How To Answer “Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?” (With Examples): Job Interview Question

By Chris Kolmar - Sep. 27, 2021
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“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” — it’s one of the most common interview questions around, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear it from a hiring manager at some point.

It’s all right if you don’t have a detailed five-year plan. Interviewers aren’t really looking for that anyway. They want to hear you speak with enthusiasm about your career goals and your passion for the field.

We’ll walk you through how to answer the five-year interview question step-by-step and provide some sample answers to help formulate your own response.

Why Interviewers Ask “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”

Interviewers ask “where do you see yourself in five years” for three main reasons:

  • Hear your career goals. Hiring managers and recruiters are looking for candidates whose career goals align with the company’s expectations for the position. Interviewers will be asking themselves if this job will help you achieve your career goals — and you should ask yourself the same.

  • Learn your motivations. People who are passionate about the field and express enthusiasm to advance will stand out and impress interviewers. Additionally, the way you answer will reveal what motivates you to excel at your job. If you’re interested in a management position, you’d probably enjoy some supervisory tasks, for example.

  • Figure out how long you’ll stay. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to hire someone who’s going to jump ship as soon as another job offer comes along.

    Employers expend a ton of energy and time interviewing potential candidates, they want to ensure they’re hiring someone with the honest intent of staying with the company for an extended period of time.

    This is almost impossible to guarantee, but they are looking for that honest, serious intent.

Ultimately, interviewers want to know how the role you’re applying for fits into your larger career plan. They want to make sure you’ll be satisfied, adequately challenged but not overwhelmed, and happy to stay for the long haul.

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

To answer “where do you see yourself in 5 years,” discuss how you would realistically grow and evolve in the role you’re applying for. Let’s go over both the pre-interview preparation and a winning strategy once you’re in the interview:

  1. Research career paths for the position. First and foremost, get a basic sense of what a career path looks like for someone in this position. Zippia has career path charts for every profession, which can be a good place to start.

    You can also go directly to the company’s website. Bigger companies are likely to have information about their corporate titles and department structure. This can provide you with the language you need to describe your answer in terms that the interviewer definitely understands (and appreciates, since it implies you’ll be sticking around).

  2. Tie your genuine goals to the job description. Before the interview, consider your actual career goals. If you don’t have a clear idea of what they are, that’s okay — sticking with vague language that indicates upward mobility is a perfectly acceptable (if not memorable) approach to this question.

    But if you can authentically talk about how the job responsibilities line up with things you really enjoy doing and want to do more of in your professional life, that can make for an easy win on the five-year question.

  3. Discuss the evolution of your interests and skills. Most people won’t have a hard-and-fast five-year plan, and interviewers know this. They don’t need a year-by-year breakdown of your life and career path.

    This is one answer where we actually encourage a certain level of vagueness. Instead of saying exactly where you’d like to be, talk about how you envision your skills growing in the role as you take on more and greater responsibilities. Also, briefly explore some areas of interest that might grow and develop as you get more comfortable in the field.

Example Answers to “Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?”

Let’s put our advice to work with a few example answers:

  1. Example Answer 1: Customer Service Representative

    “Long term, I’d to take what I learn in this role and apply it to other parts of the company as I progress in my career. Being an advocate for the customer could help in marketing, product, and other areas of the company that I’d love to contribute to over time. I’m especially interested in developing my skills with CRM platforms and growing into a role that leverages that technology more.”

  2. Example Answer 2: Entry-Level Business Analyst

    My first career goal is to find a workplace somewhere where I’ll have daily opportunities to develop my skills as a business analyst. I want the responsibility of taking on interesting IT projects and collaborating with people that can truly help me learn.

    I know, based on some research, that several of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work for IBM and that’s one of the huge reasons why I would love to build a career here. Being able to grow my abilities in data visualization and business development strategy while growing into a supervisory role is what I anticipate in the next five years.

  3. Example Answer 3: Teacher at a High School

    Teachers are important members of the community, and I’d like to find a community that I enjoy being a part of. I see myself teaching at the same school for a long time while learning something new every day.

    Long term, I’d be interested in a department head position. But first and foremost, I’d be focused on achieving results: Being able to significantly increase students’ reading levels, taking part in after-school book clubs, and getting to know my students and their parents.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”

Here are a few things you definitely avoid when answering “where do you see yourself in five years”:

  • “I’m considering getting my MBA, or even going to law school.” Even if you know that this company sponsors business school or law classes, you shouldn’t indicate that you don’t expect to be here that long, or even that the job they’re hiring you for isn’t directly in line with where you hope to be.

    If your promotion path requires an MBA or graduate degree, you can just say you’d desire such a position — it’ll be assumed, without you explicitly discussing a leave of absence.

  • Anything funny. Jokey answers like “in the CEO’s chair” or “celebrating my five-year anniversary with the company” aren’t original and they will not get a laugh. They will, however, count as a major strike against you. Even fun-loving interviewers don’t typically enjoy the presumptuousness of answers like this.

  • Major career changes. If you’re applying for an accountant’s position, don’t say you see yourself heading the marketing team in five years. An answer like this clearly indicates that you’re not all that interested in the role you’re actually applying for.

    Similarily, don’t set your sights unrealistically high. If you’re applying for an entry-level role, explaining that your five-year plan involves an executive position will seem aggressively ambitious at best, and silly or icky at worst.

  • Rigid answers. Finally, the five-year question is one of the few where we recommend not getting too specific. Nobody knows the future, and if it seems like your plan is ridiculously rigid, the hiring manager might grow concerned that you’ll jump ship if everything doesn’t go perfectly according to your plan.

Interview Tips From An Expert

Dawid Wicek
Founder of Career Fixer, Resume Writer, Certified Career Coach, and Personal Brand Strategist

Authenticity is critical. Just be yourself. During interviews and networking interactions, be yourself. Sure, a professional, polished, articulate, and confident version of yourself, but be yourself at the core. A savvy recruiter or hiring manager can see through the façade, so don’t waste your own time, or theirs. And if you think you can’t be yourself because you think you’re not a good communicator or you happen to have low self-esteem, then should you be yourself? Well, then confidence is probably the first thing you might want to work on, no? Improving your confidence can impact every aspect of your professional and personal life.

During phone screenings, in-person interviews, or virtual interviews, don’t be vague. Be unique. Uniquely you. Recruiters aren’t dumb. They can read between the lines. When they ask you “what is your greatest weakness”, if they hear “I’m a perfectionist” one more time, their eyes will roll out of their sockets. Come up with a more realistic example.

Tips for Answering “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”

No matter the specifics of your answer, some tips hold true across the board:

  1. Be broad and general. Give a general answer that doesn’t pin you down to any specific career path because you don’t know what the promotion track or career path is at this company.

    But whatever your goals are, you should always:

  2. Make sure you emphasize it is at that company. Neither you nor your interviewer knows what’s going to happen in the future, but you want to frame your answer in a way that assumes it will be at that company.

  3. Indicate you’d like to progress, but don’t insist upon job titles. Suggest that you’d like to advance and grow with the company, but don’t focus on a specific title or trajectory.

  4. Make it believable for your resume. You may be taking this job because you don’t have another choice. Your dreamlt; of making it as an athlete, comedian, or (even more outrageously unlikely) a tenured professor didn’t work out — this is not the time to tell them that.

    Instead, it’s time for you to honestly ask yourself what good you’ll be getting out of this position.

    Whatever the case may be, you must make a list of these things, because these are the things you do not want to discuss — instead of giving them reasons why you have to take this job, tell them what the future you values the most about what the current company has to offer.

Final Thoughts

Having interviewed a bunch of people in my time, the most important aspect to these questions is just being prepared.

And you’re already ahead of the game by reading this.

Just remember not to ramble on — these questions aren’t the heart of the interview, just the introduction.

Answer them sufficiently and succinctly and move on to the more fun parts of the interview.

You know, like turning the table and thinking of questions to ask your interviewer.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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