Job Search Tip of the Week #14 (2018)


How to Ace Your First-Round (or Really, Just About Any) Interview

Think Like an Interviewer – Q8

Great Scott! You don’t need a DeLorean time machine to successfully tackle this commonly asked interview question: What do you expect to be doing five years from now?

This question may seem fairly straightforward, but in reality it’s a tricky one to answer – particularly sans DeLorean – because after all, don’t the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry? So who really knows where they’ll end up in five years?

Many job seekers struggle with talking certainly about the uncertain. But your interviewer isn’t looking for someone who has the future they envisioned for themselves set in stone. Your interviewer wants to know:

  • What your career ambitions are. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Sorry Doc, but you might be wrong on that one. You’ll never get anywhere unless you know (or have a basic idea of) where you want to be. What career pit stops do you have in mind, and what’s your final destination? What are some steps you’ve taken/can take to get there? Interviewers want to hear that you’ve not only thought about your long-term career goals, but also acted on them.
  • Why you want the job. You definitely don’t want to say anything along the lines of “You pay good money,” “You have great benefits,” or “I’m applying everywhere and will take what I can get.” Employee turnover is costly, so hiring managers are on the lookout for job hoppers or candidates who will bite as soon as another company dangles a bigger carrot. Show you’re a worthwhile investment for the company by talking about how the job you’re interviewing for aligns with your short- and long-term career goals, how you plan on contributing to their work (and what about it interests you), and how you plan on growing with their team over the next couple of years.
  • Whether your professional goals mesh with the company’s. What role does your prospective position have in achieving the organization’s mission and vision? What are the hiring manager’s priorities, and what role would you have in the success of that? Do your research beforehand, and what you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask – the interviewer will appreciate that you want to be on the same page, and then you’ll have the opportunity to address each point they make.
  • Whether you’re able to plan realistically. Candidates can talk themselves out of a job if they have an overly ambitious timetable. People look for upward mobility in a future employer, but most don’t expect to get promoted to a managerial or VP engineering position within five years of taking an entry-level software development job. Show you have the right attitude and work ethic by emphasizing that you have practical expectations for yourself and your prospective employer, and are excited about the work ahead.

In short, when answering this question, it helps to think of “What do you expect to be doing five years from now?” as “Describe the career trajectory you’ve designed for yourself. How does the job you’re interviewing for fit into that map?” Thus your response should be composed of three components:

  • The future. Where do you hope to be, and what do you hope to be doing?
  • The present. What are you doing currently, and what do you love about it?
  • The combination of the two. How does what you’re doing currently tie into what you hope to be doing in the future?

So for example, if you’re a Junior Ruby on Rails Developer, your response could start off like:

In five years, I’d love to have developed my programming skills enough that I’m able to accomplish two goals of mine: one, to mentor others in my craft; and two, to be agnostic and adaptable whether I’m doing web or mobile development.

First, I love what I do now. I’ve found that I really enjoy volunteering for Resilient Coders and teaching kids how to code. So in five years, I’d really like to continue doing hands-on development but be in a position to train developers who will be where I am now.

Second, in my current job I use RubyMotion to write cross-platform apps in Ruby. However I’m passionate about learning how to create native iOS apps and have been exploring Objective-C and Swift on my own. One of the reasons this position excites me is because it’s an environment where I can make an impact with my RoR/RubyMotion experience, all while moving in the direction I want to go professionally.

Not to mention, your team is working on a product I’m extremely interested in…

Unfortunately, there isn’t a plug-and-play response template for this interview question. But you can’t go wrong when you 1) lay out about your long-term career plan, 2) mention what steps you’ve already taken towards attaining your goals, and 3) talk about how you see a mutually beneficial relationship between you and the job/company you’re interviewing for. Speak genuinely and confidently, and help the interviewer understand why they should hire you and how they’d benefit by being a part of your career journey.

Sound Off: What do you expect to be doing five years from now?

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