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

“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 hiring managers ask these razzle-dazzle interview questions.

If hiring managers don’t care about your path in 1,820 days, then why do they ask this silly question? Asking "Where do you see yourself in five 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 trustworthy, detailed-oriented, and dedicated team members who are willing to take a leap, not a noncommittal employee who is only sticking around until a better opportunity arises elsewhere.

Hiring managers may pose this common interview question a few different ways. Below are a few examples of similar interview questions that aim at uncovering the same information from a candidate as the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

  • 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?

RelatedHow to Tackle the Long- and Short-Term Goals Interview Question

How to approach an interview question that has no one 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 far-fetched idea just as quickly as no idea at all.

Understand the question for what it is, and answer it in accordingly. 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, try answering like this:

“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 answer to the  "Where do you see yourself in five years?" interview question is to focus on how you plan to help the company. Hiring managers want someone who will add value to the team and help advance the company. For example:

“My first goal is to learn the financial structure of the company, analyze the competition, and then develop a strategy to exceed others in the market.”

What you should avoid saying.

The first no-no to answering this common interview question is pretty obvious. Whatever you do, don’t respond to the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” with “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 over the last five years. 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.

Takeaways.

Hiring managers love to surprise candidates with challenging interview questions. Follow these basic rules for responding to the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and you should be golden!

  • Keep your answer general.

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

  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job.

  • Don’t lie.

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