two people sitting at the corner of conference table laughing during job interview. laptop on table, windows in background
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When you get asked an interview question like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” you might think, “Does five years from now matter? I have rent to pay now!” Or, “I haven’t gotten that far. I’m about to turn 26 and need health insurance.”

It’s easy to become laser-focused on your next job and your next job only—no matter why you’re looking, but especially if you’re unemployed or looking to get out of a toxic workplace. Or maybe you know what you want in the future, you just don’t know if your vision aligns with what the interviewer wants to hear.

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Read on to find out what interviewers want to know, how to put your answer together, and what to avoid—plus a few example answers. 

Why do employers ask “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

This question is “an attempt to measure a candidate's motivation and future goals,” says Muse career coach Tara Goodfellow, owner of Athena Consultants—and gauge how well they match up with the role you’re interviewing for. Have you thought about your career path and how this role and company would fit into it? What are you looking to accomplish in this position, and how are you hoping to grow beyond it?

Employers are looking to understand what value you’ll bring to their organization on your way to achieving your goals, says Muse career coach Eloise Eonnet, founder of Eloquence Coaching. “They also want to know what kind of person you are and will become,” Eonnet says. What’s most important to you: being proud of the work you do? Becoming a great team member? Learning how to be an awesome manager?

Dos for answering “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Follow these tips to craft an answer that will impress your next interviewer.

Connect the job to your career goals

Think about your medium- and long-term career goals—maybe the type of job you want, the kind of company or team you’d like to work for, or the sort of work environment you’d like to be in. Or perhaps your goal is about how you’ll be seen by the people you work with—for example, as a great manager or as an expert on saving at-risk accounts.

Then, figure out how this position will help you reach your goals. Is this role a common step on the way to your dream job? For example, maybe you want to be an account executive down the line and you’re interviewing for a sales development representative role. Or maybe you’re hoping to gain experience with a certain task or grow a skill that will help you in your career. For instance, you might want to work on a website redesign or learn how to manage databases.



Know that it’s OK you don’t have it all figured out yet

You might have no idea where you want to be in five years, particularly if you’re an entry-level candidate—and that’s totally fine. (Check out this worksheet or this article to help you along. ) “Most folks just don't know the scope of potential opportunities until they get some true experience,” Goodfellow says.

In this case, do some research about the career paths and professional opportunities that might follow from the position you’re interviewing for and learn a bit about related departments. See what might interest you and then be ready to explain *why* you’re interested, Goodfellow says. For example, maybe you’re interviewing for a sales role and you’d like to get experience selling to different types of clients to get a sense of which industry or niche you might want to pursue or maybe you’d like to learn more about marketing and how marketing and sales interact and collaborate.

Just “showing in your answer that you understand the role helps,” Goodfellow says, so even if you don’t know where exactly your career is headed, make sure you’re clear on what opportunities this job will provide you and show that you’re excited to explore them.

Be honest

Ultimately, while you want to connect your answer to the role, “You have to answer with what feels right to you.” Goodfellow says. So be honest—but tactful.

Even if you think this is going to be a short-term gig for you, you don’t need to say that. Instead, focus on your potential, Eonnet says. Talk about the “value you will have created in a few years’ time. No need to mention a specific company name or exact position,” she says—e.g., “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.”

Be realistic

Make sure you’re talking about goals you can accomplish in the next five years. If you’re an entry-level candidate, telling a department head that you’ll have their job in five years doesn’t make you seem ambitious, it makes you seem naive (and arrogant). Talk about moving up one or two levels max in your career or about learning skills and gaining experiences you’ll be exposed to in this position.

Follow this formula

So how do you put this together as an answer? Eonnet suggests following this formula:

  • Start your answer with one or two key goals and consider connecting them with some of the qualities you want to convey to the interviewer. For example, “I’m someone who loves learning about new tech and trends, so in the next five years, I see myself as having established strong knowledge on what’s new and emerging in digital marketing.
  • Next dive into how and why you will have done these things. Interviewers want to see that you’ve thought through your plan. So continuing with the example you might say: “By working as an analyst, I will have gained experience in analyzing the results of a range of marketing tactics, and I’ll have stayed on top of new developments by becoming active in one or more professional marketing groups. I will have also used my analysis and knowledge to contribute to the conception of marketing campaigns and gained some experience running campaigns myself. This will give me a good foundation in marketing practices and help me leverage new trends effectively to create marketing campaigns that never feel stale.”
  • Finish with your ambitions beyond the next five years (if you’d like). “From there, I’m hoping to decide if I’d like to become a marketing specialist or continue as a generalist, but regardless, I’m hoping to eventually move into a marketing manager or strategist position where I’m making bigger-picture choices regarding campaigns and branding.”

Don’ts for answering “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Here’s what not to do (no matter how tempting it might be).

Imply haven’t thought about your goals (or tell a joke)

For example, this is a no:

No matter how true it feels. You should also steer clear of other joke answers like “retired on a beach” or “as a rich widow.” Even if you don’t know exactly what’s in store for you down the line, use your answer to show that you have a plan to figure it out. 

Imply that you’re leaving this job the first chance you get

Not every company is expecting you to still be working for them in five years, but unless they state otherwise, it’s best to assume that they do, Eonnet says. Goodfellow (who was formerly a recruiter) adds, “It’s very expensive to train, and expensive to recruit, so I do want to hear you intend to stick around.” You don’t need to explicitly state, “I’ll still be working for you,” if it’s not true, but avoid saying anything that would be impossible if you still worked for the company. So if you’re interviewing for a software development job at a startup, don’t say that you’re hoping to have landed your dream job at Google by then.

Be too generic

“I remember being asked this question early in my career and wanted to blurt out, ‘I have no idea! I just need a job to pay my bills,’” Goodfellow says. She didn’t, but she ended up saying something “semi-honest and equally vague about wanting to do my best, learn more about the role and company, and apply my strengths to help the company achieve its goals.” She doesn’t recommend being this bland. Use this question as an opportunity to highlight why you’re a good fit. Maybe you’re excited to get hands-on experience producing professional videos after producing a number of successful student films with little to no budget, for example.

Ramble

“Be honest, direct, and succinct,” Goodfellow says.

Example answers

One possible answer to this question might sound like:

“I’m someone who loves solving problems, so in five years, I’d love to be seen as the go-to financial analyst when departments or projects need to save money and achieve their business goals. I will have worked with senior financial analysts to learn from their approaches before taking on a few smaller budgets myself and slowly building up from there. But I will have also completed a few courses on business operations using XYZ Co’s professional development allowance since I want to make sure that any suggestions I make go toward not just saving money, but increasing efficiency and achieving company goals.”

Or let’s say you’re an entry-level candidate who doesn’t quite know where you want to be in five years. You might answer with:

“In five years, I’d like to be in a position where I know more about my longer-term career aspirations as a designer. I will have gotten experience working for a design agency and know more about the industry overall. I’ll have grown my technical skills and learned how to take feedback from clients and incorporate it. And the way your agency is set up, I’ll also have gotten the opportunity to design different kinds of deliverables—including websites, branding, and ad campaigns—for different kinds of clients to see where I really feel at home before settling on a focus.”

A a couple of years into your career, you might say something like:

“I’ve found that the most rewarding part of working in HR has been when I get to be part of putting together a training or development session—it’s so satisfying to help my coworkers learn something new and useful. So in five years I’d like to be more of an expert in learning and development. I’ll have learned more about what goes into putting together development opportunities for employees and have hopefully coordinated or run some training sessions myself. In a training and development coordinator role like this, I’ll also learn more about how to work with individual employees or teams to identify prime opportunities to upskill and find the best form of training available so I’m delivering programs that are useful to individuals and the org overall. Hopefully, in five years I’ll be helping make decisions about what kinds of programs a business will offer and how to make sure employees are benefitting and growing.

Updated 1/20/2022