In the December 14, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to best answer an age-old interview question:
Many job-related sites talk about this interview question, but none suggest how to best answer it. The question is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Obviously, this question relates to a person’s goals, but it can be sticky in some situations, especially a small business to which you are applying where the only promotion may be to the interviewer’s position. What do you suggest?
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
So, what should you say to the five-year question? My cynical answer is another question: “Will your company still be in business five years from now?”
Yah, that’s a little rude, but a dopey question sometimes deserves a pointed rejoinder.
This is why I include “five years” in my list of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. You see, the problem doesn’t lie in coming up with an answer. The problem is the question itself. I advise employers not to ask “where you see yourself in five years” for a number of reasons:
- There are so many canned answers floating around that it’s meaningless — few people answer it honestly.
- Many businesses really won’t be around in five years.
- Changes in technology and business render almost any career goal ephemeral.
I suggest you be honest with the employer. If you don’t know where you see yourself in five years, tell him where you see yourself in six months or a year: “Contributing to the profitability of this company by doing A, B, and C for you.” Then explain what A, B, and C are in detail. (Do your homework, or don’t go to the interview!)
Talk shop! Steer the interviewer away from goofy questions like, What’s your greatest weakness? If you could be any animal, what animal would you be? No matter how you decide to answer (or parry) a worn out interview question, you can take control of the interview. In the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers? I offer many suggestions to help you take the interviewer out of fantasyland. Here are two of them:
- Don’t talk about yourself. Talk shop and demonstrate your abilities. Ask the interviewer: What’s the main problem or challenge you’d like the person you hire to tackle? I’d like to show you how I’d go about it…
- Skip the elevator pitch. Offer value and make a commitment. Rather than say, “I’m a hardworking, capable operations manager seeking opportunity for advancement,” (so’s everybody!) try this: I will reduce your operations costs by negotiating better deals with your freight vendors and streamlining your shipping department by doing X, Y and Z… (Again, you’d better have done your homework, and be ready to get very specific!)
(How Can I Change Careers? isn’t just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out by demonstrating their value to a specific employer.)
Don’t get lost trying to answer distracting questions. If you find a job interview is going off the track, you can also steer it back on course by raising (and answering) The Most Important Question in an Interview.
Employers seem to think that certain interview questions are a must. Is “the five year question” one of them? Does it matter where you see yourself in five years?
Besides, hasn’t this question been so over-analyzed and the answers “faked” for so long that it’s meaningless anyway? Gimme a break. I’d rather be asked why manhole covers are round.
What’s your take on it? Is this just another stupid interview question? How do you answer it?