Even if you don’t know where you see yourself in five years, there’s a right way to answer during an interview. [TWEET]

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

No interview question has ever been more daunting or mind-numbing. No worries though, hiring managers aren’t concerned with your actual plans; they want to see what you come up with on the spot.

Why do they ask these razzle and dazzle questions?

If hiring managers don’t care about your path in 1,820 days, then why do they ask these silly questions? Asking "where do you see yourself in 5 years" is more about getting insight into your hopes and aspirations. Interviewers ask about plans and goals you have set to give them an inside look into how you operate and structure your thoughts. The interviewer wants to understand more about your career goals and how this position would fit into your grand plan. Companies want trusted, detailed-oriented and committed team members who are willing to take a leap, not a hit-it-and-miss-it employee who is only sticking around until better opportunities arise elsewhere. Also, be aware that hiring managers will ask a similar question different ways. Here are a few examples of similar questions.

  • 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 is most important to you in your career?

How to approach a question that really has no answer

First, no one knows where they will be in five years, and the hiring manager is aware of this. They are not looking for you to lay out a specific plan, detailing everything you are going to do. Focus on what your dreams are, where you would like to take your career next and how you plan to do this. Be realistic; hiring managers are as likely to reject a farfetched idea just as quickly as no idea at all.

Understand the question for what it is, and answer it in a similar fashion. Don’t focus on specific dates, but form your answer to reflect contemplation. For example, instead of telling them you want to be an executive vice president in two years and the president in five, answer a different way.

“I always take the time and effort to advance my career, skills and knowledge. In five years, I plan to have acquired more in-depth knowledge of the company and industry. Those new skills will help me advance my career.”

Another win-win "where do you see yourself in 5 years" answer is to focus on how you plan to help the company. Hiring managers want someone who will add to the team structure and help advance the company. For example, “My first goal is to learn the financial structure of the company, analyze the competition’s strategies and develop strategies to exceed others in the market.”

What you should avoid saying

The first no-no to this question is obvious. The wrong “where do you see yourself in 5 years” answer is “I don’t know.” If the answer doesn’t come to you at first, take a few seconds to think about how you have progressed the last five years. Take those moments, consider the natural flow of progress and formulate an answer. Do not, ever, for any reason, provide a fluffy answer. Hiring managers can see right through those and will reject your candidacy on the spot. They do not want you to lie, manipulate or give an off-the-wall answer.

If your five-year goal is to become an investment banker, then do not apply for a job in a different department or field. On the other hand, don’t tell the hiring manager your plans to leave. If you want to be an investment banker and are applying for a job as an executive assistant, chances are you will quit in less than a year. You know it, the hiring manager knows it and ultimately it will make you both look bad.

In reality, you are probably considering several potential career paths. It’s okay and wise to keep your options open to a certain extent. However, you don’t have to advertise this fact in your job interviews. Never lie, but never show all your cards.


Hiring managers love to surprise candidates with bizarre questions. One of the most popular is the “where do you see yourself” question. These types of questions help determine how applicants think, plan and snap back from the unexpected. Follow these basic rules and you should be golden!

  1. Keep your answer general.

  2. Stress your interest in a long-term career at the company.

  3. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job.

  4. Don’t lie.

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