Where do you see yourself in 5 years (Interview Question)

This is tricky one because the wording tricks you into thinking about a role you might want to have in 5 years.

But the best answers actually focus on the journey you hope to take instead. So how do you stay authentic and true to yourself while not killing your chances right off the bat?

In this post, I’m going to share a formula I’ve come up with, that helps you avoid these traps, helps you stay genuine, and I’ll also give a sample answer so you can see the formula in action.

Watch it in action

The “Specific-to-Broad” framework

The trick is to break down the “5 years” in the interview question into 1-3 year intervals and say what you expect to be doing for each time frame.

When you talk about the first 1-2 years, you can be very specific because if you’ve done your research by going on glassdoor, connecting with professionals on LinkedIn, binge watching all of my videos 😏, you should have a good understanding of the day-to-day of the job.

Then, as you start to talk about years 3-5, there’s a lot more unknown, a lot more uncertainty, so your answer can become broader, and can focus more on the overall direction you see yourself heading towards.

This “specific-to-broad” approach helps you achieve several things:

  1. Helps you focus your answer on what you will be doing, instead of a specific title or role, because if you think about it, saying any title you expect to have in 5 years would be the wrong answer. Something too aggressive, they’ll think you’re a little pretentious and arrogant, say something too conservative, they might question your confidence and ability
  2. This approach gives you the opportunity to talk about the skills you want to develop within the next 5 years, thus showing your proactive nature, your willingness to learn new things about the company and industry
  3. As you’ll see in the example answer coming up, this formula signals to the interviewer that you’re willing to stay long term, given the right conditions, without saying those exact words out loud

Sample Answer

This is the answer I gave when I was interviewing for my first management consulting role based out of New York City.

Sure, so I actually had the opportunity to chat with a few alumni who currently work at EY, and I know first year consultants are generalists and can work on a variety of projects across different industries
So for the first 1-2 years, I really look forward to keeping an open mind, and absorbing as much industry-specific knowledge as I can, from my peers, from managers, from clients, no matter what type of project I’m put on
At the same time, I really hope to use the project management skills I developed during my consulting internship with KPMG that will hopefully make the project manager’s life a little bit easier
When I’m not staffed on an engagement, I’ll definitely be helping out on business development pitch decks for anyone who might need to help, and I think that’s a great opportunity for me to touch on even more industries
For the 2-3 years after that, I look forward to specializing in 1 business vertical and really expand my network and capabilities in that area
Not only will that help in my relationship building with clients, but I’d also be able to share my learnings with new first year consultants, new me’s, so to speak
I also hope to leverage my industry knowledge and client relationships at that point in time and take a more active part in pitching additional engagements
So to sum up, in 5 years I see myself exploring projects across different industries, specialize in 1 of the verticals by building up my capabilities there, and hopefully add value along each step of the way

Breaking down this sample answer

A few things to note about that sample answer to “where do you see yourself in 5 years”:

  1. Nowhere do I explicitly say “oh I’m going to be here 5 years later for sure, don’t you worry about that!” Instead, I say “I want to specialize in something here and really expand my capabilities in a given vertical”, highlighting my eagerness to learn about the business
  2. I talked about mentoring others and taking a more active role in pitching additional engagements. This conveys to the interviewer that I can see myself getting promoted without saying the exact titles and implicitly lets them know what my career goals are
  3. Finally, you’d notice I started off specific, I know new consultants start off as generalists, and ended my answer broad: I want to continue learning, specialize in 1 vertical, etc. This means I’m not backing myself into a corner

Need more interview tips?

Get ready for your next interview with my Common Interview Questions and Answers playlist!