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How to NOT answer "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Editor Note: I will now cross-post all my english and french content on and on my blog

Today we are answering...

The answer of course is to answer that you don't know

Predictions are hard, especially when they are about the future.

No seriously, the question is bad, it makes candidate incomfortable and doesn't typically bring out interesting and reliable information about the candidate.

Which is a problem, because that's the whole point of the interview.

In our case, the interviewer managed to make someone feel guilty about... loving his job and being good at it.

I love my job, and I'm good at it. But I don't have greater ambitions than where I am now.

He is afraid to answer honestly

I'm afraid if I say I see myself in my current position, I'll seem lazy and disengaged (I'm really not! I'm enthusiastic!)

I personally rank this is as a big fail from the interviewer side.

Some might be tempted to object that a good candidate should have canned answers ready for all kind of bullshit questions we throw at her

... but I absolutely disagree.

Being a good candidate should not be a second job

Remember back of the day where we didn't care much about usuability. We had our software, it was not perfect but it worked. Users complained that it was hard to use. From our side we complained that they were too lazy to RTFM.

Thing went on and on, and then we realized that the user is not trained or paid to use our software.

We are the professional and it's our job to think about usability and make sure we understand the user so much that we will remove the obstacles on her path before she can see it.

The same principle holds in a job interview

The candidate is neither trained nor paid to be a good candidate.

Her real job is to be a good developer, and that's what the interview should be all about.

The interviewer is the professional, he is paid for that, he can prepare things in advance. That's his job to think about what makes candidates uncomfortable for no value to the company. And get those obstacles out of the way.

The right way to ask this question is therefore to flip things on its head :

At our company, someone like you will have three typical paths to evolve on a timeframe from 5 year

  • Path A where loren ipsum...
  • Path B where loren ipsum...
  • Path C where loren ipsum....

Which one seems more attractive to you ?"

Doesn't that seem more manageable ?

How to help the interviewer do his job well

Alas in practice most interviewer don't have any formal training, and just go with the flow.

Hope is not lost though, because you can answer like this :

  • Q: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years ?
  • A: Well great question, that's exactly the kind of big picture questions I struggle with. In your experience, what would be the three paths someone like me can typically evolve in such a timeframe ?

And you can back to the previous story.

Top comments (8)

brense profile image
Rense Bakker

I work as a freelancer on projects and they still ask me this question sometimes lmao. My answer is: "In 5 years I will have forgotten all about this project, but I will carry the skills and experience with me, to help other teams and other companies to create valuable products. Just like I will do for you, if you hire me."

ricardogesteves profile image
Ricardo Esteves

Nice article, thanks for sharing it!

axel584 profile image

Bonega artikolo. Mi komencis pasigi tian intervjuon kaj viaj kolsiloj estas saĝaj πŸ˜‰
Tamen kiel kandidato mi Δ‰iam diris ke mi deziras plu esti programisto kaj post kvin jaroj, mi havos pli da kompetencoj kaj pli bone laboros 😁
Kelkaj firmaoj starigas tiun demandon por scii Δ‰u la kandidato povas evolui en tia firmao (se la kandidato deziras iĝi arΔ₯itekto kaj la firmao ne havas tian postenon, ili scios ke la kandidato deziros ŝanĝi post 5 jaroj)

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel πŸ•΅πŸ»β€β™‚οΈ Fayard

Koran dankon Axel !

pinotattari profile image
Riccardo Bernardini


axel584 profile image

Kompreneble ❀️

manchuck profile image
Chuck Reeves

"The interviewer is the professional, he is paid for that, he can prepare things in advance"

I disagree. Have you heard of the Peter Principal? TL;DR; "Employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another."

I have seen people promoted, not given any training on being a manager, and then thrown into interviewing people. I have been interviewed by Peters, who skirted close to violating discrimination laws. I had one interviewer who just introduced himself, sat me down in front of an air-gapped computer, and told me to write a WordPress plugin (I promptly walked out).

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel πŸ•΅πŸ»β€β™‚οΈ Fayard

Well, I'm making a statement of how things should be, not a description of how they actually are in the real world.