Why we ask:
Recruiters ask the “where do you see yourself in five years” question for a couple of reasons. We ask because we want to know what motivates you. We love candidates with the core technical expertise our clients and hiring managers seek, but in addition, look for candidates with passion, drive and aspirations.
We know the hiring landscape has changed a lot in recent times and an employee staying with a company for more than 3 years is now the exception as opposed to the rule, but when we recruit, we hope that our clients and hiring managers will provide the right environment for you to grow. We hope they (and their colleagues) will do everything reasonably possible to retain you if you are good at your job.
During an interview, we look for an early indication of commitment from you. Asking the “where do you see yourself in five years” question is just one of the many ways try to find out if you will be keen to learn, grow and contribute to our client’s growth in some capacity for at least the medium term.
When we ask, we do not typically look for a right or wrong answer (although a few Recruiters may), we generally look for insights, we look for hidden information – information that reveals a lot more about you than our technical questions would. It is important to note that we also look to see if our clients and hiring managers can potentially match your aspirations as it is a two way process.
There is no point in us progressing with your application if your aspiration is to be a professional chef in one of the finest restaurants in the world in 12 months and you are applying for an IT Manager role we know would progress to an IT Director role in the same period of time. It will be a disservice to you, us and of course our clients and hiring managers.
The above example is extreme, but we see it every day. We know many of you have plans – great plans, so we want to know how adaptable they are and if they are suited to our employer or maybe better suited to a different employer. If we are in external consulting, we would sometimes direct you to a different employer who can provide you with the platform to achieve your personal and professional goals.
The five year question gives us a platform to probe further, to discuss with you, to determine if you are right for our client/hiring manager or not. More importantly, it gives you an opportunity to ask us questions too. There is nothing wrong in asking us to elaborate on any of our questions, after all an interview is a two way conversation, or at least a good one should be.
But candidates don’t always like it:
The challenge however is that more often than not, the “where do you see yourself in five years” question is asked in a very vague way by some of us – without any context. As an external Recruiter, I received this feedback from many candidates interviewing with other Recruiters. This is why it is reputed to be one of the most difficult questions to answer. The unanimous feeling is that it makes some of you uneasy when asked without a follow up explanation or an indication of what we are trying to find out.
To my fellow Recruiters:
Candidates may be acquainted with the responsibilities of the role they are interviewing for and clear on its reporting structures. They may have done their research on the potential employer’s current operation and read the latest news on their investment interests and how it relates to the role, but it is still unfair for this question to be posed without firsthand information on how the role is likely to evolve.
It is only logical for us to have prior discussions with candidates about the expectations of the role and give them all the relevant information they need to know before the question is asked, especially if we are looking for a right or wrong answer.
The question should be adapted to interview situations and put into specific contexts where possible. Giving candidates detailed information about the company’s growth strategy, clients, customers or technology would help put the question into perspective and provide a platform for the provision of more accurate answers.
It may be helpful to first discuss the goals of the company, describe the purpose of a role, how it sits within a department and the rest of the business, why the role has become available and the likely challenges it will face. At this point it okay to ask how the person would support the company’s goals if they take it on and what plans they may have/suggest to ensure an overall positive impact. Their response will give a clearer picture of how they analyse situations and what they may potentially bring to the role.
Should we decide to ask this question, we need to keep in mind that not everyone has a definite five year plan. In addition, not having a five year plan doesn’t necessarily mean not having relevant passion, drive or aspirations. The “where do you see yourself in five years” question, in specific contexts should provide a part of the overall picture. We should focus less on right or wrong answers and more on how the question is answered – the structure, content and how it relates to the role and our client.
As a past/current interviewee or interviewer, what is your experience?