Let’s face it, when you’re asked “Where do you see yourself in five years?” you probably have no idea how to answer. Should you share your raw, honest plan (or lack thereof) with a stranger you’ve just met at a job interview?
But don’t fret — below we’ll go over exactly why employers ask this question and give you tips and examples to help you craft an answer for your upcoming interview.
There are a few different reasons why employers ask this question. They want to know if you’ve thought about your professional future, if you’ve set realistic expectations for your career, if you have ambition, and if the position you’re interviewing for realistically aligns with your career goals and growth, as The Muse explains in its guide to common interview questions. Employers ask this question in hopes of understanding what value you’ll bring to their organization on your way to achieving your own career goals, according to The Muse’s director of coach connect Eloise Eonnet. “They also want to know what kind of person you are and will become.”
This question can be a difficult one to answer considering that you can’t possibly know where you’re going to be in the future or what your career will look like in five years. Within that time frame, jobs will exist that you don’t even know about yet, and your long-term career plan could completely shift. So how exactly are you supposed to respond in an authentic way that will satisfy employers?
First things first, you’ll need to think through exactly what your long-term goals are. Maybe you want to move into a leadership position or maybe you see yourself working for a company that values sustainability. Then figure out how your goals align with the company you’re interviewing with and the role you’re hoping to land there. For example, if your goal is to become a leader, you might say, more specifically, “I’d like to continue to deepen my skills in people management, communication, and data analysis so that I can make an even bigger impact in a digital marketing leadership position at Builder Block Inc. and contribute to the growth of your product suite and market share.”
Make sure you show your commitment to the company in your response. Explain how your position at the company will help you achieve your own career goals (without implying that the company is merely a temporary stepping stone you plan to quickly move on from) and how they align with the company’s mission and priorities.
If you don't feel comfortable spilling every detail of your life plans and long-term career goals to interviewers and hiring managers, that’s okay! You can still “use this question as an opportunity to highlight why you’re a good fit,” Muse career coach Tara Goodfellow says. Focus on what skills or experiences you’d like to gain or improve upon in the next few years and go from there.
As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy. But don’t be too honest here — you wouldn’t want to talk all about how you’d like to be in a completely different industry five years from now or how you really only look at this job as a stopgap that’ll pay the rent until something better comes along. Talk about the “value you will have created in a few years’ time. No need to mention a specific company name or exact position,” Eonnet says, if that doesn’t feel genuine. For example, you could say, “In five years, I will have managed a few multi-channel marketing campaigns and I will have become an expert on social media data reporting.”
There’s no one right answer to this interview question, but there are a few wrong ways to approach it. So don’t:
Again, it’s difficult to say where exactly you’ll be five years from now — nobody truly knows the answer to that. And no interviewer is expecting you to tell you with absolute certainty. But they do want to know you care enough to have given it some thought, that you have a direction, and that you have the ambition to set and achieve professional goals — even if you also have the flexibility and open-mindedness to adjust as you go. H3: Say that you’re planning to leave the company.
Of course, not every company is expecting you to stick around until the day you retire, but unless they’ve opened the door for you to talk freely about your goals beyond their company, it’s best to avoid it, Eonnet says. So, for instance, don’t go on and on about your dream job at another company. You don’t want the hiring manager to start imagining you quitting in three months and having to go through this hiring process all over again.
Interviewers want to see that you have hopes and ambitions, but they also want to know that you can be realistic. So your vision and goals here should actually be achievable in the next five years. You can talk about moving up in your career, but maybe don’t say you’ll be a CFO within the next half a decade if you've only been in the workforce for a year. Touch on the skills you hope to gain in this position and how they’ll help you develop professionally.
Here’s what your answer might sound like:
1. "In five years, I see myself mastering the senior account executive role at Hydrangea Inc. I intend to immerse myself in the position, identify new marketplace opportunities, prospect and engage new clients, and pitch and execute ideas to make the sales department as efficient as possible."
2. "I’ll be continuing to build on my foundation in analytics, specifically software programs and methodologies to boost sales for Tiger Cosmetics to become a global leader in the beauty and wellness industries. I'm excited to use my data visualization, programming, and critical thinking skills to help Tiger Cosmetics develop new analytics strategies and ideas."
3. "In the next few years, I envision myself moving into a leadership position on Mountaineer Gear’s product design team where I can exercise my technical design skills in collaboration with others. I would love to help Mountaineer Gear grow by continuing to make and innovate on the quality outdoor products that Mountaineer Gear is known for.
4. “In five years, I will have managed a few multi-channel marketing campaigns and I will have become an expert on social media data reporting. I’ll have developed a reputation as a go-to expert who can manage innovative and strategic campaigns from end to end — from coming up with creative ideas to reporting on results. One of the things that drew me to this role was the team of talented colleagues on both the marketing and data teams who I understand work closely together and who I could learn from and work with to deliver successful campaigns that help PB Co. achieve its goals.”
After you’ve answered the question with a little help from the tips above, you might ask your interviewer, "Where would you see a person with these goals going in your organization in the future?" You can ask them what their plans are in a tactful, subtle way, and if they’re open to giving you an answer that feels honest, take it as a clear sign that you’re interviewing with a good organization.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Natalie Fisher is an enthusiastic HR Generalist who loves her job! She’s been on over 50 interviews and received 48 job offers. Download her Free Guide: How to Nail an Interview You’re Unqualified For.
Fairygodboss editors contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.