Let me introduce you to one of the most cringeworthy interview questions of all time.
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Um. I don’t know. Getting takeout with my terrier? Oh, wait - let’s go with “biggest pop star since Britney Spears.” How does that sound?
Come on. You can’t see far enough into the future to know what’s for dinner tonight.
So, why would hiring managers expect you to tell them where you’ll be in five years. You don’t own a crystal ball.
Yes, it’s frustrating.
The good news? There’s a quick and easy way to sidestep the question and still talk about your long-term career goals.
This article will show you:
- What interviewers mean when they ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
- How to prepare examples of career goals for different interview situations.
- Examples of best answers for the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question.
And if you want to turn every interview into a job offer, get our free checklist: 42 Things You Need To Do Before, During, and After Your Big Interview. Make sure nothing will slip your mind!
Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? What Are Interviewers Asking?
So, what are interviewers getting at when they ask about your 5 year career goal plan?
Interviewers ask about your future career goals and objectives for two reasons:
- They want to know if you’re going to stay put in the new position.
- They want to know if your long-term career goals align with the company.
Here’s what they don’t want to hear:
- Jokes about how you’ll be the one on the other side of the table in five years.
- Detailed schemes about getting promoted within the company.
- Pipe dreams about being famous, owning a business, or going back to school.
- A bunch of “Hmmmm.” And, “Ummmm.” Or, “I don’t know. That’s hard to say.”
So what are interviewers asking?
Well, when interviewers ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” They’re really asking, “What are your career goals within this position?”
They want to know that the position will satisfy you and that you'll work hard and stay with the company for a long time.
Remember, a hiring manager’s success doesn’t depend on how many empty chairs she can fill with warm bodies.
Her success depends on keeping talented employees happy and at work. If you leave, it’s going to cost her company time and money.
So, the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question is how interviewers ask if you’re going to stay in the job.
You’re excited about the position and what you’ll learn in the coming years. You’re eager to become the best at what you do and progress to the next level when appropriate.
In five years, I want to complete the internal training program for my position. I’ve read about it on your website, and I think it’s a fabulous program. Not only would I get all the training for my role, but I would be on the fast track to becoming a project manager. That’s my top career goal. Plus, my ideal path would include working abroad for a couple of years. I understand that it’s of value to you to find people prepared to do so.
Wrong: You’re excited about using the position to move your career forward as soon as possible. You want to be CEO of the company if five years. Nothing less.
My long-term career goal is to become CEO of the company. My mother always told me, “Never settle for less than your best.” So, I plan to claw my way to the top!
Regardless, you want to be careful when answering this question. Because it’s tricky.
Let’s say there’s no clear career path for your position, or you don’t know what you want to do in the long run.
You’ll want to remain vague but realistic.
That’s right - vague. The “where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question is the ONLY question for which you’ll want to prepare a bland response.
It’s like when you’re on a date, and the guy asks if you’ll ever want kids or a wedding. He wants to know if you’re on the same page.
His ideal future might include Ikea furniture, dogs, and conversations about preschools. You just want to make it to Burning Man at some point.
So, here’s the thing. Let’s say you like the guy. You need to come up with an answer that will satisfy his concerns and show you’re cool with commitment - for now.
You’ll want to follow the same rules when discussing your future during a job interview.
Here are some variations of “where do you see yourself in 5 years:”
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
- Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
- What are your career goals?
- Describe your career goals.
- What are your long-term career goals?
- What are your short-term career goals?
- What are your goals for the next 5 years?
- What is your ideal job at the peak of your career?
- What are you looking for by applying for this job?
- How do you define success?
- What’s most important to you in your career?
- What specific steps will you take/are you taking to achieve your vision of yourself in the next 5 years?
Pro Tip: Let’s say the interviewer asks, “Where do you want to be in five years?” And your knee-jerk reaction is to blurt out, “Maui! Tan, retired, and drinking coconut cocktails that come with those tiny umbrellas.”
Depending on where you interview, the hiring manager may or may not find such a response amusing. Remember to gauge your audience.
Want to see how to answer the most common interview questions? Read our guide: “Most Common Job Interview Questions and Best Answers (+20 Examples)”
How to Prepare for the “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years” Interview Question
Start by asking yourself:
“What are my career goals?”
Are they related to the open position? No? That’s okay. Write down a few sample career goals and aspirations. Set them aside.
Now, write down a few long-term career goals and aspirations that could flow from the position. They may not match your 5 year career goal plan, but that’s okay.
Next, you’re going to need to do some research on the company and the open position.
Here’s what you’re looking for:
- Career Paths for the Position
- Training and Development Opportunities
- Shared Values
- Interesting Projects
Let’s use Procter and Gamble as an example.
P&G is your typical big corporation. As such, they have a dedicated career website that allows you to check out career paths.
Let’s say your dream job is to work in Sales at P&G. You do want to stay there for a long time.
The company boasts that they have “one of the world’s best sales training programs.”
So, you read more about the way P&G trains employees.
You find out that P&G personalizes training for each employee.
They also provide mentoring and networking opportunities.
Plus, you notice that the training equals real projects and assignments at an early stage. Make a list of all the things you find attractive.
- Personalized Training
- Real Projects and Assignments
When you notice such a wealth of information, stick with what you find. Refer to one of the things you admire in your “where do you see yourself in 5 years” answer.
Now, sales qualifies as a job that might not lead to a higher position. That’s true for a lot of professionals. Other examples include teachers and therapists.
These are jobs where you work with clients and get better at what you do. In that case, your long-term career goal examples should detail improvement in your role.
Use the information provided by the company.
One of the reasons I want to work for P&G is because I find your personalized approach to training attractive. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with a mentor and immerse myself in learning new skills. I’m also the type of employee that likes to hit the ground running and jump into projects as soon as possible. So, over the next five years, I see myself taking on as many complex assignments as the position would allow.By the end of that period, I want to say that I’ve built lasting client relationships. I want to say that I’m one of the best Salespeople on the team. I wouldn’t mind becoming someone who could train and mentor others when the time comes as well.
Without doing research, you describe a specific career path that isn’t available.
I see myself becoming an established Sales Associate within a few months. I’m a fast learner and don’t need much training. After that, I would look at becoming a manager. At the end of five years, I want to be the Sales Team Leader or Managing Director.
Let’s say your research doesn’t turn up much. You can’t find any decent information about the company’s career paths. And you’re not sure what sort of opportunities you’ll have to grow inside the business.
Do any of the personal career goals you listed align with the position?
Let’s say they don’t. Let’s say you know this job is a stepping stone. Or maybe you just need something to make ends meet until you finish grad school.
- Is there any training I could do outside of work that would be relevant to the position?
- Is there any classes I could take that would enhance my skill set?
- Could I learn any new, handy skills from this job?
- Does the company do any projects that interest me?
- Does the company have some long-term goals that align with mine?
Be sure to keep your answer for the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question brief and general.
Talk about how you want to develop yourself as a professional in the context of the position.
For example, you want to learn an extra, relevant skill that will compliment your role. Or you’re interested in taking some general leadership or writing classes.
You can always mention that you want to develop your skill set.
At the same time, avoid implying that you’re preparing for something bigger and better in the future.
Discuss long-term goals related to the company and the position.
As a marketing professional, I want to develop my skill set. At the end of the next five years, I want to know how to use software like Photoshop or InDesign. I want to have a better understanding of social media and video marketing. Plus I’d like to get into project management. I would like to learn on the job. Regardless, I want to look into online or evening courses. My hope is that I can apply my new skills to my job with you.
Discuss long-term goals that have you moving on to bigger and better opportunities.
In five years, I hope to have moved on to a much larger company where I can apply the skills I’ve learned here. I need six years of experience and a developed skill set. I want to use this position as a stepping stone to prepare for a career with the big boys.
One more thing to keep in mind is that you may be the type of job seeker that raises red flags. For example, you’ve only spent six months at your last three jobs, or you have gaps in your career progress.
It’s more likely that you’ll get the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question or a variation of it.
Pro Tip: Some interviewers will even go for the 10 year career goal plan. So, make sure your answers are general enough to accommodate a longer period if necessary.
Examples of Best Answers for “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years”
Situation One - No Information on the Company
The company doesn’t have a clear path forward for employees in my position.
Here’s how to answer the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question when you don’t know much about the company.
Stick to a response that focuses on how you want to develop a relevant skill set.
As a Chef, I want to develop my skill set. At the end of the next five years, I want to know how to prepare and present dishes for a 5-star restaurant like yours. I also want to finish some specialized managerial training if possible. To achieve this, I’ve decided to do some workshops and online training in my free time. My hope is that my new skills would help me say that I am the best at my job here at Le Bone A Petit.
Talk about side projects that might result in you moving to your dream job.
In the next five years, I want to finish my side project. My hobby is developing games for apps. I have one in the works now that I should have done in the next year or two. That’s my real passion.
Situation Two - You’re Using the Position as a Stepping Stone
Let’s say you do know something about the company’s career paths. But you’re using the position as a stepping stone or a temporary fix.
Perhaps you just need something to get you through grad school.
So, the best answer for “where do you see yourself in 5 years” should include pledges of long-term commitment.
But wait, that sounds like a lie. Now, you should never lie during an interview.
See, the goal is to find something that you can get behind even if you do end up quitting within the next five years.
Imagine that you would stay in the position for five years. Tailor your answer to reflect what you’d do if that were the case.
I saw that you have an employee training program for young accountants. I would love to complete such a program within my first or second year working with you. Plus, one of my professional career goals is to work on a project for a non-profit. So, I would hope that at the end of five years, I would have at least a couple of such projects under my belt.
Well, I was laid off from my last job as an Admin Assistant, so I’ve decided to try out the corporate world. I’ve always been more attracted to startup culture. But when I saw the offer for a position at a Fortune 500 company, I thought why not? Worst case scenario I can always cross working for a corpo off my bucket list.
Situation Three - You’re in the Middle of a Switching Your Career
Let’s say you’re in the middle of switching your career. You don’t know where you’ll be in 5 years because you’re right in the middle of trying to figure that out.
The one advantage you have is that you know that you want to do the job you’re interviewing for right now. So, in your “where do you see yourself in 5 years” answer, you might mention you want to be fully situated in your new career.
I’m applying for a marketing position because I want to put myself on a more creative career path. I have a background in law, so I know that I would be most effective in a law firm. I can apply my legal knowledge to inform my work. That should give me an edge that I wouldn’t have if I started over in a different industry. At the same time, I still need to transition. So, over the next five years, I want to develop my creative skill set in this entry-level position. So, my long-term goal is to become a skillful marketing professional within your company.
My biggest dream is to have opened my restaurant by that time. I’m also still trying to pass the bar exam, which I hope to pass within the next year. We’ll see. That’s why I think that taking a marketing position in a law firm is a good career goal right now. I want law to be my safety job. Just in case nothing else I want to do works out.
In five years? Well, I don’t know. I’m not the forward thinking type. I prefer to be in the moment, and that’s why I’m switching careers and trying new things. I will be 30 in five years. I could be a different person. To be honest, I have no idea where I will be in five years. I just hope that wherever I am, it’s warm!
My five year plan is to be CFO of a major corporation. And with the giant salary I will be given for my services, I will buy a summer home in South Carolina. After which, I will buy whatever the latest model of Mercedes-Benz is at the time. And if you think that’s impressive, you should ask about the ten-year plan.
Pro Tip: Let’s say you’re close to retirement. The “where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question may seem like an ageist tripwire. And no, it’s not a fair question.
So if you plan to retire in five years, give a response that focusses on how you’ll develop your skill set within the position.
You’ve aced your interview. Now, what? Time to send a thank you email to your interviewer. Here’s how: “How to Write a Thank You Email After an Interview (+10 Examples)”
Bonus: Download FREE step-by-step checklist of things to do before an interview. “Things You Need To Do Before Your Big Interview.”
No, interviewers don’t expect you to know exactly where you will be in the next 5 or 10 years. What they do expect is that you’re taking the position you’re applying for seriously.
They expect you to stick around for awhile and do good work. So, what interviewers really want to hear when they ask “where do you see yourself in 5 years” is - HERE.
Still not sure how to answer the "where do you see yourself in 5 years" question? We can help! Leave us a comment, and we will help you select a few safe career plans before the big day.
Remember when you were ten years old and adults would ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" You'd smile, and without batting an eye, answer ballerina, fireman, teacher, or whatever profession had recently stirred your curiosity. Easy question, easy answer.
Nowadays, you may not be so self-assured. When an interviewer asks, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" a worthy answer is often hard to muster. Problem is, these days your whimsical desire to be an astronaut won't be so well received (unless you're interviewing at NASA, of course).
To prepare for this go-to question in the interviewer arsenal, you need to think about potential responses way before stepping foot in the recruiter's office. And just like a resume, you'll need to tailor your answer to the employer you're interviewing with: Don't say you see yourself climbing the corporate ladder when interviewing with a small nonprofit.
Generally, it's safe to assume interviewers are looking for a broad answer, but one that clearly demonstrates your ambitions. "Interviewers want to see that you can plan ahead, visualize potential career paths, and most importantly, that your goals match the goals of the company and position you are interviewing for," says Brad Karsh, founder of career consulting company JobBound, and author of Confessions of a Recruiting Director.
Since a "good" answer to this question really depends on the industry and position, it's more helpful to pinpoint the answers you should stay away from. Stay clear of these six musings on your future:
"In your job."
As you can imagine, it may be a little brazen-and awkward- if you tell your interviewer you want to replace her. Instead, vaguely describe the position she holds as something to which you aspire. Something like, "I see myself as a brand manager in consumer products, managing a team of employees," perfectly describes where you want to be-without directly saying it's her job you covet.
"At this company."
It's the future-it's hard to predict. Saying that you see yourself at a company you've just become acquainted with may seem a bit shortsighted. On the other hand, don't say that you see yourself elsewhere. Karsh feels it's a tight line to walk: "I wouldn't say it, but wouldn't not say it. Your answer should be about what you're doing, not where you're doing it."
"Married, living in Connecticut, and with one child."
Stay away from talking too specifically about personal goals in your answer. Interviewers generally want to hear about career plans, not life plans. However, if your personal goals impact your professional goals-for example, you want to be earning your MBA in five years so you can advance in the company, it can be helpful to mention it.
It's always good to have high aspirations, but be realistic. When interviewing at a Big Four accounting firm, don't say you want to be a partner in five years, when it takes an average of 10 to 12 years to earn the position. By having attainable goals, you'll come off less green and more sensible.
"Back in school-fulltime."
If you see yourself moving on after two to three years, keep it to yourself during the interview. "This type of answer, while it may be accurate, is a little too honest," says Karsh. "The employer didn't sign up to have you work for two years and then leave, so avoid revealing this if it's your true intention."
"I don't know."
If you really have no idea what industry, company, or position you want to be in five years from now, you still need to come up with an answer that shows you know yourself and have notable goals. (You might also want to do research and think hard on your own about potential career paths.) Karsh suggests using experience from your past. "You could say something like, 'When I think about what I've done in school, I know that I'll thrive working in an environment with people, contributing in a meaningful way to the organization, and have opportunities to be a leader."