Even if you don't know where you see yourself in five years, there's a right way to answer this question during an interview.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

There is perhaps no interview question as daunting or mind-numbing. No worries, though — hiring managers and employers aren't concerned with your actual plans. When asking this question, an interviewer isn't expecting you to know 100 percent where you see yourself in the future, but they do want to know if you have ambition, goals, focus, and drive. They want to know you've at least considered your future and what you'd like to accomplish.

Why hiring managers ask these types of interview questions

So, if hiring managers don't actually care about your path in 1,820 days, why do they ask this silly question? Well, asking "Where do you see yourself in five years?" is more about getting insight into your hopes, aspirations and goals for the next few years. Interviewers ask about objectives you have set to give them an inside look into how you operate and structure your thoughts. The interviewer wants to understand more about your career goals and how their position would fit into your grand plan. Companies want trustworthy, detail-oriented, and dedicated team members who are willing to take a leap — not a noncommittal employee who is only sticking around until a better opportunity arises elsewhere.

Hiring managers may pose this common interview question in different ways.Below are a few examples of similar job interview questions that aim to uncover the same information:

  • What are your long-term career goals?

  • What is your ideal dream job at this stage in your career?

  • What are you looking for?

  • How do you define success?

  • What is most important to you in your career?

  • What is your five-year plan?

  • What is your goal in the next five years?

  • Where will you be in five years?

Before the interview

Preparing for "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

No one has a crystal ball and knows where they will be in five years, and the hiring manager is aware of this. They are not looking for you to lay out a specific plan, detailing everything you are going to do. Instead, focus on what your dreams are, where you would like to take your career path next, and how you plan to do this. Also, be sure to focus on how you plan to help the company. Hiring managers want candidates who will add value to the team and help advance the company. And don't forget to be realistic — hiring managers are as likely to reject a far-fetched idea just as quickly as no idea at all.

Think about the answer to this question ahead of time. Consider practicing your response out loud with a trusted friend so you can hear yourself speak and make tweaks if needed. While developing your answer, keep in mind what the hiring manager or interviewer wants to know when they ask you this question: your work-related goals, ambitions, desired training, and so on. What type of positions do you see yourself occupying? What type of training? Are you interested in leadership positions, or would you like to keep your focus on the technical aspects of your work? Provide quantifiable answers when possible.

Write out your five-year plan. While it's hard to know exactly what you'll be doing or where you'll be in five years, try visualizing and imagining where you would love to be, the type of culture you'd like to be in, the types of positions you'd like to maintain, the type of experience and accomplishments you'd like to have had, and so on. Take these items into consideration and then make a list of them with a roadmap as to how you'll achieve them. This will help you share where you see yourself in five years from an honest and thoughtful perspective.

During the interview

Answering "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

When answering this question, be honest and be yourself. Sharing what you think the interviewer wants to hear may seem like a good idea, but if it's out of alignment with your truth, you can get in trouble down the road if you do get hired. Plus, it's much easier to be yourself than to try to be someone you're not.

Also, keep your answer specific and work-related. The interviewer doesn't need to know that you plan on having two kids and a white picket fence in five years. In fact, if you do share this, they might hear, "I'm going to be taking a lot of time off from work to take care of my kids after they're born. Work is not my priority." It might seem unfair, but it's true. Keep your answers to-the-point and about your work goals and visions.

An example response:

Let's say you're interviewing for an HR position at an organization and are asked, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" You might answer as follows:

"In five years I would like to expand my horizons by jumping in feet first and learning as much as I can, as quickly as I can, with the organization. From there, I'd seek out opportunities — at least one to two a year — to expand my knowledge through training and educational opportunities to support my job. I'd love to participate in at least one project geared toward leadership training, if the opportunity arises. I also understand that the organization has a strong volunteer team, and I'd like to be an active participant of that team, as well. At some point, I'd also like to be considered for a supervisory or management level role."

Keep it primarily work-related, show ambition, show that you've done your homework, and provide quantifiable long term goals. The key is to be confident, honest, clear, and succinct, and, of course, to answer the question.

What not to say when answering "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

While it's important to understand the right way to answer, it's also good to keep in mind what an interviewer does not want to hear when they ask you, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" In short, be careful how you answer this popular interview question, and try to avoid answers like this: 

  • That you plan on a short-term tenure with the company. If an organization is going to invest time and resources in you, they want to believe you'll be with them for the long haul or at least five years. Employees may now be spending less time in a role before moving on, but you definitely don't want to let the cat out of the bag that you don't plan on being with the organization for very long (unless you're interviewing for a temporary position).

  • That you haven't given any thought to your future with the company or life in general. Whatever you do, do not respond, “I don't know.” If the answer doesn't come to you at first, take a few seconds to think about how you have grown over the last five years. Consider the natural flow of progression and formulate an answer. Again, one of the main reasons this question is asked is to find out if you have goals and are excited about your prospective future with the company. They also want to know that you have ambition and a good work ethic and that you've considered how you might handle your work if you were to be hired.

  • That you want their position. Yes, the interviewer wants to know you're ambitious, but you don't want to let it be known that you're very eager to move up and see yourself in their position, especially if it's a small company where such opportunities are few and far between.

The chances are good that you'll be asked this question at some point during your career. Luckily, now you know you've got the skills to answer with a slam dunk. 

Before you can answer this question, make sure your resume is getting you the interviews. Check your resume with a free review today by one of our career experts. 

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