One of the most common job interview questions for entry-level jobs and internships goes something like this: Where do you see yourself in five years? Answering this questions can be tricky—especially for young people who might have no idea.
This one question aims to gauge your ambition, your personal organization, and—for employers that really care about their employees—whether the position you’re interviewing for is one that can help you achieve your career goals. Hiring managers and recruiters might also want to see how you react under pressure.
But one of the great things about an internship, first job, or even second or third position is that you’re given the opportunity to learn a lot more about what you like and dislike. For many people, it’s only then that they actually figure out their long-term career goals.
The best answers to these questions will help you avoid a couple of red flag answers. First, it prevents you from sounding like you’re a slacker without any plan or ambition. Secondly, it shows that you don’t have too strict of an idea about what your life should be (basically that you’re inflexible and wrong for the position).
Here are some of they points in a perfect answer (with a sample answer to drive the point home). You’ll be able to knock this question without any specific short-term or long-term goals.
Talk About What You Hope To Gain, Rather Than A Specific Title Or Position
Your answer should be focused on skills, experience, and exposure—basically, everything that a job offers you other than money and benefits.
Even if you’re interviewing for a finance or consulting role and it’s well-known that after five years you should be in a role called “Senior Associate” or “Assistant Vice President,” focusing on a position or title could make you seem like you have a limited view of what work is. You don’t want to come off as someone obsessed with titles or power.
If a senior role is an ambition of yours, then emphasize that you’d love to gain management and leadership experience.
Relate Your Answer To The Role You’re Interviewing For (And What You’ll Add)
By focusing on what you hope to gain in terms of skills and experience, you’ll also demonstrate to the interviewer that you plan on adding a lot to the company. That way, any promotions that might come in the future will be earned and not just expected.
Use your answer as an opportunity to highlight specifically what you could gain from the role and how that benefits the company. Talk about how you’ll learn certain skills that will help you accomplish X or Y for your future team. This will show your ambitions are tangible and useful rather than just based on naiveté or a desire for money.
An Ideal Example Answer
In five years, my goal is to have gained both the skills and perspective necessary to contribute to projects on both a strategic and operational level. For example, through your company’s IT Leadership Development Program, I’ll be able to pick up both hard and soft skills. By becoming both a subject-matter expert on information technology and an experienced communicator and organizer, I’ll be in a position to help lead a group or a team—which I think is an important step on the road to having a fulfilling career.