'Where do you expect to be in five years' time?' Tricky graduate interview question

When interviewers ask this they don't just want to know how ambitious you are. Find out about the response they are really looking for.

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You’ll feel much more confident in the run-up to your graduate job interview if you know that you’ve already thought through your answers to some of the tricky questions that are likely to come up. If you are asked the classic interview question ‘Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?’ aim to show that you are committed to your chosen career and the company, that you understand the professional career paths that will be open to you if you get the job, and that you are driven and willing to work hard.

How not to reply to the interview question, ‘Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?’

The following answers are best avoided: ‘Doing your job!’ ‘Working somewhere else!’ and ‘No idea – I haven’t thought that far ahead!’

Why is this unlikely to get you the graduate job that you want?

You need to strike a balance between enthusiasm and arrogance. Recruiters will be impressed if you come across as motivated and genuinely interested in the opportunity you’ve applied for. If you tell them you can’t imagine a long-term future in your chosen career, they will conclude you are not committed.

What is the graduate recruiter really asking?

How committed are you to this career and this company? How much do you understand about the career path ahead of you? How driven are you?

How to answer the question, ‘Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?’

Your research into the company’s culture will be helpful, as it will clarify your understanding of the personal qualities the organisation is looking for. You can also use this question to show you understand the key competences needed to be effective in the role you’re applying for and to progress in the organisation. If you are likely to need to undertake a professional qualification to progress, show that you understand the work that will be involved, and how long it will take.

Think about how to tailor your response to reflect the nature of the organisation, the sector, and your own experiences and skills. Specific details will impress. You could refer to the current work of the company, and talk about the roles you would hope to have in similar projects. Your response might be along the following lines, with extra detail to flesh it out: ‘By then, I will have obtained my professional qualification and I hope to be leading a team of colleagues on a major project, and progressing towards a senior project management role.’

You could also give examples of one or two goals that are not directly work-related. For example, if you have taken part in sporting events or charity fundraising while at university, explain that you hope to carry on with similar activities at work, perhaps joining a sports team with fellow employees, or supporting a charity that is backed by the company.

You can practise your answers to tricky interview questions using resources from our partners at Shortlist.Me .

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