UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Career Advice: Boosting your career by looking 5 years into the future


During interviews I have conducted throughout my career, I often have been asked the question “So, where do you want to be in five years?” Like many candidates, I never liked the question. Like many candidates, I tried to answer the question in a way that gave the interviewer exactly what he or she was looking for. While this question may be somewhat aggravating to answer during an interview, it is an excellent question to ask yourself from time to time as you ponder the direction of your career. Here are a few suggestions that can help.

It’s not enough to say that you want to move up in the organization. In today’s business environment, the typical corporate ladder has become less and less common. These days, many people will move up, over, around and even down in order to insure that their careers remain challenging, interesting, and fulfilling. Some people will strive to attain management roles while others will do their best to avoid them. If you are considering staying in your company for at least the near future (5 years?), you must investigate the types of roles available in a variety of directions that can utilize your skills, attributes and interests rather than wait for a promotion to come your way.

Lifelong learning is not an accident. While many companies have outstanding training and development programs, no formal program can be all things to all people. As desired roles within your organization become clearer, create your own training program that can develop the skills and insights you will need. This program may include aspects of your company’s formal program, individualized on-line training programs, reading, mentoring relationships and even more creative networking activities. Learning can take many forms, but one of the most valuable is the simple act of talking to people who perform roles for a living that interest you.

Market yourself effectively. You might be an extremely valuable employee who possesses very valuable skills but, if very few people in your organization know you or are aware of what you have to offer, no one wins. Utilize any formal mentoring program offered by your organization and make it one of your missions to get to know people in other departments in which you have an interest. Speak with your manager about the possibility of joining committees or task forces that can give you more visibility and learn more about areas that interest you. Participating in these types of groups also can you demonstrate to others in your organization that you have good ideas, possess valuable insights and can add value beyond what people perceive you can based only on your current role.

Know when it is time to go. Clearly, every organization is not the perfect place for every employee. If you have met with your manager frequently to discuss your goals and plans, bolstered your skills, volunteered for new assignments, and done your best to market yourself in your organization to no avail, then the time may have come to conduct a serious job search…and I can help you with that as well.