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How to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”

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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 this month!” 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—especially if you’re unemployed or seeking to leave a toxic workplace. Or maybe you do have a clear vision of your future goals, but you're not sure if they align with what the interviewer wants to hear.

Regardless, this question is crucial, and how you respond can make or break your chances of being hired. Learn what interviewers want to know, how to put your answer together, and what to avoid—plus read a few example answers.

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

Even if it's not immediately clear, there's typically a logical reason behind the questions an interviewer chooses to ask. Here's why the interview question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is an important one:

To measure if you're a good fit for the role

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? Your answer should match with what the company has to offer; otherwise, the hiring manager might assume you won't stick around for long, or question your genuine interest in the position.

To understand your values and career aspirations

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,” she says.

What matters most to you: Being proud of the work you do? Becoming a great team member? Learning how to be an awesome manager? Nowadays, fitting in with the company culture and sharing its values is just as important as having the skills required to perform your daily tasks.

To assess your potential for growth within the company

Hiring managers also pose this question to uncover whether you have a growth mindset. Ambitious people are often highly motivated, open to learning, willing to take risks, and embrace additional responsibilities. In certain companies and industries, these traits are deemed essential in an employee.

Even if you're not the most ambitious person ever, having a clear goal is important to show that you're not just going with the flow and aren't comfortable with staying stagnant.

Do's for answering “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

When preparing your response to "Where do you see yourself five years from now?" consider the company's values and how your goals align with the role. To make things easier, follow these tips to craft an answer that will impress your next interviewer:

1. 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’re interviewing for a sales development representative role because you want to be an account executive down the line.

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.

2. Know that it’s OK if 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 applying for an entry-level position—and that’s totally fine. (Check out this worksheet on how to set long-term career goals.) “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, imagine you’re interviewing for a sales role. You might be interested in gaining experience selling to different types of clients to identify the industry or niche that best suits you in the long run. Or maybe you’d like to learn more about 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 demonstrate that you’re excited to explore them.

Read more: How to Set Ambitious Career Goals You Can Realistically Accomplish

3. 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.

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—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.”

4. 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.

5. Follow this formula

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

  • Step 1: 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.”

  • Step 2: 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.”

  • Step 3: 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?”

While certain answers can really impress a recruiter, others might totally ruin your chances of getting the job. Here’s what not to do (no matter how tempting it might be):

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

For example, “I'm just trying to make it to Friday.” No matter how true it feels, this is definitely a no.

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 response to show that you have a plan to figure it out.

2. 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.

3. 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. Perhaps 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.

4. Ramble

“Be honest, direct, and succinct,” Goodfellow says. Hiring managers will likely have other candidates to interview on the same day—so they don't want you to talk forever, and you don't need to. It's possible to give a good response in just 2 to 3 minutes.

If getting lost in your own thoughts is common for you, our tip is to practice with a time clock before the interview. If you're taking too long, try jotting down your answer, reading it, and then trimming away any non-essential details. Keep practicing until you can deliver your response within a reasonable amount of time.

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Answer examples

Now, let's see how all these tips come together for a winning response. Here are three example answers tailored to different job titles and career stages. Read on to get inspired and use these samples as a guide to craft your own answer.

#1 Sample answer for a mid-level candidate

So, you're not quite senior yet, but you definitely want to get there. 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.”

#2 Sample answer for an entry-level candidate

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.”

#3 Sample answer for a senior candidate

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 new skills.

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 career 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.”

Key takeaways

See a pattern in all these examples? They clearly articulate their goals for the future and show how they'll get there in the next five years. These are key elements for crafting an answer that will leave a lasting positive impression. Nail this question, and you're one step closer to acing your job interview.