Interview question of the week: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time, start here. Or, see all my posts about interview questions you should definitely be prepared for.

Prepping for certain interview questions is a no-brainer. Seriously, the best way to fail an interview is to go in without any preparation! One interview question that’s frequently asked is where you see yourself in x amount of years. It could be two, it could be five, or it could be ten.

You need to have some kind of answer prepared for this question. This question will not get you the job, but it can certainly lose you the job. I myself have asked this question during the many interviews I conducted when I was managing the help desk at my company. (I usually ask where someone sees themselves in ten years.)

You would be surprised at some of the answers I got:

“I see myself owning a food truck.”

“I see myself retired.”

“I see myself dedicating myself to my music full time.”

“I see myself either as a senior network administrator or a senior systems’ administrator. I haven’t decided which one yet, but those are the two paths that really interest me. As I continue to learn about the field, I’ll be able to make a more educated decision.”

Pro tip: your answer should look less like the first three and more like the last one!

The IT field is very unforgiving to people who are not actually interested in IT. Really, it’s more than a full time job – if you’re not learning on your own time, you’ll quickly fall behind and struggle. This really isn’t a field where you can coast. So, when you answer this question with any answer that doesn’t indicate that you’re into IT whole-hog, you’re sending the interviewer the wrong message.

Here are messages you don’t want to send:

  • Please hire me. I need a job. Any job.
  • I’m not into IT, but I am into the high salary I’ve been told I could make.
  • I’m doing this short term. I want to make seed money for what I really want to do.
  • If you hire me, I’ll be gone in two years.

Just like in any other field, the person interviewing you wants to know you’re interested in the field, you’re here to stay, and you’re motivated by the work you’re interviewing for. Here are examples of the right message to send:

  • IT is my passion. At home, you’ll find me fine-tuning my computer, reading blogs about the latest tech news, or tinkering with a Rasberry Pi.
  • This is my career choice. I see myself doing this until I retire.
  • From what I’ve researched on your company (you did research it, didn’t you?) it seems there’s a career ladder here. I want to climb that ladder. Because I’m ambitious. And motivated.
  • If you hire me, you’ll be hiring an IT Rockstar.

So, how should you actually answer the question? Well, only you know the specifics of where you see yourself in the future, but here’s a sample answer.

In ten years, I see myself working in information security. Ideally, I’d get there by spending two years at the help desk learning the ropes. After that, I’d orient myself towards learning systems administration. I noticed from your posting that you use SCCM here. I’m particularly interested in learning about that. After some years improving my skillset in system administration, I think at that point I’d have enough knowledge and experience to pivot to cyber security.

Let’s break down this answer. The first sentence indicates that you’re in the field long term. The rest of the answer shows that you’ve actually spent time thinking about it, as evidenced by the fact that you have a plan. And better yet, it’s a realistic plan. Your answer shows you’re ambitious and motivated. You understand that you have to work your way up, but you don’t want to be in IT support forever. You understand the road you need to take, and you’re not looking to take any short cuts. This answer shows you have a well thought out plan, and getting hired by this company fits in perfectly with that plan.

I understand that in this day and age, you may not be with the same company for your entire career. You know that, I know that, and the person interviewing you knows that. But let that be the elephant in the room that no one talks about. Go into that interview thinking that this is the company you’ll be with for the foreseeable future.

Because if all goes well it will be!