You’re cruising through the job interview like a pro. You know you’re right for this role, and you’re fairly confident that you’ll be shortlisted at the very least.
Then, out of the blue, the recruiters ask you the question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Will you be ready with an answer that improves your chances, or are you about to crash and burn?
To give the right kind of answer to this question, it makes sense to give the matter some thought in advance. Presumably, that’s why you’re reading this article.
So, what’s this question all about, what is the recruiter looking for, and can you answer this question honestly? Let’s look at how a software developer can navigate this tricky question and ace that interview.
Why They Ask Where You See Yourself in 5 Years?
Your answer to this question tells the company a lot about whether you’ll be a good fit for the role you’re applying for.
Staff turnover is inevitable, but nobody wants to hire a software engineer only to have them resign in a couple of months or even in the next year or two.
At the same time, they want to know whether you’ve got realistic ambitions for the future of your career. Note the “realistic.”
It’s all-too-common for young software engineers entering the jobs market to have unrealistic expectations regarding their career development.
At the same time, they don’t want someone who doesn’t care about their own, or the company’s advancement – someone who is just there for the paycheck and whose mind is elsewhere most of the time.
You need to strike a balance with this one. Being overly ambitious is a red flag. If you don’t progress per the expectations you expressed, you might become disengaged from your work.
If you don’t have any ambitions or expectations beyond landing the job, you may lack imagination, drive, and enthusiasm.
Tough call? You bet. But a little preparation can see you delivering a very good answer, and you can be truthful at the same time. Of course, if you’re planning to go back to college or switch careers, it may be best to leave that unsaid.
That’s not quite the same as lying, but it may be best to ask yourself whether you might really abandon your plan if you land the job and are able to excel in it.
If so, what kind of scenario would keep you in the job? If not, fast-tracking your plans may be a better solution for both you and the company.
Remember, it’s going to affect the impression your resume makes if you leave gaps or if you seem to skip from job to job. Recruiters are looking for stable employees, not “career butterflies.”
Supposing you really are keen on landing the job and hope that it will lead you towards steady career progression, crafting your response will be much easier.
Before Your Interview: Prepare Yourself by Giving This Question Serious Thought
Just as recruiters are serious when they ask you this question, you should be serious about answering it. What if they don’t ask it all? Preparing is still a worthwhile exercise.
Knowing what you can contribute and what you’ll do with the knowledge and experience you might gain is great. It will tell you whether this job is really right for you.
Find out as Much as You Can About the Company
There’s a difference between people who just want a job, any job, and ones that approach companies with a strong desire to work for that particular firm because they love what it does.
If you were a recruiter, which would you prefer to hire? You might even pass up an application by an extremely skilled candidate with lots of experience in favor of a less experienced software engineer who is highly motivated to become part of your team.
Check out the company: who works for it, what they do, and what their claim to fame is. Look for the things you like about this company and reflect it back in your response to the question of where you see yourself in five years.
For example, you might say something along the lines of “Gaining a position with your company would definitely be a high point in my career. I love the fact that you achieved X and I believe that developing my skills (specify) with your company would prepare me to advance to the next level.”
This is pretty brief and there’s more you could add to this depending on what the company does and how it works.
The more “insider” knowledge of the company you demonstrate as an outsider, the more obvious it becomes to recruiters that you are absolutely serious about getting this particular job, and not just any old software engineering job with whoever is willing to hire you.
Read the Job Description or Advertised Requirements Very Carefully
Just as reflecting on the company, what it does, and why you might be motivated to work there in the long-term will help you with crafting your response, reflecting the job requirements will be helpful.
Would you hire someone who has no real desire to develop the skills you stipulated in the description of the role? Probably not!
Recruiters spend a lot of time crafting job descriptions and job ads, so their thoughts are clues you should pick up on.
Which areas are your best ones? Which areas will represent an opportunity to develop as a person and as a software developer? This is your opportunity to highlight your skills as well as the areas that represent an opportunity for growth.
Here’s an example of how you can build out on your response after studying the job ad: “My experience with Python has, I believe, prepared me well for this role, but I’m especially excited about your DevOps approach. Working in a multi-disciplinary team will help me to understand user perspectives better, and in time, I can see myself becoming a team leader if I apply myself to this role.”
Not keen on becoming a team leader? That’s OK too. Perhaps you can spot an area of expertise in which you can become a specialist. Think about job-related specialties that excite you and that will make you a better software engineer that you can develop, and use that instead.
For instance: “I love my work, but I don’t really want to be a team leader. Instead, I’d like to become an expert in (area of specialization). This post seems to present an ideal opportunity to do just that. ”
Or “I’m already seen as an expert in (specialty), but I’m ready for a new challenge, and in five years, I’m confident that I can add (software engineering or people-related skill) to my range of strengths, particularly if I have the privilege of working for your company.”
How much can you grow your career in just five years? Realistically, you might be able to advance a little in the company hierarchy – or you might be able to develop your skills to an advanced level.
But sweeping statements that indicate unrealistic expectations aren’t going to do you any favors. Think it through. Give it your best shot.
Reflect who you are and who you want to be rather than what you think recruiters want to hear.
Highlight Some of the Qualities That Will Get You There
If you think that just being there is enough to secure the position and advancement in the company, think again. Software engineering is a competitive field. What makes you competitive?
What qualities will help you to reach the career goal you’re going to talk about? Will you bring all your creativity to the table? Can you give an example?
Are you particularly good at team work? Are you dedicated and hard working? Don’t forget to include that.
For instance: “I believe that my positive attitude, persistence and drive to succeed could ultimately lead me to…”
Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This
In their efforts to impress recruiters, or in the (often mistaken) belief that they’re actually doing a company a favor by applying for a post, many job applicants succeed in alienating recruiters.
When answering “Where do you see yourself in five years,” avoid these common pitfalls.
Buttering Them Up
While you want the company’s recruiters to know that you like the business, don’t overdo the flattery. Keep it real. Be professional. If you honestly are a big fan and have been for years, feel free to say so.
If it’s a new business and you’re excited about the concept, tell them about it. But don’t be insincere. It’s going to show.
Delivering a Non-Answer
Remember that you’re being asked where you see yourself in 5 years has a purpose. Don’t defeat that purpose.
Give the recruiters a genuine insight into who you are and where you think you’re going in your career. Try to match it with what that company does. Elaborate on that.
Even if you think that the company will be lucky to gain you as an employee, don’t say so. Remain humble. That doesn’t mean you have to be overly diffident.
But this is not the time to boast. You don’t know where you’ll be in 5 years. Nobody does. Use this question as an intellectual exercise and an exercise in realism.
Remember that you hope to serve the company and that you’re just one of several applicants, some of whom may possess very similar software engineering skills, or even better ones, than you do.
It’s an opportunity for you. Whether employing you is an opportunity for them is up to your recruiters to decide.
There’s almost always somebody “better” than you. What you need to demonstrate is that you might be a better fit even if there’s a learning curve.
Being Too Specific
If you’re too specific in your ambitions, you might be guilty of being unrealistic. After all, although you might like the idea of rising to project management, there’s no saying whether you’ll actually achieve that in just five years – especially if you’re an entry-level applicant.
Try to keep your response fairly open-ended. Indicate that you hope for career growth, but try to avoid mentioning specific roles.
Saying you hope to learn and develop to a certain point and see yourself benefitting from that is far better than saying “I see myself as a project manager or COO!”
Telling Them Straight Out That They’re a Stepping-Stone to Greater Things
If you’re a talented software developer who is just starting out, you can expect rapid career advancement. But often, you’ll be using jobs as stepping-stones, advancing to higher positions by actually switching roles and even switching companies if you seem to be stagnating.
Maybe you even see yourself as having your own business in five years’ time. It’s a dream you should keep quiet about. Who wants to train a potential future competitor?
Certainly not the company you’re hoping to work for right now. And in all honesty, will you really want to switch jobs or strike out on your own in the next five years?
You have no idea what your circumstances will be. Concentrate on the job at hand and how that might help you to reach your goals within that company. At the same time, think about what you can bring to the table.
Being Unimaginative and Unenthusiastic
“In five years’ time, I want to be in the job you’re advertising right now.” Bad answer! It makes you sound like a little gray person with almost zero ambition. Even if you do think you’re going to be in that job, try for a little enthusiasm:
“Right now, I see this as being my dream job. I can see myself in this post five years from now, but I know it will help me to develop my skills, so I expect my capabilities to have advanced substantially.
I hope to be able to tackle much more challenging projects by that time.” Add something about the software engineering skills you think you can gain. Demonstrate your understanding of what the company does, and that could be quite a good answer even though it’s not exactly one that reaches for the stars.
Just Needing a Job
There are lots of people out there who just need a job – any job. The fact that you have software engineering skills is a plus, but no company wants employees who are only in it for the sake of payday.
No matter how badly you need the job, keep your personal circumstances out of the picture. They want the right employees. You want the right job. How can you align these two goals?
Extra Tips: “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years”
Use Your Preparation to Benefit You
First up, being prepared for this question is important, even if it’s never asked. Your preparation forces you to think about your future, why you’re applying for this particular software engineering job, and what getting it might do for your career.
You’ll also develop a clearer picture of what your ideal job might be, and if this one doesn’t suit you, perhaps another one will. The bottom line? Know what you’re really looking for.
Emphasize Growth and How That May Benefit an Employer
There’s no job on earth you can’t learn from, and software engineering jobs offer more opportunities for personal and professional growth than most. Recognize and respect this. Reflect it in your answer. Keep it as broad as possible.
No, you don’t necessarily expect to be a team leader, a project manager or the COO in 5 years. But maybe you’ll be skilled enough to take the lead, either in technical skill, or in leading teams in certain areas once you’ve applied yourself.
Use Your Answer in Your Covering Letter
Resumes should be very nuts and bolts oriented. What can you do? What’s your training? What’s your experience?
You can tailor them to specific job applications, ensuring greater emphasis on the skills the company expects from a software engineer – but your covering letter gives you a chance to shine.
Since you’ve given the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” some intensive thought and have tried to relate that to the company you’re applying at, you have extra inspiration for your covering letter. Use it!
Use Two Concepts in Your Answer
Finally, if you are asked where you see yourself in 5 years during an interview, use a basic structure to answer this question.
First, think about the job you’re applying for and how it might advance your career, and second, talk about how that growth might benefit both you and the company. Who doesn’t like a win-win situation?
Treat the Answer to “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years” as a Way To Understand Yourself
In the hustle and bustle of day-to-day-life, we’re often more focused on the needs of the moment than we are on our dreams for the future.
Even if the real answers to this aren’t likely to please recruiters, it’s worth thinking about them for your own sake.
Is the path you’re on going to lead to fulfillment? Is software engineering really a field you want to be in? If not, what are you going to do about it? If so, where are you going with it?
Enlighten yourself about what you really want from your work life. Once you have achievable goals, you’ll be better able to develop the career path that leads you to them!