The Career Mastery: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

denizDeniz Sasal (Executive MBA, 2013) currently works for PwC Consulting, and has started his own careers blog that will “share valuable insider information that most hiring managers wouldn’t share”.

We have been allowed to publish extracts from the blog. You can read more on

What a stupid question to ask… It really is…

Interviewer: Where you do you see yourself in 5 years?
Me: Well, I am going to tell you that I see myself at your company at a role where I contribute to the organization’s success… and you will not believe that I am genuine but then I will say that anyway because this is the only answer I know you are looking for…

In an ideal world, if you are interviewing with a highly professional company and highly professional hiring managers, they may not ask you this question; where do you see yourself in 5 years…

I hope they won’t. It’s meaningless and encourages the candidate to lie. It serves very little purpose. There are way better questions to understand a candidate’s commitment and loyalty.

But here is the thing… We are not living in an ideal world, and the chances that they will ask you this question is very high.

In fact, unfortunately, I was asked this question even when I interviewed for PwC Consulting 5 years ago. Worst of all, this question came directly from the partner himself. And no, not partner in charge of HR. But the partner in strategy consulting!

As I said, we are not living in an ideal world…

I am Deniz Sasal. I am a manager with PwC Consulting and for the past 10 years, I have been interviewing thousands of candidates as a hiring manager. At The Career Mastery, a blog that I own, I help change some of the notions when it comes to interviews and hiring.

Whatever you hear from me represent my view as a hiring manager. I am not HR, never been, nor have any intentions to become one at any point in my career.

Alright, let’s continue now…

First things first, here are what not to do when they ask “where do you see yourself in 5 years”

Don’t try to be funny for God’s sake. I remember at least 4 candidates who said they saw themselves in my position in 5 years. The funny thing is I didn’t ask where you see yourself in 5 years. I merely asked about their future plans and whether they’d like to stay in Dubai over the foreseeable future. After all, this is an expatriate-oriented city with high expat-turnover. Plus, this is probably the oldest joke in the book. Where are they learning this from? Who’s that guy teaching them that it’s okay to say such an awkward, obnoxious, not-even-funny joke? Please don’t do that. It’s not funny and also not even logical. If I am interviewing you for a junior consultant role, it will take you a lot more than 5 years to become a manager… Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

You don’t need to necessarily talk about your ambitions for future when asked this question. Start from today. After all, we are interviewing you to fill a current role. Not necessarily a role to fill 5 years in the future. We are not going to hire you to train you for “that” role for 5 years. Don’t talk about your life story. Ever since you started grade school, you always wanted to be a management consultant… Be Realistic.

So, I will give you 2 approaches to this question.

First, I will share with you the conventional safe approach. And once it’s out of the way, I will share with you, my way.

The first approach is the safest one. It’s what everybody uses and it is what I call “Bullshit” answer. Your BS answer may tick the box and prevent you from taking any risks. But, at the end of the day it’s BS. To craft your perfect BS answer, you need to hit certain triggers.

The way I see, they are the following;

– You need to show them you are committed and not a 2-year jumper – which most of us suffer from.
– The reason you are here is not to find a quick solution to your unemployment. But rather, you are thinking of us as your last destination in your corporate career. Simply, you are not here to wait for the next best offer. Then, off you go. From hiring manager’s perspective, this is a big challenge. Finding the right candidate consumes too many valuable resources from the company. Time being the most important one. Show your loyalty and commitment to the organization.
– Ambitious and assertive characters are in high-demand for certain roles, especially in sales related positions. So, feel free to clearly state that you are looking to grow with the company, learn from the best, and ultimately, when you are ready take on more responsibilities.

So, a safe BS answer may look something like below;

I am really determined to achieve my and company’s goals. I’d like to deliver to the best of my abilities while learning from the best. Having said that, I see myself 5 years down the road growing into a managerial role and demonstrating my leadership capabilities.

Or another one,

I am really looking forward to spending the next five years in an organization where I feel I share all of its values, especially when it comes to [some values]. I would love to have the opportunity to demonstrate my leadership capabilities when the time is right, hopefully within 5 years and contribute to its growing success.

Alright, as you see from above responses, they are safe answers but not necessarily something I would say.

This is especially true if I am interviewing with a hiring manager. The hiring manager will most probably be your direct line supervisor once you get the job. Do you really want to start that relationship based on lies and BS?

I don’t…

And I didn’t… When I was asked this question 5 years ago, my answer was something like below;

Me: “Hmm. Let me gather my thoughts for a second… [Yes, I literally took my time to think. You should try it too…] Judging by the fact that where I saw myself in the past and where I ended up, it’s really hard to say where I will be. The only way I can see the future is by looking at my past, right?

“And if you asked this question to me almost 8 years ago when I was working at Standard & Poor’s as a financial analyst, I’d tell you I wanted to be an investment banker, then 5 years later I was a project management consultant, then sustainability consultant, and now here I am interviewing for a management consulting role which I can confidently do very well.

“So, as you see, where I wanted to be almost never happened and it’s really hard to say now where I will be in 5 years.

“But I guarantee you one thing. I will do my best in this role and try my best to have a wonderful career at PwC with your team and with your leadership. And when the times comes, I will assume more leadership roles, hopefully easing some of your intense work load.”

When I gave this answer, something incredible happened… Partner was definitely shocked hearing my answer and I could tell he wasn’t expecting this. But… He was incredibly impressed…
I could see it in his eyes.

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