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How to Answer: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Winning the lottery sounds really good right about now

Beth Castle
Managing Editor, InHerSight

I have no idea gif

You’ve likely heard Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Life is a journey, not a destination,” at some point in your life and never considered how it could level-up your interviewing skills. Yet as a job-hunting mantra, Emerson’s adage is essential to crafting the perfect response to tough questions like, Where do you see yourself in five years? Your career is a journey, not a destination, and you should answer this question with that in mind. 

Allow me to explain: I began my career in publishing, what I would consider to be my dream industry, but I began it at a time when media’s dwindling profits and layoffs were already commonplace. I completely missed the industry’s “golden era,” and the plans I had for the next five or 10 years quickly became obsolete. 

That was a tough pill to swallow, but it was made especially difficult when hiring managers asked me in job interviews, Where do you see yourself in five years? I had decided to pursue jobs in other industries, and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know enough about the positions I was applying for to have a one-year goal, let alone a five-year goal. 

As it turns out, that’s okay. Career aspirations vary. And while job titles, promotions, and financial freedom or stability are all excellent goals to pursue, they’re “destinations,” not “journeys.” Your “journey” ambitions are resilient. They’ll survive even if your industry tanks, you’re laid off, or your boss says “no” when you ask for a raise.

With that in mind, this is how I learned to answer, Where do you see yourself in five years? when I had no idea what to say or where I hoped to be.

Figure out what you like

Regardless of your experience level, you’ve been in an environment before where you were doing work. Reflect on those experiences and decide what you liked—as in, the aspects of your role that engaged you entirely or brought you joy—and would want to take with you into the future. For me, writing was a given, but digging deeper, I found I was most engaged in my work when I was feeding my curiosity and creativity, often in unconventional ways. 

When asked ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I could answer

I don’t have a job title in mind, but I know I want to be at a company where I can evolve. I’m happiest and most engaged at work when I’m learning something new. I’m a writer, but I don’t want to be only a writer. 

….and what you dislike

No workplace or job is perfect, and when you’re daydreaming about what would make you happiest in the next five or 10 years, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a dream environment or role in mind. Compare that fantasy to your previous jobs. What didn’t work for you?

I looked at my career in publishing and realized I didn’t like the day-to-day uncertainty that might higher-ups might stop valuing my role. I needed stability of worth.

When asked ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I could answer

I want to be at a place that values me as a team member, even if the company’s initiatives change. Technology is evolving, so it’s hard to know what my job title would be, but I want to continue taking on projects that keep me looped into those innovations.

Read more: The Dream Job Isn’t a Myth, but It’s Not as Dreamy as It Appears

Be honest

There’s something winning about people who say, I don’t have a perfect answer for you, in interviews. I only learned that as I began interviewing people myself. But when you do it, you want to have an explanation in mind—and not, my dream industry is unstable and now I feel lost, which would have been the barefaced truth for me. When answering questions about your future, always show that, although you don’t have a five-year plan, you have thought critically about why you can’t map it out. 

When asked, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I could answer

I don’t have a perfect answer for you because with how much technology is changing, I’m not sure the role I want even exists yet. I find that exciting because I know my work will continue evolving. What’s most important now is that I find a job that allows me to grow with the times.

Know your values

We’ve talked about what you like, what you dislike, and how to use honesty to your advantage. The final way to answer, Where do you see yourself in five years? is a combination of all three: Lean on your values. Given everything above, innovation, honesty, and a continued sense of welcome are some of mine. 

When asked ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I could answer

In five years, I’d like to be working for a company where I’m doing innovative work and I feel comfortable and valued as the person I am. I’ve worked hard in every role I’ve had, but I’ve worked hard and been happiest when I’ve known that I was an integral part of a team. I don’t see that changing.

Read more: The 3-Step Formula to Answer: Why Are You Looking for a New Job?

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