In the not-too-distant past, this question used to be, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But with the ever-evolving and quickly changing business environment in which we live today, the timeframe has often been shortened because most people realize that so much can happen in five years – entire industries can be born or become defunct.
That’s why one year is a more credible question. At the same time, it’s a little riskier for the interviewee, because the timeframe isn’t long enough to offer tons of move-up potential….which is fine: The default poor answer used to be “in your job,” which either could make the interviewer admire the applicant’s drive or make them fear for their own career!
There are two ways not to answer this question: The first is by implying that you want to be in a much-higher position. Here’s why: it’s not that you don’t want to demonstrate that you have drive or aspirations. It’s that the interviewers may hesitate to hire you if they think you will immediately outgrow the job, or be looking for greener pastures, because then they have to start this process again. And that is exhausting. Also, depending on how secure they personally feel, they might worry about hiring someone who appears to be too ambitious. That might make them look bad, or put them out of a job.
At the same time you don’t want to behave as though you’re expecting to languish where you are. Every interviewer wants to see that you have the determination to succeed and advance. So, saying something like, “Just starting to make my mark,” or “Finally figuring out the ropes” – even if you are kidding – is bound to make a poor impression.
So what do you say?
Here’s one rather disarming technique that can work depending on how comfortable you are feeling during the interview. Maybe turn the question around, and say “That’s a great question and I’ll come back to it, but it reminded me that I was meaning to ask more about how advancement works around here. What did the department look like last year?”
That’s a crafty way to get more information on how or why people have moved up or out – and might even give you an inside track on what happened to your predecessor if you don’t yet know. It also might give you a glimpse into what your interviewer was doing a year ago, if they were in the same job or had recently been promoted as well. Allowing them to keep talking and give more background can not only help you assess if the department is right for you, but can also give you the chance to see the type of answer that might work best.
After they’ve answered and turned back to you, you can take the information they offered and figure out the best response. If everyone seems to be moving up quickly, you can take that as your cue that they value ambition and quick moves, and you can position yourself as eagerly motivated to take advantage of the climate of a growing company or division. That’s the time to say that you are eager to learn as much as you can about the position and division and use your skills where they fit best – whether it’s at your current level or if a greater level of responsibility is needed, you are ready for that.
If they answer that everyone was pretty much in the same spot, then that is your hint that they probably won’t be impressed by you immediately stating your move-up intentions. At that point, you can phrase your answer to be more along the lines of, “I look forward to learning as much as I can about the position and fitting in well with the team. I am delighted to be joining a team that seems so cohesive and that works together well.” The best strategy here is to treat the current team as one that is in their positions by choice and show how you can fit into that structure — that you are willing to be a loyal team member as the others have demonstrated themselves to be.
The bottom line is that it’s important to convey that you are committed to the position you are applying for and not expecting to immediately move on to bigger or better things, which just creates a headache for the interviewer. At the same time, you want to show that you are goal oriented and intend to bring as much as you can to the position. They want to feel assured that you are interested in that particular position and that company and have thought through some possible aspirations.
So make sure when you answer the question to mention how enthusiastic you feel about joining the team, and how eager you are to master the basics of your position first, and then your desire to add on other challenging aspects, whether it’s project work or assisting others in the department. By showing your conviction to your job description first, and then adding that you are always looking to grow and obtain new skills, you demonstrate that you are the type of employee that every company is looking for.
by Cathie Ericson