When’s the last time someone asked you, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I had to answer that question for the first time in a job interview. I was about to graduate from business school and thought working for a consulting firm would be a perfect next step. My first interview was pretty basic. The following interview was a bit tougher.
In that second interview, I was prepared for the “where do you see yourself in five years” question. I researched my answer. But when the interviewer asked, I paused. For some reason, the actual question hit differently.
I processed that question for a few seconds before launching into my rehearsed answer. But I knew in my heart that wasn’t the honest answer.
My actual answer was, “I have no idea.” I mean, five years from now? That’s a long time. If you’d had asked me five years before this interview where I saw myself in five years, who knows what I’d have answered? I was a college student. I was trying to learn how to play golf. I was commuting every other week to see my girlfriend at her college in Indiana. I was playing intermural basketball. I wasn’t planning for this interview!
In the five years between college and this interview:
- I graduated from college,
- Got married to said girlfriend,
- Found a job I hated and left after three months,
- Explored becoming an operator with Chick-fil-A and worked as a store general manager for a few months,
- Learning that was also not my intended career path, I looked around at all my options and decided to return to school.
I had no plans to attend graduate school. Literally none. I graduated and told my fiance, “that’s the last test I’ll ever take in my life.” Not even two years later, I was back in school.
Here’s my point: Who knows what will happen in five years?
Can you imagine answering this question in January or February of 2020?
We have no idea what the future will actually bring. We can’t control the opportunities and obstacles that lay ahead. But we can do something.
1. Learn all you can where you are.
I’m amazed how many people miss the learning opportunities right before them. In your current role and organization, no doubt there are people to learn from, courses to take, and skills to develop.
Technology has made it easier than ever to study remotely. Perhaps you should go back to school and earn an advanced degree.
Here’s one more option: Identify a passion and learn all you can about the subject.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who regretted becoming a subject matter expert or elevating their education.
2. Focus on growing your network.
I wish I had done this more in my early years. Networking comes naturally for many, but not all. If you’re more like me, ensure that you don’t miss opportunities to meet people in and around your industry. Ask great questions of them. Learn from their experiences. And whenever possible, serve them. At some point, this network will prove beneficial, and you’ll be a benefit to them, too.
3. Become better in your current position.
You don’t need to know what’s next to focus on getting better where you are now. Similar to my first suggestion, but in this, focus intensely on the skills necessary to be the very best person possible in your current position. This may involve learning or returning to school, or perhaps networking will help you grow your skills. Watch YouTube videos on your craft, read articles, and subscribe to blogs.
Again, I’ve never met a person who regretted growing in their marketable skills.
4. Look for opportunities.
Not in a way that keeps one of your feet out the door, but in a fully engaged way, pay attention. Opportunities are persistently presenting themselves to us. Most aren’t viable or necessarily in our area of passion, but eventually, something may come along that you could never have planned, yet is perfect for where you are and who you are.
5. Focus on being more than becoming.
I saved the most important for last. Five years plans tend to be focused on a position but not on you as a person. You’ve seen this before: When opportunities outpace character, the end is near.
Who do you want to be? What aspects of your character need improvement? Where should you focus in your emotional, physical, and spiritual world?
Who knows where you’ll be in five years! I’m unsure where I’ll be in one year. But, I don’t want to miss an opportunity because I was unprepared.
If you ever see me for fun, ask me where I see myself in five years. My answer is, “Hopefully, smarter, more skilled, more healthy, and with a larger network of peers.”