So Where Do You Want to Be in Five Years?

It’s a classic…


“So where do you want to be in five years?”

Classic interview question. We’ve all gotten this question. How would you answer it?

It’s not so easy to answer it anymore. Back in my early career years when I was in active interview mode, this was a much easier question to answer because career paths were much more defined back then. We pretty much knew what the next level job was going to look like from any vantage point. We knew our next promotion and the one after that because we had seen others go before us. So we could answer the question of where we’d want to be in five years because we’d seen it all before.

Answering the question merely showed our ambition. That question used to be a piece of cake.

Not so much anymore.

That question is almost impossible to answer now. Gone are the days of the predictable path forward. How can anyone even imagine where they will be in five years now? The options are limitless, and it’s so exciting. And intimidating. And hard to answer. Now it’s up to each of us to decide where we want to be. Each answer will completely vary.

How do you even begin to answer that question? “So where do you want to be in five years?”

Think of yourself as a brand. I say this all of the time, but it’s true: you are a brand…so think of yourself that way when you answer this question. A brand is an aspiration; it’s a consistent collection of experiences that knows what it values and knows what it stands for. So what do you value and what do you stand for? Knowing that will help you to answer where you want to be in five years. You want to be living your brand. Growing, experiencing, and learning. When you answer from this perspective, the interviewer will know exactly what you are all about.

Answer as a whole person. Part of being a brand is being holistic. It’s not just about work anymore, but about your entire being. In five years, do you want to be in a relationship, be a parent, be giving back to your community? What do you want as a whole person, not just a business colleague? Now the interviewer will know all of you.

Talk to reinvention, not levels or jobs. Now that career paths are less defined, your answer shouldn’t be about titles or money even though we know that’s often important. Talk about reinvention, transformation, and change because all of that is a constant now, and all of that is a requirement for any of us to still be relevant at work in five years. When you weave this into your answer, the interviewer will really believe that you’ll be around in five years.

Show your ability to create change. When speaking about your own reinvention, talk about how you’ll help others to reinvent as well. Your next five years isn’t just about you, it’s also about how you’ll impact those around you as they too reinvent and grown. Now the interviewer will understand the impact you’ll create in five years.

Don’t forget to be conscious. When you are in interview mode, it’s very easy to slip totally inside yourself and focus solely on your answers. It isn’t all about you. Pay attention to the interviewer as well. Read the signals to see if your answers are resonating. I call this consciousness. Be conscious of their reactions and adjust accordingly. Speed it up if they’re becoming restless or slow it down with another example if they seem really into it. The interviewer will pick up on your intuition and it’ll reflect positively on their impression of you. See, it really is all about you.

“So where do you want to be in five years?”

Shouldn’t be a scary question…actually, it can be quite inspiring!

What’s your experience? JIM