How to Answer "Where Would You Like to Be in 5 Years?"

Amy Culver |
Amy is our Lead Copywriter at Snagajob, where she loves to use her word nerd powers to help workers and employers connect. Her first hourly job was as a cashier at Chick-fil-a.

You know this question. We all do. Whether or not you like answering it is a different story, although when it comes to the job interviewing game, “Where would you like to be in 5 years?” doesn’t seem like a crowd favorite.

Maybe that’s why employers ask it so much.

Regardless, this question takes on many forms. There’s the aforementioned “Where would you like to be in 5 years?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, the even less popular “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” (for those employers really looking to make you stretch) or “How long do you plan to work here?”

The last one seems simple, right? Forever! At least that’s what you’ll probably insinuate to your potential employer; that you see yourself working at Company ABC well into the future. And even though that question might appear different from the 5-10 years talk, it’s not. 

Interviewers want to see how this job fits into your long-term goals. Beneath the veneer of an unfavorable question is curiosity about two things. Let’s take a look.

Thing 1

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is code for “How quickly are we going to have to replace you?”. Not to get too business-oriented with this, but job hunting and hiring is very much so an investment.

On your side of the equation, it’s about finding a company that you feel’s worth your time. Same goes for employers. Hiring people takes time (and costs money). Training new people takes time (which equals money). A hiring manager wants to find a candidate who represents the best investment. That is, someone who is qualified to do the job, available and who promises to be around long enough to make hiring and training worthwhile. 

Fair enough. Investments go both ways. In detailing your 5-year or 10-year (again, for those super hardcore interviewers) plan, hiring managers can tell whether or not you plan to go the distance. 

Thing 2

The majority of hiring managers aren’t irrational. One of our Snagajob members, Rachel, brought up a good point when discussing why she loathes this type of forward-thinking question:

“Sometimes it seems like there is no right answer to that. I’ve been outright asked a few times, and it’s 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 [operating] a register is indeed my dream job?”

A little bit of both, Rachel.

Remember what we said before—most hiring managers are level-headed. If you’re interviewing for an hourly fast food job, then there’s a good chance they know you’re probably renting instead of buying. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t want to hire someone who’s going to work hard and has rich goals in mind.

That’s Thing 2 in a nutshell. Are you waking up each day and just seeing what happens, or have you put some thought into your future? Employers want to know, and while it might be intimidating to explain your life’s purpose to a stranger, it’s worthwhile to always be thinking about it. 

Where do you want to be in the future, even if it’s not at the company you’re interviewing with right now?

 “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” answer examples

Luckily, there are good ways to answer this question, even though it’s impossible to be totally accurate. The key is to find something about your current job opportunity that matches up with your long-term goals (ex. team-based skills are critical to your success in almost any job—no matter what, you’re bound to always find yourself working with people!), then work that into your discussion.

Let’s look at a few examples. 

Sample answer 1

“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 well into the future.”

Honest, if not a little vague. This one highlights skills and motivations without committing to anything too serious. Here you’ve intimated a desire to invest yourself in the success of the company, which is a good thing. Plus, as long as you’re given the opportunity to learn and improve your performance, you don’t anticipate changing employers in the foreseeable future. 

Sample answer 2

“I’d like to use what I learn in the retail cashier position to grow as both a professional and leader. Over the coming years, I see myself taking on larger roles and, eventually, a management opportunity. I’ve been fortunate to work with fantastic managers in the past, and want to be that person for others in the future.”

Alright, so this one’s definitely a more industry-specific example. In this scenario, you’re applying for a cashier position—however, the response is geared toward showing how within 5 years, you hope to contribute even more value to the company.

That’s a big win. You could even throw in that you’d like to find more time to volunteer or advance your education. These personal goals also add to your value as an employee (and future manager?). 

Above all, this response shows an employer that you plan to take the job seriously and use it as a way to advance in your career.

No matter the company, no matter the position, respect the process. And that process is about growth. Maybe you do want to be with the company for years to come, maybe you don’t. Either way, treat the position as part of the process. You’re building a career, and this is one (important) stop along the way.

Sample answer 3

“Growth is very important to me, both inside and outside of work. That’s why over the next few years, I see myself growing into this company through various roles. I want to take what I learn in multiple positions and channel it into productive development. I also want to do things outside of the work day that help advance my career. I plan to go back to school for my bachelor’s degree, and would also like to become fluent in a new language. Both of these things are achievable within the next several years and will only help support my initiatives here.”

Talk about one heck of an answer. Notice the differentiator, “…both inside and outside of work…” That’s great. Most employers understand boundaries that exist between personal and professional life. But connecting personal pursuits to future professional outcomes is a great way to stand out as a fantastic hire. 

That’s what a response like this allows you to do. You have the career goals and personal goals coming together as one. This is also a beneficial strategy for when you do encounter the employer who goes for it with the 10-year approach. It gives you more to talk about since you’re covering a larger span of time.

Do yourself a favor and always take a second in front of the mirror before an interview, asking: “Where do I see myself in 5 years?” Expecting this question to pop up and having a set answer is the right way to go.

It’s okay for things to change

No matter how hard we try, we can’t predict the future. Hiring managers are aware of this. They’re simply looking for an indication of whether or not they can count on you to take your job seriously and stick around for a while. 

Hence, the forward-thinking questions. Prep in advance and you should have no problem when it’s brought up during the interview. Think again about the word investment. It’s a word built around the idea of longevity. Just like you’re investing in a company, the company’s investing in you.

And everyone wants an investment that pays off.

Want to talk more about answering forward-thinking interview questions? Let us know in the comments below!