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HOW TO ANSWER: Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

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Where do you see yourself in five years? This interview question is not designed to test your psychic powers.

No interviewer expects candidates to be able to describe EXACTLY what they will be doing in 1,820 days. In fact, a truthful answer about what you HOPE to be doing can easily sabotage your odds of landing a job offer.

So why do interviewers insist on asking this question?

Why Interviewers Ask, “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

The interviewer wants to understand more about your career goals and how this position would fit into your grand plan. They care about your career goals because they want to hire someone who is motivated, proactive, and likely to stick around and work hard if hired.

If succeeding in this role is important to you as part of your long-term career strategy, you are much more likely to perform well.

You may also hear one of these similar/related questions that are not quite as cliched as the old “5 years” chestnut:

  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What is your ideal job at this stage in your career?
  • What are you looking for?
  • How do you define success?
  • What’s most important to you in you career?

How to Answer The Question

In today’s competitive job market, interviewers are looking for any red flag to use as an excuse not to hire someone. So you could be unfairly eliminated from contention if you answer this question in a way that even hints this is not the one and only job of your dreams.

Understandably, an employer wants to hire someone who is truly excited about the job at hand, someone who sees it as a great career move and will work tirelessly to do a good job.

You may have already said that you’re interested in the job and why. But they are testing you further by asking, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

If your five-year goal is to become an investment banker, it’s going to be hard for them to believe that this position as an IT marketing manager is your dream job.

Hiring managers don’t generally enjoy recruiting, hiring, and training new people. It can be a time-consuming and difficult process. Your interviewer does not want to invest time and effort in someone who is already planning to leave for something better as soon as it comes along (whether that’s a job that’s a better fit, grad school, or your own business).

After all, if she hires you and you quit after a month or two, she’s going to look really bad to her bosses.

In reality, you are probably considering a few different potential career paths. It’s smart for you to keep your options open to a certain extent. However, you don’t have to advertise this fact in your job interviews.

Let’s be clear: You should never lie during a job interview. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be 100% candid about all of the directions that you are investigating.

Inside Big Interview, our complete training system for job interviews, we give you video lessons, sample answers, and an interactive practice tool for all of these different versions of “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Watch this brief video to learn a little more about Big Interview, and click here to take a quick look at the program.

So what should you say?

1. Keep your answer fairly general, especially if you don’t know a lot about the typical career path at the company. For most interview questions, I recommend being SPECIFIC because general answers tend to be bland and easily forgettable. This is the exception. Make your answer truthful, but broad enough that it doesn’t raise doubts about whether you would be a good fit for this position at this organization.

2. Stress your interest in a long-term career at the company (especially if you have short job tenures on your resume). Your interviewer wants to know that you’re ready to settle in and grow with the firm. The truth is that anything can happen. The company could go out of business, they could lay you off, or you could be lured away for a better opportunity.

However, remember that the organization is going to be investing considerable time, energy, and money in hiring and training someone for this job. You must at least show an honest intention to stay long enough to be a good investment. If you have some “job hopping” on your resume, it’s particularly important to make the case that you’re now ready for a long-term role.

3. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job as an exciting next step for you. Most importantly, make it clear that you are motivated to take on this opportunity right now.

Example Answer to “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

Why We Like It:
The emphasis is on growing with the company (he’s a good long-term hire) and taking on new challenges (he’s goal-oriented, proactive), not on a specific title or job description (he’s flexible).

More Example Responses

1. “My goal right now is to find a position at a company where I can grow and take on new challenges over time. Ultimately, I’d like to assume more management responsibilities and get involved in product strategy. But most importantly, I want to work for an organization where I can build a career.”

Why We Like It:
This answer offers some insight into the candidate’s goals and interests (becoming a manager, being involved in product strategy) so it’s not too generic. This response also strongly expresses a desire for a long-term career with the company.

2. “I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”

Why We Like It:
With this answer, the candidate is emphasizing her focus on learning, performance, and achievement. She is also complimenting the company and its reputation for hiring quality people (including the interviewer, perhaps?). The reference to “building a career here” indicates an interest in sticking around and contributing.

Special Scenarios: Make Your Narrative Believable

In some situations, your answer to this question will be particularly important. If you’re making a career change or this position doesn’t seem like an obvious next step based on your resume, your interviewer may be suspicious about whether you REALLY are committed to this field or just need to make a few bucks until something better comes along.

Nobody wants to hire an applicant who is halfhearted about the job. It’s like dating someone who is using you for free dinners until someone she’s REALLY attracted to comes along.

Your response to “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is your opportunity to sell the interview on your commitment to the career path and the position.

For example, let’s say you were recently laid off after working in academia for five years and are now interviewing for a job in biotechnology management. To be seriously considered, you need to be able to describe why you are excited about making the switch and building a career in biotech. You don’t want to leave the impression that this would only be a temporary diversion until something opens up for you in your “real” field of interest.

This is also relevant for new grads. If your major and internships are in a totally different area, be prepared to talk convincingly about why you want to invest the next five years in this new field represented by the open position.

How Not to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

1. Don’t overthink it: “Well, that’s a very hard question. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 5 years….hmmmm….that’s tough.”

In my work with individual clients, I’ve seen this mistake a million times. It’s great that you take the question seriously, but you are not being evaluated based on accuracy of answer. Use your answer to reassure the interviewer that you’re invested in this career path.

2. Don’t be too specific: “I plan to be a VP at a major firm with at least 7 direct reports, a company car, and a salary of 150K (plus options of course).”

Ambition is good. Goals are good. However, if you are too specific, you run the risk of stating goals that are not realistically achievable in the job available. From the interviewer’s perspective, that means you’re not a good fit.

3. Don’t be flaky: “I’d love to be CEO in five years. Then again, I’d also love to be touring with my band if that takes off.”

You can come across as flaky if you seem to have a million different ideas about what you want to do — or if you have zero clear ideas about your future. In reality, many good candidates are exploring different options or are still trying to figure it out. However, a job interview is not a session with your career coach. You want to give the impression that you’re focused and have a plan (even if it’s not the only plan you’re considering).

4. Don’t raise red flags: “Well, I’m not sure. I’m thinking about law school or business school or clown college.”

Many job seekers have long-term visions of going back to school or starting their own business. These are admirable goals, but there’s no need to share them with your interviewer, especially if you’re still weighing your possibilities.

Of course, if you’ve already committed to full-time grad school or another path that will conflict with your ability to perform in the job, it’s only fair to be open about that.

Also, there are some career paths that require advanced degrees and/or other additional training. For example, many finance and management consulting career paths require an MBA. In these cases, it will be expected that your five-year plan will include more schooling.

One Last Word of Advice

Take the time to think about this question and prepare a response. Don’t memorize a script, but practice how you will describe your long-term career plans in a way that will be relevant to the interviewer and help you tell your story about why you’re the best person for the job.

Here is CollegeHumor’s interesting take on this classic interview question.

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Photo Credit: MSVG

Written by

Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

86 Comment to HOW TO ANSWER: Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

  • pratik mali

    What is so important about establishing a long term relationships with clients and customers?

  • ca a

    Because these businesses and companies think slavery is still legal as long as they give you a paycheck. They think they can cuss at employees, speak down on employees, be sarcastic to employees, and even rub in the fact they have multiple houses ie. beach house, farm house, etc. Some of these asses like to pay peanuts and bring their expensive or exotic cars, boats, multiple vehicles, and toys to work while they pay the productive ones Chinese wages or peanuts while they walk around strutting and twerking with their stupid star bucks coffee like they are really something.

  • ca a

    LOL Love it!!

  • ca a

    LOL It could have been worse you could have said married to CEO therefore financially secure if they are your type.

  • ca a

    You are selling yourself in an interview. Tell them whatever they want to hear to gain the job. Not much integrity in the corporate world anyway.


    That’s right up there, with “CEO of the company”. 🙂 and what are your weaknesses ? “Chocolate cake!” Glib is a risky business .. they might laugh; or they might mentally cross you off the list as a jokey smartass, and not taking the interview seriously… I wouldn’t chance it with that answer..


    I’m all over the internet, making myself an actual crib sheet for my upcoming interview, scripting how I want to answer the most common questions. Watching tons of youtube videos, and writing down my favorite answers from online interview blogs. I havent’ been on a job interview in over 20 years, and have NO CLUE how to answer these personality questions properly. (and there is a right way, and a wrong way, I’m finding out quickly!) Study for it like you’re studying for your thesis…

    Want to know what’s even more fun?? I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and eye contact while maintaining conversation, is next to impossible for me. ( I also involuntarilyl trail off before finishing sentences because my train of thought completely disappears on me… aaarrrrggh). I have to practice in a mirror, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It goes against everything I’m wired for, and struggling not to avert my gaze, is brutal!

  • Lizzy Lugo

    Hello Pamela… I have a telephone interview with someone in a court in the USA. I have applied to be a Clerk Typist 11 in the Clerk of Courts department in a small town in Wisconsin… I have no idea what type of questions they will be asking. I am nervous. Help.

  • Antny Del Giudice

    I’ve done this and it does not work!

  • rcephuk

    Make it simple answer: “progress on my role”

  • K88

    well, When you are 30 year old woman you cannot sit there and tell them that all you really want now is to settle down and have a kid or two… No, you talk about goals that are frankly as irrelevant to you as you having kids is off-putting to the employer.

  • Jay David

    The five year question is a sign of a mediocre interviewer. Its like “tell me about yourslef. Its a leading bullshit question that produces manufactured bullshit ansers. anyone who finds that “om, like, so valuable” makes me cringe as I picture working with them. usually nice breeze coming out the ears though.

  • Jay David

    Completely agree. Cringeworthy and common. Does the door say “Personnel” too? sign of a traditonal rule follower.

  • Jay David


  • Jay David

    Wow–guess you are picking the wrong companies then? I dont think I heard but for a few times in 20 years. its always either: 1) a nervous question coming from an unexperienced interviewer 2) someone uncomfortable with a little silent dead space; compensating by talk talk talk talk.

  • Jay David

    Way to much energy on this, myself included. –know who you are interviewing with and you won’t have to read through all this advice and could get the background, connections to, any opportinties info.mThat drives tge best responses and questions and way tou carry yoyrself

  • Jay David

    Love your response. So true…

  • SallysRock

    This is a question that needs to be retired, like “how many kids do you have” or “how old are you?”. It’s age discrimination.

  • Alexander “alex” salazar

    interview questions is totally a bull shit, you lie about yourself ,lie everything, the only way to demonstrate to be a good fit for a position is working in that position.the intreviewers ask but they can lose talent .liars

  • Love your story KSOnline 🙂 & that’s great that God granted your wish without you even realise that’s your wish..

  • No matter how old/ageist this question is, so good to be prepared.. furthermore I dont expect that the interviewer is a fresh graduate / youngsters. Usually department head / senior level / elderly. Ain’t it? 🙂

  • I guess it does not matter If the question been asked to those who nearly retire. Maybe it would be better not to show employer that we are money minded & give answer to show our enthusiasm towards our job scope, that we still excited to achieve more great accomplishment at work such as “acquire more projects for company”

  • Maybe not a surprise because interviewer also senior / elderly usually.

  • Tamara Battle

    The answer is Dog.
    Loyal, hard working, caring, friendly.

  • Marina Dribnenki

    I answered “where do you think you’ll see yourself in 5 years” with “well, I’d assume in the mirror”.