It might sound like something your nosy aunt would ask over Thanksgiving dinner, but “where do you see yourself in five years?” is actually one of the most common interview questions. It’s also one of the questions that’s most likely to trip up candidates. After all, it’s hard enough to figure out what you’re having for dinner, let alone what you want to be doing five years from now!
Yet this question gives interviewers an important glimpse into your career goals and expectations for the position–factors contributing to whether you’ll be a good fit for the job. Learn what hiring managers are looking for when they ask where you see yourself in five years and how you should answer this challenging interview question.
Why do interviewers ask this question?
Interviewers want to learn more about your career aspirations to see whether they’re aligned with the position and the path it’ll put you on. If they’re wildly different, you probably won’t stick around very long. While no boss expects you to want to stay in the same job forever, they do want to feel like they’re making a solid investment in a candidate who won’t jump ship after a year.
They also want to find out about what’s important to you to assess if you’re a good fit for the company. For most of us, our job is a major contributor to feeling a sense of fulfillment, and working for a company you respect is a big part of that.
What the hiring manager is looking for in an answer
Hiring managers want to see that your goals are a match for this job. It doesn’t necessarily need to check all the boxes of what you’re looking for in five years, but ideally, it should make sense in the grand scheme of getting there.
They also want to see if you have goals, period. Employers don’t want to hire candidates who are looking to show up to work and collect a paycheck. They want workers with drive and motivation, which usually means having more engaged employees.
How to answer the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Align with the job description
It’s helpful to begin by thinking about your career goals, then work backward to figure out how this job connects to them. Let’s say the job description calls for a candidate who can provide customer service in a positive, approachable manner. You might say that you see yourself in a public-facing leadership position, so you’re looking for a role that will help you refine your skills in working with people.
Cite broad goals
Even though you might know exactly what job you want to have in five years, it’s a good idea not to box yourself in too specifically during an interview. Instead of naming a precise title you want to have or nailing down a deadline for obtaining it, phrase it in terms of the skills you want to master or the reputation you want to have established.
How not to answer
Mentioning a completely different job or field
Suppose you’re interviewing for an administrative assistant role but say that your dream job is becoming a celebrity chef. In that case, your interviewer will have serious doubts about whether you’re a choice they can rely on for the long term.
“I want your job”
Whether it’s an attempt at humor or a sincere aspiration, saying you’re coming for the hiring manager’s job is likely to put off many interviewers.
Not having a clear answer
If you haven’t given your career much thought, how is a hiring manager supposed to feel confident that you’ll value the job enough to be successful?
Sample answers to “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
“It’s important to me to inspire other women to pursue STEM careers. In five years, I’d like to be seen as a role model and mentor in biotech. One of the reasons I’m so interested in this job is the opportunity to train incoming lab technicians.”
“In five years, I hope to have positively impacted our community by helping more people learn about the museum’s programming. I love that this position would give me a chance to combine my digital marketing skills with my passion for art history.”
Having a clear–but not too specific–answer to the question “where do you see yourself in five years” will not only help you map out your own career goals, but will help interviewers assess whether you’ll find the role fulfilling, which is a win for both you and your future employer.