“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
This is a fairly common opinion-based question that most job-seekers will hear at least once during their job hunt. It can be challenging because it requires a balance of specificity and vagueness.
Don’t worry, though! We’ve got you covered with a follow-along answer structure and the most common pitfalls to avoid.
Variations of This Question
There are several different versions of this question that all mean roughly the same thing:
- What is your 5-year plan?
- Where do you see your career in 5 years?
- What are your career goals for the next five years?
- Where would you like to be five years from now?
- What would you like to accomplish in the next five years?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
This question is a measure of both your level of ambition and what you expect to be able to achieve at the company.
Your interviewer wants to know your long-term mindset is appropriate for the role and the company. They don’t want you to be disappointed and leave if your idea of progression isn’t aligned with the reality of the job.
The question will also help them gauge your intentions for the future, and whether you just see this as a stopgap.
Plenty of time, energy, and money go into onboarding new employees. It’s not worth investing in someone who’s only planning to stay for a year or two while waiting for a better opportunity to come along.
How to Answer: “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
Answering this question is best described in three distinct phases, each building on the previous.
Let’s break it down:
1. Describe a Goal That Aligns With the Job
First, think of an achievement that would be practical in the job you’re interviewing for.
You need to demonstrate you have the right expectations for your future at the company, and a suitable goal shows you’ve thought about realistic progression in the role you’re pursuing.
Research the job description to get ideas of where the job might lead, and tailor your goal accordingly.
This will likely be in terms of potential career development opportunities (i.e. reaching a higher position in the company), learning new skills, or developing existing skills.
Here are some ideas for professional goals:
- Securing a supervisory role
- Becoming a recognized expert in the industry
- Improving your communication or leadership skills
- Being able to use specialized machinery
- Earning a marketing certification
Here’s an example:
“Though I’m starting fresh out of dental assisting school and have a lot of theoretical knowledge, my 5-year goal is to perfect my dental radiology technique so I can best assist the individual dentist I’m working with.”
2. Explain How You Plan to Get There
Briefly outline your action plan for achieving that goal.
Doing this will prove the sensibility of your goal as it shows a clear intention to get from where you are now, to where you want to be.
When it comes to explaining progression, it’s best to focus on potential opportunities to learn and grow as a professional.
Here are some ideas:
- Seeking regular feedback from colleagues or bosses
- Taking advantage of company seminars and workshops
- Spending time learning how to operate company technology
- Putting yourself forward for larger or more difficult projects
- Taking additional classes outside of work
You don’t need to go into too much detail here, just mention one or two of the most important and relevant opportunities.
Here’s an example:
“To achieve that goal, I plan to take every opportunity to work one-on-one with the dentist so I can learn her preferences and anticipate what she needs. I’ll also be taking a lot of dental x-rays to fine-tune both patient positioning and the settings on the equipment.”
3. Specify How This Opportunity Facilitates That Plan
Finally, talk about how this job will help you achieve your plan.
This shows you understand what the job entails, and it assures the interviewer you consider it an integral step in your career.
You should be able to recall parts of the job description that show how your long-term goals are achievable. Be specific and refer to the tasks you’ll be doing, the population you’ll be working with, or even some of the benefits listed.
Here’s an example:
“In the job description, it said four-handed dentistry is used in this practice, so I’m really looking forward to moving seamlessly during procedures. Since it also mentioned x-ray certification as a preferred qualification, I was pleased to know that radiology is an important part of the position.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
The sample answers below make use of the 3-step structure outlined in the last section.
Example #1: Continued Education
“Over the next five years, I’m hoping to complete my bachelor’s degree in business. I believe it will help me continue to grow and progress in the company and in my career.
My plan is to attend classes at night on a part-time basis. Since I already have my associate degree, five years should be about the right amount of time for me to complete my bachelor’s.
I read in the job description that continuing education is supported by this company, and I also saw that tuition reimbursement is available after one year. This will help me complete my degree while gaining valuable experience working at this firm.”
Example #2: Supervisory Position
“In five years, I hope to be able to move up the ladder into a supervisory role. I’ve worked in retail for only one year to this point, but I think within five years, I’ll be ready to grow into a position where I’ll have more responsibility.
I always do my best to master the policies and processes of the company I’m working for, and that’s what I’ll do here, too. I’ll pay close attention to how my supervisors work and I’ll learn all I can about how to best serve customers while benefiting the company.
The job description mentioned growth and promotion from within, so I’m looking forward to taking every opportunity I can to do just that.”
Example #3: Improved Patience
“One thing I’m looking to improve on over the next five years is having more patience. This is something I’ve been working on a lot recently, and I believe I’ll have a lot of opportunities to continue doing so in this role.
I plan to carefully observe how the other teachers’ aides work with their students. I’ll also take stock of the challenges I encounter and review how I can handle situations that require a high degree of patience.
The job description mentioned some of the challenges that go along with working with this population, so I know I’ll get in a lot of practice when it comes to having patience around people who require it.”
How NOT to Answer
Don’t Be Too Ambitious
Ambition is admirable but you should aim to keep it within the realm of the possibility given the 5-year timeline.
Employers want someone with realistic expectations so they aren’t disappointed or frustrated by the role. They want someone who can excel in the role, not someone who feels like they’re being limited by it.
Make sure your goals are achievable in the time frame presented. If you have a particularly lofty goal, you’ll need to scale it back to fit into what is reasonable to do in five years.
Don’t Give a Flippant Answer
Don’t respond with something like, “I want to have your job!”
Not only does it sidestep the question, but it also creates a conflict of interest. After all, why would an interviewer want to hire someone who may end up gunning for their livelihood? While some may
Resist the temptation to be snarky or facetious and follow the steps listed above to create a well-rounded and thoughtful answer.
Don’t Say, “I Don’t Know”
Even if you aren’t sure where you want to be in five years, don’t shirk the question by simply saying you don’t know.
They’re looking for someone with ambition and drive. Goal-driven employees put effort into their work and show interest in improving. A cop-out answer like, “I don’t know,” negates all of that in one fell swoop.
You don’t need a rock-solid plan and nobody is going to hold you accountable for what you say here, but at least put in the effort to describe what a reasonable goal might be.
- Recognize other ways the question might be asked
- Explain your reasonable goal
- Describe how you will make it happen
- Spell out how this job will help you achieve your goal
- Don’t overshoot what’s possible
- Don’t give a canned response
- Don’t shirk giving an answer