We have all been in an interview and things are going reasonably well. You can't get the best read on what the interviewer is thinking but you know that s/he does not completely hate you. Just when you're feeling confident, they throw out that question that you have heard a thousand times before and you never know how to answer it the right way. You spew out a bunch of sentences that you hope will form an audible answer but it's a crap shoot.
I am going to take up a few blogs and explore some of these questions, how to approach them, how to prepare for them and, more importantly, why the hell do they ask these questions in the first place .
"Where do you want to be in 5 years?"
It is one of those questions that a hiring manager will ask and wants a direct answer but what the answer is, does not matter as much as how you answer it. I recently wrote a blog about 'the message' that you are trying to deliver. My point in that blog is that it is not always about what you say, but how you say it. That is what this cookie cutter question is all about.
There are many different ways to successfully answer this question but only one way to blow it – not have an answer. If the first word out of your mouth is "err" or "ahh" – you're all done. Just pack it up and walk out. If your answer is, "Jeeze, I never thought about it," give them a fist bump and move on. Let's be honest, no one has a crystal ball and knows where they will be in 5 years – but you have an idea of what you'd like to be in the future. That's where your answer should start.
First, let's talk about why they are asking this question. They simply want to find out if you have direction. That's it. Do you know where you are going in life? Are you steering the ship or are you along for the ride? Employers are looking for drivers, not riders. Put yourself in their shoes – do you want someone who is going to sit around and wait to be told what to do OR do you want someone who will always be busy and taking initiative? They simply want to know if you are proactive or reactive.
Now, let's figure out how to answer this, here is the secret: answer the question honestly. Tell them who you want to be and it does not have to be professionally. Remember, it's not about what you say, it's how you say it. If you are confident and you have a plan – they will accept it. The answer can be, "I want to be a good husband to my wife and father to my kids. I want to be in a home with a yard and continuing to advance myself professionally." Simple and general and most importantly, honest. Here's another, "I want to be a top producer in this company and I plan on doing that by following the training and looking to you (interviewer) as my mentor." This is a little intense but it is very direct and ambitious. The interviewer will not question your dedication to advancement and will probably move onto HOW you plan to accomplish that.
So, the next time you are in an interview just remember that there is no cookie cutter answer to this cookie cutter question. However you decide to answer, you have to own it and make it your answer…it is your future after all. Take a few moments and write down a few things that you would like to accomplish in the next few years and how you plan to accomplish them. Make them simple and attainable goals and make sure that they are important to you. Do not do it because you want to be ready for an interview but do it because you want to set real goals. Without goals, you are just along for the ride and who knows where that will lead you?! It is more fun to steer the ship than it is to be strapped in the passenger seat.