Hiring a new employee requires a lot of recourse. It includes advertising for the position, seeking resumes, spending valuable recourse and time in shortlisting candidates and then calling the same for the actual interview. To make matters worse, this is just the beginning. Conducting the interview itself is a cumbersome process and requires a lot of investment of human resources and infrastructure to be able to ensure that the same goes about in a flawless manner.
Once a candidate is selected, the next big thing to do is train him or her so that the person is fit for the job. This again requires a lot of resources. Selecting an inappropriate candidate would mean investing the company's resources on something that will not give the due results. Hence it is important for companies to select an appropriate candidate.
Now it is important to note that a candidate may be very talented but may not be fit for a particular position. One way by which HR executives are able to gauge the calibre of a person with respect to the position that he is applying for is through the classical question of 'where does one see himself or herself 5 years down the line'.
Understanding The Question
Like every other question that is asked in an HR interview, there is no ‘right' or ‘wrong' way of answering this question. It can only be said that one way is more appropriate than the other. But before we go into what is appropriate and what is not, it is important that we understand what the interviewer wants to know from you. He or she is definitely not interested in lame jokes about how you will be at the other end of the table in a matter of five years or how you want to pursue a post graduate degree.
They also do not want to know the detailed schemes about you getting promotions within the company. All that they want to know is whether you are going to stay in your new position. Whether your long term professional goals align with that of the company is something that is of prime importance to them.
The Inappropriate Way
1. Unjust Goals
Saying, "I see myself as a VP of your company in five years" just makes you look dumb. It emphasizes that you know nothing about the corporate culture and that you are someone who lives in a world of dreams. As this question of where you see yourself in a time span of 5 years is a trick question, it is important that you are both vague and realistic while answering the same. Do not cross the line and become overtly unrealistic.
2. Shifting To Some Other Company
Saying, "I see myself in XYZ Company" when you are applying for a position in ABC Company is a big ‘no-no'. It just tells that you intend to use the company as a stone to reach greater heights. No one wanted to be a mere stone. Also if XYZ is a rival company for ABC, saying you want to join XYZ will cancel out all the chances you had of getting a job in ABC.
3. Choosing Some Other Domain Of Work
If someone who is applying for the post of a Chartered Accountant says that he wants to be a singer in five years of time, chances of him getting hired to the firm are practically nonexistent. Make sure your long term goals align with that of the position that you are applying for. In case they do not, try to make it look like they do. Remember that is the only way in which you can get the job.
The Appropriate Way
1. Mention A Relevant Skill Set
By saying, "As an architect I want to develop my skill set. At the end of five years I should be able to .. (Fill in appropriate details that are relevant to your profession)", you are actually shifting the employer's focus to the fact that you are a dynamic person and are willing to learn. Remember that it is this sort of people who get hired most easily.
2. Mentioning How Your Past Experience Can Help You In The Next Five Years
If you are in for a career change, the best way to answer this tricky question will be to emphasize how your past can shape your future. Saying something like, "I am applying for a creative writing position because I feel that my technical background will come to my aid here. In five years of time I aim to develop and grow my creative skill set in this entry level position. I feel right now my legal background gives me an edge that I would not have if I hadn't started my career in a totally different industry. My long term goal will be to become an asset to your company as a skillful content writer" will work wonders and might well land you with a job.
3. Use Of Company Information
This requires appropriate research and is highly subjective. If you can mention details about the position that is realistic and valuable it will show that you are actually keen about getting the job and that you have invested due time and effort in the same. This shows your commitment to the company and chances are that it will land you the job that you have always wanted.
Sailing Through It All
Now it is important to realize that no one can predict the future and that it is not possible for anyone to know exactly where he or she will stand 5 years down the line. The employers do not expect you to know this either. But the way you answer this question gives away a lot on your take in life and that is why this question is all the way more important to them. So prepare this question well, and you will be amazed at the results this small step will have on your career.