Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Interviewers are likely to ask a question about how the job fits into your long-term goals.

Amy White |

“How long do you plan to work here?”

“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

Think these are two different questions? Nope! Interviewers are likely to ask a question about how the job fits into your long-term goals. But, really, they’re interested in finding out one thing (and it has nothing to do with testing your psychic powers).

Here’s what they want to know:

“How quickly are we going to have to replace you?”

Hiring people takes time (and costs money). Training new people takes time (which equals money). A hiring manager is looking for the candidate who is the best investment, the person who is qualified to do the job, who is available to do the job when needed, and who will be around long enough to be worth the investment in hiring and training them. That seems like a reasonable thing to want to know. But when we asked our members what interview question they hated most, a forward-looking question of some kind was near the top of the list. Rachel explained why this type of question trips her up:

“Sometimes it seems like there is no right answer to that. I’ve been outright asked a few times, and its always been part time jobs that I don’t see myself at in 5-10 years. So are they looking for honesty or do I tell them that making burgers or a register is indeed my dream job?”

There are good ways to answer this question, even though it’s impossible to be totally accurate. Find something about the current job opportunity that does match up with your long-term goals (customer service skills are critical to your success in most any job — almost no matter what you do, you have to deal with people!), then work that into your discussion.

How to answer:

“My long-term career goals are to put my customer service skills to work in a challenging industry, and I’m looking forward to working hard to help you achieve your goals and determining whether the quick service industry is a field I will enjoy long term.”

This answer is totally honest, and it highlights your skills and motivations while not committing you to anything. Make it clear that you want to invest yourself in the success of the company, and that as long as you are given the opportunity to learn and improve your performance, you don’t anticipate changing employers in the foreseeable future.

A more industry-specific example would be if you’re applying to a retail cashier position: answering the question in such a way as to say in five years you hope to contribute even more value, perhaps as a retail shift manager (and maybe throw in that you’d like to find more time to volunteer or advance your education – personal goals that add to your value as an employee are a great addition on this one). That answer shows them that you will take the job seriously and you see it as an opportunity to advance your career.

If they ask you about a longer time period (say, “where do you see yourself in 10 years?”) then in addition to listing more advanced career goals, you can also include some lofty personal goals (e.g. “learning Spanish” or “getting my college degree,” etc.)

Either way, no one can predict the future. You know this, hiring managers know this. They’re just looking for an indication of whether they can count on you to take the job seriously and stick around for a while.