Three steps to nailing this interview question
Navigating the notorious “Where do you see your career in five years?” question in an interview demands strategic thinking. Denis Galvin, Partner at Barden, shares his top tips for crafting a compelling answer to turn this common interview hurdle into an opportunity to showcase your strategic vision and ambition for career success.
Beyond the answer to your biggest personal weakness, failing to give a good answer to the common interview question, “Where do you see your career in five years?” is the next sure-fire way to ruin a great interview. We all know it’s a common question during interviews, so why aren’t we better at answering it?
When you’ve interviewed as many people as I have, the answer to this question can come out as bland, vague and usually accompanied by a few ‘ahhs’, ‘umms’ and false starts, giving the impression you have not given a great deal of thought to your ambitions but, instead, came up with an answer you think I would want to hear.
However, as a recruiter, it leads me to wonder: if this is how you go about planning your career, is this how you would go about running a department?
Here are three ways you can prepare yourself to answer this age-old interview question and get it right.
1. Tailor it to the role you’re interviewing for: imagine a ‘future you’
The fact is, not many of us have clear career plans. We might have an idea of an end goal, but rigorous, self-directed career planning, although advised, is rarely done. Most of us rely on the organisation we work for to define this for us.
If you don’t have a clear ambition, all you need to do is imagine a ‘future you’ within the context of the role you are interviewing for.
What has been said about career progression within this new organisation or the people you’d be reporting to? Is there a typical career path already defined you could use to shape your answer? If it’s a flat organisation with not much room for upward progression, what potential lateral moves could you make? Is there a particular area you don’t have experience in and would like to develop skills in?
Possible answer: “You’ve told me quite a lot about your career pathways. What is important for me is that I can build a toolkit of skills to enhance my overall performance as a finance manager. Therefore, in five years, I like to think that I would have proven my value and received the opportunity to move into a leadership role in commercial finance, an area in which I currently have limited exposure.”
2. Take control: set your own milestones that speak to the needs of the business
Think about the role you’re interviewing for. Does it entail a two-, three- or five-year plan? Will long-term planning be a part of the role? If it is, then in five years, you will have delivered the objectives contained in the business plan of the organisation for which you are interviewing.
If they are talking about long-term change or business transformation, how does the role in question feed into these larger programmes, and how can you use this information to visualise the ‘future you’?
Possible answer: “This role clearly has an important mandate, which is to support the delivery and adoption of the three transformation initiatives you have spoken about, which you anticipate will take four to five years. I would like to think that, nearing the end of this period, with regular communication with my superiors, I would be able to define my next career move, depending on the strategic priorities or needs of the business.”
3. Above all, be clear, concise and confident
Clarity and precision of thought are essential when answering any interview question. Someone who shows a lack of ambition at an interview is unlikely to be successful. Even if you are ambitious, but you fluff this up, you will appear as though you have not given your career enough thought, which may raise serious (if unjustified) questions over your capacity as a leader.
However you decide to approach this question, ensure you give it some serious preparation.
If it’s a question that makes you feel uncomfortable, practise until it feels natural.
Whether you record yourself, get your partner or friend to ask you the question, or write it out and learn it, become comfortable with your answer and how you want to say it.