Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Q: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I have been asked this question in a number of interviews, and, yet, I still don’t know how to answer it.  I wonder why some hiring committees ask it, and I can’t help but get the feeling that this is a gotcha! question; how would I even begin to answer this? I feel like it’s a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” question.

SM: You are right. This question, certainly an old and trusted one, used by many interviewers and asked in many interviews, can be a difficult and possibly dangerous one to answer (honestly). But, it is one that you should have an answer to, before you go on your interview.

Why do interviewers ask this question? I think that most interviewers would want to see something of an upward progression, in those five years, but when no upward progression is to be had in a particular library or particular role, than saying that you want to move into a management position can make you seem overly ambitious, or like someone who is just using the position as a stepping stone. But, aren’t most (if not all) positions stepping stones to something bigger and better? And, shouldn’t they be?

Personally, I dislike speculative questions like this and don’t see how the answers can provide much useful information.  A better question to ask is: what are your short-term and long-term professional goals?

Here are a few possible scenarios, based on honest but unlikely answers to the question (i.e., you probably shouldn’t answer the question this way):

Scenario 1
Answer: I see myself working in this library, in the role that I am being interviewed for because it is the only job that I want and I cannot see that I would ever be interested in anything else.
Pros: you are loyal
Cons: you are not ambitious enough

Scenario 2
Answer: I see myself learning everything I possibly can, and then moving up to be a head of a department or assistant director and eventually the director of the library.
Pros: you are exceptionally ambitious and motivated
Cons: you are not loyal and even worse, you want other people’s jobs

Scenario 3
Answer: I would like to be gainfully and happily employed, here or somewhere else. I just want a job. Please give me a job.
Pros: you are  honest, albeit desperate
Cons: you might just be a smartass, albeit an honest smartass

These scenarios probably won’t help you very much, but they do help to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of the question, and the catch-22 that it puts you in, no matter how you answer. I suggest the following answer, which is intentionally ambiguous and honest in that no one can predict the future:

I see myself working as a librarian, hopefully in this library and in this role, but definitely as a [fill in the blank] librarian, because that is what I love to do. But, who knows, a lot can happen in five years.

Q: What are some questions I can ask during an interview that will let my interviewers know what I’m all about?

Q: What are some questions I can ask during an interview that will let my interviewers know what I’m all about?

Q: I just had a very frustrating interview.  It was for a job that I really wanted; a community college library in a rural area.  I was frustrated because the interview team only asked me about five questions (I can only remember three of them).  They didn’t ask me anything thing about the library services I would provide, or my philosophy.  These are the questions they asked:

  • I see you went to XXX College.  How did you end up in XXX State (where I’ve lived for the past 5 years)?
  • Would you mind helping out in other areas?
  • Why are you interested in this job?

Then they opened up questions on my end?  If I end up with this type of situation again what questions should I ask?  How do I let them know what I am all about?

SM: Every job interview is unique, and every search committee is looking for someone specific. And you may or may not be that person. It can be frustrating to have high expectations before an interview and then walk away from it feeling that maybe you could have done something differently, something more.

It is unfortunate that they asked you so few questions, but don’t read too much into it. They could have had most of their answers already from your phone interview (if you had one), from your resume, or from your cover letter. The interview, quite possibly, could just be a formality, to see how you would fit in. Other possibilities are: the interview team could have been burnt out on interviewing, or the person asking the questions could have been having a bad day [I got food poisoning once during an interview, when I was the chair of the search committee. I had to drive the candidate back to her hotel and I barely made it home. Not my best day.] You’ll never know what goes on behind the scenes, so don’t beat yourself up about it.

As for letting the interview team (or search committee) know what you are all about – you could have done this when they asked you “why are you interested in this job?” That question is probably the most important one anyone can ask, in any interview. It gives you an opportunity to express your interest in the job/library/institution, to talk about how you are qualified for the job, and to let them know why you would be a good fit for it.

You should always ask your interviewers questions. Write them down before you go for the interview and remember to ask them. You want to make sure the job is a good fit for you as well. Here are some questions might help you discover more about them while letting them know more about you:

  • What is a typical day like for a librarian in this role?
  • How do the librarians work together/collaborate?
  • Is professional development supported and/or encouraged for the librarians and library staff?
  • What are some new initiatives you are working on?
  • How do the librarians work with the teaching faculty (for academic positions)? Or, How do the librarians work with the community (for public librarians)?
  • What is the library’s reference/instruction/collection development philosophy? (tailor to fit the position)
  • What do you (the interviewers) like about your job?
  • What do you (the interviewers) like about working at XXX library?

And, throw in a question or two that is specific about their library or institution. This shows your interviewers that you have done your research on them. For example:

  • I see that the library has a Facebook page. Do you find that it is a successful marketing tool?
  • I noticed that you offer drop-in sessions for students. Who teaches these and which ones are the most popular?
  • Your LibGuides are very informative and well-designed. If I was hired, would I be able to create and maintain guides?