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"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" It's one of the most common interview questions and can often feel like a trick question, but it's not. Employers don't expect you to wield a crystal ball and tell them exactly where you'll be in five years.
This common job interview question is designed to help them get a better understanding of your future plans and if they align with the position you're applying for.
Sometimes the answer is "not in this job," or "in your job," or something like "at a bigger opportunity elsewhere." None of those are good answers that you'd want to give in your next job interview.
The good news is you can be honest while still giving hiring managers want they want to know.
While you may not have a clear idea of where you want to be in the next few years, a good answer to this question will set you up for success and help support your job application. This can be hard to determine on the spot, so think through your answer ahead of time.
In this article, we'll walk you through why interviewers ask this question, how to answer where you see yourself in five years, and provide sample answers and tips to help you formulate your own response that communicates your enthusiasm for the job and impresses your interviewer.
Why interviewers ask "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
When an employer asks "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?", they aren't expecting you to have a specific five-year goal.
They're really asking "What are your career goals and how does this position fit into them?"
They're looking to see if you have certain traits and whether you're a good fit for the position and company. Specifically, hiring managers are looking to learn:
- If you're likely to stick around: Interviewing, hiring, onboarding, and training new employees is expensive. The longer you stay in a position, the less turnover and turnover-related expenses the company has to worry about. Employers want to ensure the time and money they spend is a good investment. If your answer makes it seem like you're not likely to stick around for the next few years, it'll be harder to get a job offer.
- If your career goals match the job: Hiring managers and interviewers want to understand if your personal goals align with their expectations for the position. If the two don't align, employers may (rightly) determine that you won't be satisfied or engaged with the role. As a job seeker, you're more likely to come across as a good fit if your plans align with the role.
- If your goals match what the employer can offer: If you have an idea of how you'd like to grow within the position and company you're applying for, it's a good idea to express them. For example, if you're applying for an entry-level position but want to be a manager within five years, the interviewer can provide information about whether that is possible at the company. Similarly, if you want to start in one position and transfer to a different position in another department, you'll want to know if that's possible with the employer. This will help ou and the employer determine if there is mutual fit.
- If you have drive and ambition: It's hard to know or plan for what you'll be doing in five years, but hiring managers still prefer candidates who have a desire to grow and progress in their career. If you can tie your personal goals to the job and the company's goals, then you'll really stand out.
- If you have a passion for the role and the company: Employers want to hire job seekers who are passionate about the company's goals and the specific position they're applying for. You don't need a five-year plan, but a good answer to this particular question is a great way to highlight your passion. If it's your dream job or you're excited for the opportunity to learn new skills, tell them! Understanding your passions and interests helps employers envision how you might contribute and assures them that the role will be fulfilling for you.
Ultimately, interviewers want to know how the role you're applying for fits into your long-term goals and career path. If there is a good match, it's better for both of you. You'll be more engaged, gain valuable skills, and are likely to stick around for a long time.
How to answer "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
It's best to prepare your answer to "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" ahead of time. Outline how you see yourself evolving in the role, the skills and experience you want to pick up, and possible promotion paths.
This might seem obvious, but many people make the mistake of trying to freestyle this question during the interview. Preparation ensures you provide a good answer and successfully convey why you're excited about the role to the interviewer.
Even if you don't see yourself in the long term, a good answer will still outline how the role will help you learn and grow within the company.
Use the following steps to prepare:
1. Get clear about your career goals and answer the question for yourself first
Before you answer the question for the hiring manager, think about where the position could take you and how that aligns with your short or long-term career goals.
Do you want to gain new skills? Are you interested in moving into a managerial position? Do you want to work on a particular part of the company? Are you interested in working in the industry?
Use these prompts to develop a list:
- Are there incremental job titles you could grow into? For example, moving from a software engineer to a senior software engineer or engineering manager? Even if the job isn't a direct path to your ideal job, the people you meet and the skills you learn can be a stepping stone to it in the future.
- Are there certain technical or soft skills you will hone? A content marketer may want to gain experience with SEO or video production.
- Are there any relevant or well-known certifications you could pursue? A growth manager may want to take a Reforge course on retention.
- Are there specific achievements you want to hit? For instance, improving the conversion rate of a key piece of the funnel by 5%.
2. Think about how the specific position will help you build out your resume
It can be helpful to think about what your ideal resume would look like in five years and how the role will help you fill it out.
Read the job description carefully and consider which of the required or desired skills and traits you already have, which you would like to strengthen, and which you would like to gain more experience in.
This will make it easier to tie your long-term goals to the job description.
You don't need to hit every point during your interview, but thinking about how the role will help you build your future resume will help shape a good response.
3. Think about your interests and how they might evolve in the role
It's important to be honest about whether the company you're applying to can prepare you for your career goals over the next five years. If it can't, you may want to reconsider your application or let the employer know upfront that you may not be with the company for five years.
Being honest will allow the interviewer to assess whether the role will help you reach your five-year plan. Even if you don't have a five-year goal, there is always room to grow and learn new skills.
Focus on outlining why you're excited about the role and how it'll help you develop new skills and take on more responsibility over time. Also outline any areas of interest in the company that you would want to grow into as you gain more experience.
There might be a particular area of interest that you want to focus on at the company, and it might take a few years for you to get there, but if you can do a good job mapping it out to the interviewer, you'll stand out.
4. Tailor your answer to the company and the specific position
As a final step, make sure that you explain how the job you're interviewing fits into your goals. Otherwise, you're going to leave the interviewer wondering how you're different to other job seekers.
If you really want to stand out, research the company. Start with their website and familiarize yourself with their products, services, mission, and values. From there, we recommend watching or listening to interviews with the CEO or members of the senior leadership team. This is a great way to understand the company's North Star metrics and their company culture. A good place to start is with our remote company database.
Go beyond the usual channels and look at social media, company reviews, press releases, and blog posts. To really stand out, read about things that are related to the role you are applying for. For example, if you're applying for a developer role, research the company's tech stack and look on Reddit to see what people think of the company's products.
Common mistakes to avoid when answering "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
Here are a few things you want to avoid doing when answering "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?":
- "I'm considering getting my MBA or going to law school": Even if the company is known to sponsor business or law school, you shouldn't indicate that you don't expect to be here for long or that the job they're hiring for isn't something that you are interested in. If the promotion path requires an MBA or advanced degree, you can outline that you'd like to be in that position in the future.
- Trying to be funny: "The President of the United States" isn't likely to get a laugh. It will, however, count as a strike against you for many interviewers. Don't waste people's time with silly answers, be honest! The hiring manager wants to know if they'll be able to help you get to where you want to go!
- Major career changes: If you're applying for an operations position, don't say that you see yourself being a Creative Director in five years. An answer like this indicates that you're not interested in the role you're applying for. The one caveat to this is if you're early in your career or applying to a startup where it's not uncommon to change disciplines. If you are going to take this approach, make sure you have a good narrative around how the role you're applying for will give you a unique set of skills that will be valuable in your ideal position.
- Outlandish claims: Similarly, don't set your sights unrealistically high. If you're applying for an entry-level job, you're probably not going to be in an executive position in five years. Again, if you are going to take this approach, you need to outline how you plan to get there.
- Rigid answers: This is one of the only common interview questions were a vague answer is better than a hyper-specific one. Unless you have a crystal ball, it's hard to know where you'll end up in the coming years. If it seems like your plan is too rigid, the hiring manager might be concerned that you'll jump ship if things don't go exactly as planned.
- Not keeping the job in mind: It's fine to say the job is a stepping stone to a bigger role in the future, but you don't want to gloss over it too much. Companies invest time and money into onboarding and training new employees, and they don't want to invest in people who plan to leave quickly. Even if you don't see yourself in the role long term, you still need to show genuine ethusiam for the position.
- No enthusiasm: Hiring managers will typically hire a candidate who is enthusiastic about the company and the specific position, not someone who is looking to collect a paycheck and will move on whenever a better opportunity calls. Be genuinely invested in the position you’re applying for and do your research ahead of time.
- Being too honest: If you're only taking the job because you'll really need it and you don't plan to stay in the position, it's unlikely that you'll get a job offer.
Tips for answering "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
No matter the specifics of your answer, here are some tips that hold true:
- Provide a broad answer: This is one of those questions where a general answer is better than a hyper-specific one as you don't know what the promotion track or career path at the company could be.
- Emphasize that you can see yourself growing at the company: While you don't know what's going to happen in the future, frame your answer in a way that assumes you'll be working at the company.
- Indicate you're looking to level up and learn, rather than get specific job titles: Suggest that you'd like to grow with the company, but don't focus on a specific job title or trajectory.
- Align your resume with your answer: This will require some work before you apply for a job, but it's worth it. Be honest with yourself about what you're looking to get out of the job. Most importantly, outline how you can provide value to the company and how that aligns with your personal goals.
- Be realistic: You want your answer to sound realistic and believable. Try to only outline goals which can be achieved in five years and that fit in with the job you're applying for.
- Split your answer into two parts: The first part of your answer should focus on the immediate position that you're applying for and how you're excited about the opportunity. The second part should deal with your future plans and expectations. By making your answer two parts, you'll affirm your desire for the job while answering the long term component of the question.
Sample answers to "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"
The best answers to "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" tend to be split into two parts:
- Demonstrating your excitement for the job you're applying for
- Outlining how the job you're applying for fits in with your long term goals
Let's walk through a few sample answers that you can use to develop your own.
Example answer 1: Entry-level job
I also love that you are aggressive about giving opportunities to Stripes who have proven to be good at executing them, regardless of where they are in their career. I'm pretty ambituous and not afraid to work hard, so I'd love to be leading an engineering team in the next five years. I 've led an engineering team at a startup already and while I'm not an amazing manager, I'm excited to become one over time.
I agree with your CEO Patrick in that the beginning of your career can be very productive if you find the right problems to spend it on. I think Stripe has great problems for me to focus on. And that's why I'm excited to be applying for a software engineering role at Stripe!"
Why this answer works: The candidate has shown that they've researched the company by referencing one of the programming languages they use, as well as a static type checker that Stripe built for it. They go on to outline how their previous experience ties into the job, where they want to be in five years, and even quoted the CEO.
Example answer 2: Mid-level job
I know Coinbase sees the value in the skills I've already developed and the Business Operations & Strategy Associate role really excites me.
I like that it's a cross-functional team that works across the whole company. Over time as I get more exposure to operations, the product, and marketing, I'd love to transition into leading a more focused group within Coinbase."
Why this answer works: The candidate has outlined the skills that they want to develop in the role, used language from the job description to show the hiring manager how their goals fit into the company's objectives, and outlined a clear path to a future position inside the company.
Example 3: Career change
"I've been working in product design for most of my career but had the opportunity to take on some product management work in my current role. I found that I really enjoyed it and I'm excited to join a smaller company like VEED.IO where I can wear multiple hats.
I can see you guys are already invested in design, so I'd love the opportunity to help build out your design system further. In the future, I'd love to move toward a product management or hybrid role where I could work across product and design. I think my background in design would make me a better PM too."
Why this answer works: The candidate has outlined why they're excited about joining the company, shown that they've looked at the website, and know the company is looking to bolster their design system. They then went on to indicate what skills they would like to develop but haven't been super strict about a job title or timeline.
Possible follow-up questions
- Do you have any questions for me? Read our guide on the best questions to ask in an interview.
- Why are you interested in this position?
- What can you contribute to this company? This question is similar to "Why do you want to work here?" And will only be asked as a follow-up if you weren't able to articulate your value in your answer.
- Any number of behavioral interview questions. Be sure to use the STAR method when answering.
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