How to answer the classic “where do you see yourself in 5 years” interview question

It’s a question that has derailed countless job interviews. Sure, there are a few different ways of asking it: “Do you have a five-year plan?,” or “What would you like your resume to look like in 5 years?,” to name a few variations, but at the end of the day they all boil down to the classic corporate query: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Heading into a big job interview can be daunting enough for many applicants as they prepare to answer questions related to their professional past. Turns out they need to account for their future too. Indeed, it may seem superfluous and a little bit silly in the cold light of day, but you very well may be judged on your future self’s actions besides just yesterday’s accomplishments and today’s ambitions. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing for the role of CFO or an entry-level position in the mailroom, chances are, you’re going to be asked to predict your ideal professional future. Luckily, you don’t have to be an actual corporate soothsayer to ace this particularly tricky question that hiring managers and recruiters have long adopted as a job interview staple. While there’s no single response that will work for everyone, following this formula will help you craft a winning answer sure to impress all listeners.

The root of the question

We’ll get into specifics later, but for now it’s important to understand the big picture regarding why employers love asking this question in the first place. No company wants to choose a candidate that will end up walking out the door, for whatever reason, mere months or weeks later. The 5 year question is ubiquitous across job interviews nowadays because hiring managers are looking for stability and safety in their chosen candidate 9.9 times out of 10. 

It’s a bit of a cliche, but decision makers really do want to hear that you’re in it for the long haul. For instance, if you’re interviewing for a sales role, but your ideal five year future has nothing to do with working in a sales position, that’s going to set off more than one alarm bell in recruiters’ heads.

Keep your answer relevant

While it can be tempting to respond confidently that within five years you’ll be the head of the company or manager of an entire division, it’s best to avoid such a strategy. You’ll have plenty of time to ascend the business ranks after you’re hired. Answering that you’re already eying a corner office or more senior role will lead most interviewers to assume you see the job at hand as nothing more than a temporary pitstop or stepping stone.

Instead, keep your answer relevant to the position you’re pursuing at that moment while simultaneously mixing in some of your larger career goals. In other words, take the time to ask yourself before the interview how this particular position will help you reach your personal career goals.

If you’ve applied for an editor job that will entail keeping up to date with the latest trends in Web3 and AI, you can say something like “In five years’ time I hope to have my finger firmly on the pulse of the latest tech trends, and ideally, even be viewed as something of an expert when it comes to artificial intelligence by my peers and co-workers.”

Another example response, this time for a lead web designer position: “I’ve spent my career thus far honing and refining my design skills. Over the next five years I’d like to continue putting those skills to use while also taking on a more active leadership role. Ideally, I will lead my team to countless successful projects and satisfied clients over the next half decade.”

Keep specifics to a minimum

While speaking in broad terms is generally frowned upon when answering most interview questions, it’s actually advisable to keep your response to the five year query more open-ended than detailed. This approach helps candidates maintain honesty and transparency during interviews while also not allowing themselves to be boxed in too much to a stringent five-year plan. The more specifics given, the greater the chance that a detail here or there doesn’t exactly line up with what the hiring manager has in mind for the position being filled.

Crystal balls and cover letters

Outside of the office, the notion of anyone besides a sorcerer being capable of truly predicting what they’ll be doing in five years is absurd, but inside the boardroom crystal balls are fair game. When preparing for your next interview, don’t let the inevitable five-year question weigh too heavily on your mind. The future may not be written yet, but with a little preparation, you can easily ensure your predicted professional path aligns with the open position.