Wednesday 8 October 2014 4:49 am

How to answer “where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” in a job interview

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

This is a popular interview question for a number of reasons. Employers like having workers with ambition. Ambition means having goals and aspirations and consistently working hard and understanding what you need to do in order to succeed.

However, employers also want employees who will work in the role they being discussed, not use the job as a mere stepping stone to bigger and brighter things. For these reasons, this interview question is popular. Plus it’s a bit of a – “Here’s some rope – go hang yourself” sort of question. 

Here are some ideas on how to answer “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” In a job interview:

Short and long term

This is not just a static question about where exactly you will be in five years’ time. It is asking about the steps you need to take and the processes you need to complete in order to get there. Discuss a broad idea of where you want to be and explain what you need to do to get there – such as new training or qualifications or personal development that you are are doing or planning yourself. How you respond to performance reviews is key in this.

Link it to the current job role

Discuss where you see yourself in five years’ time through linking to the job at hand. Explain how you plan to fully utilise the opportunities of the job role, but do not make it sound as if you a merely using it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Focus on transferable skills and the opportunities the role with give you to develop or learn these. Show an interest in pushing the job description too – not too much as they want you to do the job – but perhaps show how you could stretch the role.

Show some ambition

There is a distinct difference between ambition and cockiness. One is good – the other is fatal. You must find the right balance between the two when answering this question. You want to show that you are ambitious, that you want to succeed at your job and move up the company. But do not give the impression that you think you are too clever or too smart for the current job on offer.

Don’t be a smart-arse

Do not be the smart-arse who says “Sitting in your chair.” or “Doing your job.” This answer would work in only very few professions and industries and only with a minority of bosses. The risk of this answer being a bad decision are 90 per cent plus – be sensible, be nice and be reasonable in your ambition.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.