How many times have you cringed on being asked this question? Kunal Guha explains the logic behind it

If a poll was conducted on ‘worst interview questions’, this one would probably top the list. And as pointless as it may seem, recruiters don’t seem to tire of asking the question-‘where do you see yourself five years from now?’ Let’s find out why your answer to the above is so important.


Contrary to technical questions that could be answered with mechanical ease, this one requires one to think, unless you’ve subscribed to ‘Accepted Interview Answers Digest’. Recruiters, however, can easily see through rehearsed answers and pick out the genuine ones. “A lot of interview questions are based on the person’s accomplishments and choices. Answers to these questions demonstrate a pattern, on the basis of which one can evaluate the applicant’s future aspirations. The trick is to observe how well the applicant’s responses tie in with what one has done, and how well one is able to logically break down one’s career steps. I have seen candidates who broke down their long-term goals into small logical steps,” explains Manoj Varghese, HR Head, Google India.

Recruiters also pay a lot of attention to a candidate’s career record. “Responses backed by a documented track record are valued most. The response may be rehearsed, but the same can be easily validated against the candidate’s track record. Also, an employer’s own experience helps assess whether the candidate’s aspirations are realistic,” explains M V Subramanian, Director-Staffing, HP India. Satish Venkatachaliah, HR Head, SAP Labs, seconds the thought, “We believe that past behaviour is the most reasonable predictor of future behaviour. In case of freshers, we try and look back at the nature of the candidates’ college behaviour - whether he/she was interactive and enterprising, has participated in extra-curricular activities and worked in teams for campus projects.”


Since where you see yourself in the future is based on your imagination, your answer could divulge vital learnings about your thinking pattern and how you would respond to any given situation. These factors could be crucial in evaluating a candidates’ potential. “In our case, if we ask this question, the reason would be to understand the individual’s thinking and quality of reasoning, self-awareness, etc. For example, the person may not know the mechanism of the organisation.

Therefore, if he/ she responds to the question in the context of the organisation without asking exploratory questions regarding career growth in that organisation, then the person is obviously shooting from the hip. On the other hand, if the person responds generically, then it is important to understand why the person considers that path and not other alternatives. This will give an idea of the person’s self-evaluation,” explains Pankaj Bhargava-HR Head Marico Limited.


It is crucial to understand how realistic a candidate’s expectations are and whether there is a match between the candidate’s goals and the organisations’. “Investigating a prospective candidate’s future aspirations tells us in advance about the candidates personal goals. This helps us match the candidates’ personal goals with those that we have set out for the role and the organisation. If we find a strong dissonance with the two, it would definitely affect the selection process,” explains Mona Cheriyan, General Manager, Employee Engagement & Europe Liaison, i-flex solutions limited.

Subramanian elaborates, “This question, though perhaps not the most significant, actually attempts to co-relate the candidate’s aspirational level with that of his/her potential. The belief here is that an employee is motivated when he/she sees the role in question as a path toward a larger career goal.”


You may say that you see yourself as a delivery head or a project director in 3 years, but unless you are able to logically break down your aspirations, it will be a lost cause. So, where you see yourself in the future must have a strong link with the current capacity being offered to you. “Aspirations should be always linked with the role and what the applicant would like to do within a period of time. I have seen candidates create a very good impression with the interviewers by spending time in understanding what their current role is going to be and thinking about ways to add value to that.

Such candidates plan their long-term aspirations around mastering their current role, contributing in that role and then checking about the next level of contributions. Even titles can be misleading from organisation to organisation; hence an applicant expressing a desire to be a senior manager in five years may sometimes not make sense in the context of
the organisation one is interviewing with,” elucidates Varghese.

It is certain that there is no right or wrong answer, when asked how you envision yourself in the future. But answers could be weak or strong and if your answers are backed by stong conviction, a weak response could be transformed into a strong one. So, now the next time you appear for an interview, make sure you’re honest, reasonably ambitious but not overtly aggressive and it should work out just fine!