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Where Will You Be in Five Years?

Harvard Business Review | Amy Gallo

Most people have been asked that perennial, and somewhat annoying, question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Of course it is asked most often in a job interview, but it may also come up in a conversation at a networking event or a cocktail party. Knowing and communicating your career goals is challenging for even the most ambitious and focused person. Can you really know what job you’ll be doing, or even want to be doing, in five years?

What the Experts Say
In today’s work world, careers take numerous twists and turns and the future is often murky. “Five years, in today’s environment, is very hard to predict. Most businesses don’t even know what’s going to be required in two or three years,” says Joseph Weintraub, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Babson College and co-author of the book, The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business. While it may be difficult to give a direct and honest response to this question, Weintraub and Timothy Butler, a senior fellow and the director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School, agree that you need to be prepared to answer it. And you need to treat any conversation like an interview. “Every person you talk to or meet is a potential contact, now or in the future,” says Weintraub.

The first step is knowing the answer for yourself. “It’s a very profound question. At the heart of it is ‘where does meaning reside for me?'” says Butler. You have to clarify for yourself what you aspire to do with your career before you can communicate it confidently to others.

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