Interview smarts: “Where do you see yourself in three years’ time?”

Not ready to tell a complete stranger where you want to be in three years? Or are you worried that, if you don’t say you want to still be working for the same company, that they’ll immediately put a red mark against your name?

Don’t panic. What employers are often using this question to gauge is what value you’re going to bring to the company, how you will help them grow and how hard you’re going to work.

So how do you answer this question? Firstly, it may seem obvious, but it’s not a personal question so quell any desire to talk about your dreams to travel, have a family or become a professional ice skater. The interviewer wants to identify your professional goals.

Secondly, try not to answer this question on the spot. You don’t want to seem as if this is the first time you’ve given your career any long term thought. You need to come to your interview prepared, so below is a handy list of questions to take yourself through before you tackle the dreaded question.

Where is this company going and what are they trying to achieve?

The person interviewing you will want to know you have a vested interest in the welfare of the company and also that you’ve done your research.

What is this particular department or division of the company doing and what skills could I offer to build on to help them?

You can only figure out where you’d like to move within a particular job if you understand what they’re trying to achieve. Think outside the box on this – what skills do you have that you could bring to the table? Are there opportunities for growth and innovation?

What is the career progression of the role itself, what levels can you work towards?

Look at the roles that are currently situated above the role you’re going for. Think about the steps you would need to take to get to that role and how you could customise and improve on what’s already being done.

What’s in the job spec and what is this particular person looking for in me?

Of course, emphasising the parts that you are good at is key but it’s also essential to think about the parts you’re less experienced in so you can talk about any training that you think will help and how this will weave into your three year plan.

Where else in the world does this company operate?

Do they have offices overseas? Expressing your interest to experience other offices not only displays a solid investment in the company but, again shows you’ve actually taken the time to learn about them.

Am I being honest/realistic about what I can offer?

It’s a common mistake when interviewing for a job that you really want – offering all sorts of things that are completely unrealistic and then utterly panicking when you get the job. Honesty is a valuable trait. Don’t confuse this with self-deprecation; you can sell yourself whilst still being honest and highlighting areas you will need to improve on. Just be proactive about how you’re going to do the improving.

Essentially, the key to answering this question is just to show that you’ve thought about how you could progress within that company. Now, go get ‘em!