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Top 5 Ice Breaker Questions #2: “Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?"

by Mark Ellwood

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This week we return to our series on those simple-sounding, yet tricky to answer interview opener questions; ‘Top-5 ice breaker questions and how to handle them’. And for this post we’re diving straight into:

 

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” 

 

This is actually such a common question that there are many blog posts and online articles dedicated to this one question alone. But rather than having to trawl through multiple pages of advice, comparing and contrasting the suggestions, we’ve done the hard work for you, while adding our own spin on this classic curve ball.

 

Variations

The question can be asked in a variety of ways, such as:

  • “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

  • “Tell me about your career goals”

  • “Where do you want this job to take you?”

 

 

What’s being asked?

 

The question here sounds like a trick question, and in some ways it is. You might want to say ‘In your shoes’ or ‘In another company’, but this would be an epic interview fail. The aim of this question is actually to see if you’ve thought about the career path and development opportunities this position offers and whether there is a match to your expectations. So, the hidden questions are; Do you have realistic career expectations? Are you going to be ambitious and develop in the role? Does this position match your personal growth expectations?  

 

What’s being assessed here?

 

Simply, your ability to succinctly and coherently articulate your longer-term career objectives and match them to the development opportunities that come with the role on offer.

 

How to answer?

 

Any employer will want to hire someone who is excited about their job, someone who sees it as a great career move and will work diligently to do a good job. Therefore, you have to meet this expectation.  In fact, this may be your third interview of the day and your second favourite option, but you need to make the interviewer feel this is your dream move.  And of course, if this is an interview for a financial analyst position, saying that in five or ten years’ time you want to start a firm selling vegan cupcakes isn’t going to go down well. Your answer needs to clearly build on the role under discussion.

To answer the question, you’ll need a concise, enthusiastic reply that highlights how you are going to use this role as a developmental stepping stone. The five rules of thumb for this answer are: 

 

  1. Keep it brief. As with all these ice-breaker questions, the key to success is brevity. To do this, keep your answer general – it needs to be broad enough that it doesn’t raise doubts about fit at the firm, but still make sense in terms of the role. This is the one question in interviews where you can be quite general in your answer

  2. Be realistic. For example, if this is an interview for a financial analyst – what are the realistic positions you could hold in five years’ time at this firm? Run with one of those and explain in general terms how this role is going to get you there (i.e. not a detailed scheme for getting promotions)

  3. Be loyal. Of course, over the course of the next five years, anything could happen. You could be headhunted away, or the company could even have to make compulsory redundancies. Regardless, the firm is investing time, effort and money in making this hire now, and they want reassurance that you’ll be on board for the long run. So, make being with this company part of your stated goals

  4. Be positive. Positivity and enthusiasm will make the interviewer warm to you and will also add credibility to your answer

  5. Don’t joke. “Company CEO” is tired and unfunny and tells the interviewer nothing, except you’re not prepared for this question

 

Prep Tip 1: What are your five-year goals?

Don’t have them? Maybe you should. Try writing this down, then moving to Prep Tip 2 below.

 

Prep Tip 2: Research the role and company

To really answer this question well, you should throw in references to some elements from the role’s stated growth opportunities and company’s development program. Look through the job description again and the firm’s website, looking for:

 

  1. Possible career paths for the position – there may be a few, so look at what matches your goals from Prep Tip 1, above

  2. Training and development opportunities within the firm – anything that will add value and help you get to those goals

  3. Vision & Values section (if they have one) - identify anything you share with the firm here

  4. Projects and case studies. There may be examples where the types of projects the firm has been involved with will add to your career development

 
 

Try an example

 

As with our previous blog’s example, let’s again hypothesise that a consultancy is looking to hire a Senior Salesforce Solutions Architect with a minimum of six years’ experience across platforms, who has worked with a broad range of CRM packages (not necessarily Salesforce). You’re coming from a professional services client background, with some financial services client experience.

Research Notes:

  1. The firm encourages staff to get as involved with the Salesforce Trailhead development programme as much as possible and pushes staff to obtain certifications

  2. The company has expertise working for banks and financial services clients

  3. The Senior Architect role ultimately leads to a Practice Manager position

  4. The firm’s vision is to be the leading expert for Salesforce within their territory

 

 

Interviewer: 

“Okay, can you tell us where you see yourself in five years’ time?”

 

Interviewee:

“Well, let me start by saying I’m very excited by this opportunity and the potential for development that the role and the firm offer. I see myself really growing into this position and taking advantage of the Salesforce training programs to broaden and deepen my expertise and also gaining greater exposure to financial services projects within this highly experienced team. Then over time I’d like to take on greater management and team leadership responsibilities and increasingly become a trusted authority on Salesforce architecture and implementation”

 

Let’s look at what this reply tells us:

  • It’s brief and general and avoids saying ‘Practice Manager’ – that would be too specific, and the interviewer may well be the Practice Manager

  • It’s two parts – the first being about growing into the role, the second about how the interviewee will them build on that developmentally. This is an ideal structure

  • It’s positive – the person is excited to be joining

  • It shows research – they know about the training programs and the practice areas

  • The role matches the interviewee’s stated objective of gaining more Salesforce training and greater exposure to financial services clients

  • The goal to become a leading authority in the subject area matches the firm’s goals and sounds very client and new business-friendly

  • It moves from team-player to team-leader, hinting at the more senior position as an ambition without being explicit and sets a clear development goal

  • It’s realistic – all this is very reasonable

 

Do it yourself

 

So now we understand this key ice breaker – you should be able to craft your own response and rehearse it until you can remember it without sounding like you’re reciting a learnt passage. As before, the key to this is to remember all the details of the passage, not the exact wording. It may be a little different every time you recite it, but you’ll have all the details to hand.

However, and importantly, with this question, there’s no set answer that will cover more than one interview. As stated, your response must be based on research into the role and company and will therefore be slightly different for every interview you attend. But given how common this question is, you really should prepare an answer to this for every interview.