What to Say When Your Interviewer Asks, “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

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Thinking

It’s been called the granddaddy of interview questions: “Where do you see yourself five years from now?”

Many financial services newcomers and even those with experience continue to sweat it out over this question, but so long as you’re prepared for your interviewer to make use of this old chestnut, you should do just fine.

The main things you want to want to impart are these:

  1. You’re eager to increase your responsibilities,
  2. You mean to build on your prior successes and skills, including any areas where you’ve excelled or have found especially intriguing, and
  3. Because of the above, you will increase your contribution to the firm over time—not just some firm, not the industry at large, but this company in particular.

Think about it: There are plenty of reasons to ask a job candidate where he or she might be in five years, but most likely, the interviewer wants to determine if this is someone who will stay committed to the company as opposed to chasing other personal dreams—and whether they’re likely to be a good fit, not just for a year or so but over the long haul. Employers spend loads of money on new hires and nothing is sure to short-circuit their plans faster than someone with one foot out the door.

That’s why it’s best to talk about how you see this position being a stepping stone to a long career with the firm.

If you’re applying for a job as a banking associate, you can also say that five years hence you see yourself as a junior or mid-level vice president at the firm, adding that you look forward to moving up the ladder of the organization because of your contributions each step of the way, advises veteran recruiter Richard Lipstein of Boyden Global Executive Search in New York.

Beyond that, “Try to be visionary,” says a career coach. If you have ever thought about putting together a team of your own, say so.

Take care you don’t just wing it, however: If you can come across as someone ready to take some control as time goes on, helping the company to achieve its goals, so much the better. But practice talking about how you see it, and bounce it off someone you respect for some feedback before your interview. Practice and polish your comments before you’re face to face with an interviewer.

Truth be told, one of the toughest parts of answering the “five year question” is not coming on too strong—or too mild.

“While you may think that they are looking for someone with great drive and ambition, it’s important to give an answer that sounds credible based on your past performance," says recruiter Harry Urschel. “I interviewed someone a while back that had worked in the same sales role at a company for the past 11 years,” Urschel wrote recently.” He was an average performer and had built a stable book of business. However, after a layoff and looking for a new job now, his answer to this question is that he plans on becoming a divisional director at a large company. He may be capable of that kind of rapid advancement, however, his background shows no indication that he could accomplish that.”

When answering the five year question, you need to sound capable and believable at the same time, Urschel says.

In other words, if you mean to discuss some fairly lofty goals, you need to decribe them with a bit of detail and convince your interviewer they’re achievable. As the old adage goes: “When in doubt, leave it out."

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