sophomore, Junior, or Senior, you may not know exactly what career path you want to pursue. Which is okay! You don’t have to make up a story of working in audit for the rest of your life to please a Big 4 Firm during this question! You could discuss your hope that in five years, you are working at a company that allows you to move around in roles or departments to find your perfect fit, that honors your needs for flexibility and work/life balance, and that has an inclusive culture. Talk about aspects of a job that you want no matter what happens in the outside world. These aspects are the characteristics that you would not compromise on in a job and what you truly imagine yourself being a part of in five years.
This question is a really great way to bring some of your individuality into the interview so that the employer can see what is important to you. Make sure to practice and to also tailor your answers to the company and industry so that it is more relevant! Good luck.