“Where do you see yourself in five years?” has historically been a popular interview question. Perhaps at one time, it was considered clever and forward-thinking. Now it’s just tired, overused and perhaps irrelevant. Does anybody really know what they’re going to be doing in five years? Employees don’t work for organizations for extended lengths of time anymore, and certainly not for their entire careers.
Nonetheless, the question continues to be asked every day in interviews all over America. I remember very well sitting in an interview many years ago, in front of the Vice President of Human Resources for a Fortune 500 Company. I was interviewing for their Controller job. The VP leaned back in his chair and asked me, “What do you see yourself doing in five years?”
I’m 28 years old at the time, and this particular job is going to be a stretch for me. I’m interviewing against people who have 15 and 20 years of experience. I knew I needed to nail this answer. He was testing my vision and maturity with this question.
I looked at him and said, “My goal is to be a decision maker. So in five years, I see myself continuing to advance and making increasingly important decisions for the organization.”
He looked at me, and then started writing on his pad of paper. The conversational dynamic then changed. He was more relaxed, less focused on continuing the interrogation. We spoke for a while longer, and the interview concluded.
In retrospect, my answer to that question was what turned the interview in my favor. He was sold. He recommended that the CFO hire me. He did. So although I think it’s a lame question these days, you still need to nail the answer.