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“Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?” The Simple Question That Exposes Everything Wrong With Our Career-Thinking.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The first time I was ever asked this question in an interview, I had no clue how to answer.

I’d never thought about it before. Yeah, it’s a fairly routine interview question. But I didn’t know how to handle it.

I stumbled out something about, “Working for this company.”

No, I didn’t get the job.  

Over time, I memorized better lies to spew in response to this question.

Yes, I know how routine and useless this question is in interviews.

But I also believe it can be powerful, if used correctly.

The best answers to this question, according to conventional wisdom, gives the interviewer a certainty that you won’t cut and run when you get to where you really want to go. Also, you should show flexibility with vision, but not too much vision.

If you’re looking for a simple answer to this question, The Muse has some tactful advice on expressing ambition without responding with “anywhere but here,” to your potential new boss. And, as Zety.com observes, the interviewer wants to know whether you’ll stick around and if your long-term goals align with the company.

These are useful tips.

But I want to talk about the opportunity this question SHOULD give us for doing some life-evaluation, why the TRUE answer might make you miss the job, and why that might be okay.

Why it’s actually the most important question in the interview

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Job seekers sell themselves short by ignoring this question, and by looking for the “right answer” instead of the truth.

Because do you know what is true for most human beings?

We don’t have a fucking clue what we will be doing in 5 years.

Instead of designing our life, life is happening to us, and trying to bungle our way through that interview is just the latest event in life on autopilot.

Humans are funny.

We will use fatalistic talk about God, the universe, doors opening, doors closing, and everything else to spiritualize or rationalize our lack of vision.

All so that we don’t have to do the work to figure out what we REALLY want.

Or maybe we’re just scared to make decisions, and we’re hoping it will get made for us.

Either one of these possibilities is sad… full stop.

Identifying the answer to this question could change your life. So it’s a shame that people don’t actually stop to think about it.

It’s worth thinking about every morning.  

My first experience with telling the truth to this question came as I was developing a vision for this company.

I told the interviewer, “I will be either working for a company that knows how to convey research creatively or else I will start one. I need to work somewhere that I can tell stories.”

I didn’t get the job. (Although, to be fair, it probably had more to do with my insufficient fluency in French.)

He told me that he couldn’t hire me, but that he would really like to see the company I’d described to him.

To my surprise, I didn’t care about the rejection.

For the first time in my life, I was developing a vision and saying it out loud. It was a revolutionary moment for someone who wandered through 17 years of higher education without really thinking about that either.

Read the related post: How to be successful no matter what: 4 rules

Where you will actually be in 5 years

If you don’t take the time to answer this question honestly in your heart, I can tell you right now exactly where you’ll be in five years.

You’ll be:

  • five years into life on autopilot.
  • five years into a career that’s okay but that’s not yours.
  • five years into a company that you hate.
  • five years into a pension that’s hard to walk away from.
  • five years late for actually following your heart and chasing something you love.

If you choose not to engage properly with this question now, you will sooner or later–perhaps in five years.

So, design your life. Decide what you want. Take a week, or even a month, and just search your soul to see if you can find your vision, and chase that.

Sometimes you need to lie, obviously

Okay here’s another truth. Sometimes you need to look that interviewer right in the face and lie your ass off.

This might come for a number of reasons, but most importantly, because this job is necessary for you right now.

You gotta pay rent.

You gotta eat.

So tell the lie if you need to, and don’t feel bad about it. But do make sure you answer the question in your own heart.

If this job is a stop-gap measure to pay the bills while you look for the thing you love, admit that to yourself–not to the interviewer (duh).

If it’s only to get experience in project management or forecasting so you can go and do the thing you really love, keep that in your mind.

And build yourself a really good five-year-plan that includes an exit strategy from that job you’re currently begging for.

The real answer may make you miss the job

You’re so worried that an employer won’t like your answer to the question, Where do you see yourself in five years?

That’s because your goal in life is to get the job.

What if your goal in life became to, in five years, have a career that you love? What if you even sort of knew what that looks like?

If you knew that, you might not mind missing the job so much. Because it wouldn’t be about jumping through a hoop to get the job at all costs, it would be about actually evaluating where you’re going and whether this job fits.

If your interviewer is put off by the fact you want to, say, open your own consulting firm in five years, maybe you don’t want to be working for their company right now? What does that say about the interviewer?

I mean, it’s the 2020s now. Who the heck stays in the same job for five years? You’re not getting married.

So, if you know the answer. If you know where you want to be in five years. Why spend any more time waiting to start moving towards it?

Start saying your dream out loud, especially if you have the luxury of losing this particular opportunity.

You may find that an employer can’t take you on, oh well.

Or, try this on, the interviewer could love your authenticity, honesty, and drive and give you the job. *Gasp!

An interviewer who understands building a career in 2020. They do exist.

Or, you might find the perfect fit

And, by actually assessing and naming your five-year goal, you may find that the organization is exactly where you want to be in five years, or at least, is a very clear stepping-stone on your path.

If your interviewer is smart, they’ll realize that by helping you move towards your ultimate goal, you may also help them move towards theirs.

There’s no shame in that.

The best employers are okay with drive

There’s nothing wrong with your hunger. So if employers want to hire mediocre employees who just say the right, boring answer to the question, fine.

The best employers will see value in your hunger. They will see a mutually inclusive opportunity to build someone who will bring their organization tremendous value but who will also be driven by their own inner voice.

So where do you see yourself in five years?

Figure it out, and then chase the answer with all you have.

There are a bunch of us over in the Roostervane community working on building our careers with this intentional purpose. We’ve had a lot of success together in finding things that move and drive us. You don’t need to belong to this community to build a great career, and there’s lots on the Roostervane site for free that will help. But if you want other motivated people to walk through it with, check us out!

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