Most interviewer's won't expect you to have a specific, step-by-step response for the "Where do you see yourself ..." question. Instead, they generally want to know one thing: "Does this role fit into your longer-term career goals?"
Of course, if you really do view the role for which you're interviewing as just a random and unrelated step on your career path, then perhaps it's time to give some serious thought to your search strategy as well as your professional goals.
Hopefully though, the position you applied for plays a clear role in your bigger plan. So how can you communicate that to an interviewer?
Don't get hung up on the title
Nobody is expecting that you'll have your five-years-from-now title, department name, or team size all planned out and ready to go. What an interviewer will want to hear is how you see yourself growing not just as a professional, but also how you see yourself growing in this particular role at this particular organization.
For example, if you're interviewing for a communications associate position, here are a few things you may imagine for yourself five years down the road:
- A role that grows to encompass marketing responsibilities in addition to communications.
- Opportunities and invitations to feature your communications expertise to internal staff as well as externally on panels and in workshops.
- Working with stakeholders across your organization, perhaps even operating as more of an "in-house" communications shop.
Connect the dots for the interviewer
If, when explaining your five year plan, you don't use language that clearly signals to an interviewer that you hope to still be with the organization (or at least connected to the organization in a significant way), then you're missing the mark.
Be sure to communicate the following in order to show your interviewer that this is a role and an organization in which you plan to really plant some roots and grow:
- You're passionate about the organization's issue area.
- This is an important and natural next step based on your skills, experience, and professional goals.
- Use specific language and buzz words that will resonate with the interviewer. While the connection between your five-year goal and the position for which you're interviewing may be obvious to you, it may not be quite so obvious to an interviewer; don't be shy about pointing out (and reiterating) how it all fits together.
Pro Tip: If you do go down a path of naming specific departments in which you'd like to end up five years from now, be sure that these departments actually exist at the organization with which you're interviewing.
Don't be a threat
If the person interviewing you would be your supervisor should you land the job, the last thing you want to do is get them thinking that if hired, you'd be gunning for their position and their ultimate departure from the organization.
Interviewing with the head of the department? Don't mention you're plan for becoming the next department head. Interviewing for a role on a large team? Don't talk about your long-term ideas for restructuring or downsizing. You get the idea.
Get more tips from our Interview Q&A series.
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As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.