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How To Answer 'Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?'

Updated on May 3, 2011

The reason why this question is so important, is because some have a tendency to answer 'In your chair'.

While that is ambitious, I think that an answer like that is not only a little presumptuous, it is also a waste of a wonderful opportunity.

'Opportunity? how this is an opportunity Prabhjot?'

I'll tell you how.

This is exactly the kind of question that lets you show off the traits all companies look for, viz:

  • Positive, Proactive Attitude
  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills
  • Loyalty
  • Willingness to Learn
  • Initiative
  • Goal Setting
  • Motivation Level and Energy
  • Leadership drive

So Why do Interviewers ask this question?

To find out how ambitious you are and once that is clear, to find out if you have any clue about what you are talking about.

Lets say a friend of yours calls you and tells you he is going to be a millionaire.  You ask him how?  He says he just told you didn't he, now make him one!

That is what most answers to this question sound like.

Sample this:

In five years time I see myself in a leadership position with a company of repute

What kind of an answer is that?

That is as vague as they come.  If you ask this candidate, what leadership position he has in mind, he would probably tell you 2 - 3 that he thinks are feasible and ambitious enough.

What the interviewer wants to know is this:

  1. Do you know what you want?
  2. Have you found out how to get it?
  3. Is this the place you will get it?
Its as simple as that.  Answer those three questions and you have a winner.

What Do You Need To Do To Answer This Question

  1. Research. The company, the industry, the typical career paths.
  2. Set down your own goals - what is it that you would want in five years. This is a wonderful exercise, not just for an interview but also for life.  List down what is important and try to quantify it.  
  3. Talk to people who are in positions that you want to achieve in the next 5 years.  Ask them how they got there, what they did, how easy/difficult is it to do it.  
  4. Once you have all that, either stretch the goal to make yourself sound ambitious or take a cautious route to make yourself sound grounded.  The more ambitious you sound in an interview the higher the chances that the people interviewing will view you as low on loyalty (ambitious people tend to change more jobs).  But on the other hand, if you keep your goals too easy, you might come across as complacent.  hence the importance of research.

So How To Answer 'Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?'

I suggest being positive, ambitious, but not vain and definitely show off your research and your strengths.  (to see more on strengths, click here)  

Some examples

I understand this industry requires a lot of time and focus and it is considered very good to become a Head of Department in seven years, but with the growth in the industry, your companies ambitious expansion plans, I would really like to see myself as one in five years.


Up until a year ago, I would have been happy, if I had made it to a supervisory role in five years, but with after having got an additional certificate and reassessed my strengths, I think I could and would become a manager, leading a team of at least 50 people.

How Specific Should You Get?

This is a tricky one.  You aren't clairvoyant, hence you really cant predict.  Make it too narrow and you might come across as someone who might not be able to adapt to systematic changes and make it to broad and you might be labelled a dreamer or drifter.

So what is the ideal mix?

I think 2 specifics, max 3.  Anymore and you risk making it to narrow.

So you might state:

  • no of people reporting in
  • revenue managed
  • projects - scope etc
  • clients
  • even company or department 
you can add more based on your particular industry.

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The whole idea of an interview is to make the interviewer think that you are the best person for the position.

Think of yourself as a doctor, a healer if you will.

The company is in pain and hence it has advertised for a position.They need someone who can come in, take charge of things and take care of them, they need someone to reduce that pain.You are the doctor they are seeking out.

The interviewer is there to select you and not to reject you.


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    • profile image

      lscript 6 years ago

      Frequently asked questions in an HR interview

      1.) If Interview asks a question and if I don’t know the answer, what i have to do? Can I say wrong answer?

      If you don’t know the answer for the question asked by the interviewer, never say wrong answer. Take at least few seconds and say, i am sorry sir/madam, at this moment I haven’t able to answer you, I will make sure that i will update my knowledge soon.

      The above points make you to present your frankness and your presentation abilities.

      2.) What to answer and what not to answer for "Tell me something about you"?

      3.) Would you be willing to relocate if required?

      If I get a better learning opportunity & growth, then certainly yes. Otherwise, I have to think how much it is feasible from organization's point of view.

      4.) What if we don't hire you?

      Well, your current position will still remain open and you have to interview at least one more person. It may be difficult for you to find a more dedicated and knowledgeable person than myself. As for me, I have to continue my search for excellent and best in Class Company where I can get challenging and rewarding work experience. I thought we had win-win situation.

      5.) If you were hiring a person for this job, what would you look for?

      In my point of view I would recommend the following things:

      1. required skills for the role.

      2. Can work in team


      6.) Speak about yourself professionally?