“So, where do you see yourself x years from now?”
When an interviewer asks this question, he is looking for an answer that involves some degree of logical advancement from the position you are interviewing for while still being employed within the same organization.
An interviewer wants to see if you are motivated enough to advance and not just going to come in every day and be a clock puncher. He also wants to know if they can offer you advancement opportunities should you become a top contributor to the team rather than losing you to another company. The time they spend training new employees is an investment not just for the current role but also a baseline of skills and knowledge for higher ranking positions.
If a candidate cannot answer this question or answers it in a way that shows unpreparedness, it tells the interviewer that the candidate submitted their application as more of a “spray and pray” approach of finding a job rather than a legitimate interest in joining the specific company or passion for the work that they do.
Keep in mind though that bombing this question does not mean you are a definite no-hire. That’s not the case at all. Through the course of interviewing, each question plays a small part in the decision to hire. If a candidate that is an awesome fit for the job gives a brown-noser answer to this question, there’s a good chance they will still be hired. Most interviewers will just accept the potential flight risk as part of the assessment process or for young candidates (i.e., those right out of school), understand they might lack direction at this stage of their career.
Some good answers to this question:
- If you were interviewing for an IT helpdesk role, you’d want an answer that is along the lines of either managing the helpdesk team or a more technical role like a researcher.
- If you were interviewing for a dishwasher position in a restaurant, you’d say something like line cook, head chef, etc.
- If you were interviewing for a car salesman job, your line of thought would be manager of the sales team or even another department within the same dealership.
Remember that this question is asked to gauge your motivation and maturity level. Anyone that can’t answer this question is a risk at leaving the company in the near term and that costs the company money. A slight consideration is given to upcoming or recent graduates that have no work experience but they should still be able to answer this question in a general sense. For example, they could answer “I could see myself in a leadership role someday but I will get a better sense for exactly what form of leadership once I get my feet on the ground and some experience under my belt.”
If your response doesn’t quite line up with the logical organization progression, be prepared to connect the dots for the interviewer. You could say “I want to be a senior financial analyst with your firm. I realize the position I’m applying for is engineering but I believe getting a firm grasp on the costs associated with the products we build will make me a stronger candidate and better contributor to modeling our budgets and quotas, and progressing to a senior engineering role before making that transition is how I foresee my career path at this time.”
What a lot of people often forget while interviewing is that the process is just as much about showing your qualifications as it is about showing how much better of a hire you would be than the rest of the equally qualified candidates that applied, and someone that has a clear goal they are striving for will likely work harder to advance than someone that doesn’t.