When the 5-Year Plan is No Where to Be Seen

Since graduating from college there as been one question that I’ve been faced with, whether at  family events or networking receptions and of course job interviews. That question being,  “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?/What is your five year plan?”. In retrospect this is an absurd question as everyone’s  path meanders, sometimes even far away from what you initially studied in college and/or graduate school, especially in this day and age. It then should come as no surprise that one can easily begin to dread this question when you really have no answer.

My daily planners for the last 5 years, (the gold one on the far right is my current planner) each distinct and full of different projects and plans based on that period in my life.

Let me be the first to say that having no answer is not the problem. It’s okay to not know as long as you don’t lose your ambition. After all, you don’t know where you will go but you know where you want to be. The problem is you are probably being asked by someone who is a potential employer or contact for the future. Keep in mind that this is a question that is usually asked for one of three reasons:

(1) To gain an understanding of what you hope to gain in that position, other than just a job.
(2) To make sure that in hiring you they will have long term work loyalty as to avoid having a short turnover period as well as ensure that the effort and money spent used in both recruiting and training you is going to be well spent.
(3) To determine if a potential role is the right fit for you and your goals.

That said, having no real answer does not mean you lack ambition or direction, though that is not to say that those you meet won’t think the same.

So how do you go about answering?

While there is nothing wrong with being honest when asked, it honestly depends on the situation. If this is a question that comes up during a job interview as you must provide some kind of answer. Best practice would be to think about your current hobbies, interests and aspirations. In many cases you can say that you want to develop a particular skill in the near future. This will give a strong impression as it proves that you are still open to learning in an effort to know how you want to grow professionally. Moreover, this will prove that you are in fact driven by realistic goals – goals based on your skills, education, and interests.

At a recent job interview I was told that I MUST figure out what to do immediately because if I don’t I will be 5 years behind my peers. While initially offset by the impetus for an immediate decision, I also know that what I envision my future professional life to be can and will be shaped and/or changed by external forces: the economy, personal lifestyle, career re-direction, changing residences etc. I strongly believe that you’re still heading in the right direction as long as you are aware of what you striving for, and a realistic understanding that life can make you take a left turn, but somehow you’ll wind up on the right side.

What do you think? Do you have a 5-year plan that is set in stone?

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