How To Answer “Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?”

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Feeling nervous about an upcoming job interview? You’re in good company. According to a Harris Interactive survey, 92% of job seekers say that they’re stressed by some aspect of the job interview process. Fear of being stumped by interview questions was the second most commonly selected reason chosen by survey respondents.

As tough job interview questions go, it doesn’t get much harder than, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Depending on how your job search is going and where you are in your career, you might not know where you’ll be in five minutes, never mind years from now.

But no matter how you’re feeling about your career in general, you can answer this question in a way that will set you up for interview success. To make a good impression on the hiring manager, here’s what you need to know.

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What The Interviewer Is Looking For In Your Answer

Interviewers ask this question to learn three things about you:

Will You Stay With The Company For A While?

It’s expensive to hire employees–really expensive. According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an employee ranges from one-half to two times that employee’s annual pay. So if you earn $50,000 per year, it would cost between $25,000 and $100,000 to replace you. Understandably, employers don’t want to pony up for that expense more often than they have to.

Can You Grow With The Company? 

Ideally, hiring employees is part of a larger growth strategy and not just an attempt to fill a current need. The hiring manager wants to know if your plans align with the company’s plans.

Are You Going To Solve Problems…Or Create Them?

Let’s say that you’re currently an individual contributor, but your career goal is to ascend to management–the sooner, the better. If the hiring manager knows that the company is planning to expand and likes to promote from within, this might be music to their ears. On the other hand, if they’re merely backfilling roles and the only management job available currently belongs to your boss, who doesn’t want to go anywhere…well, you see the issue.

How To Answer “Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?”

To answer this question well, it’s essential to prepare your response ahead of the job interview. Here’s how:

Research The Company

During your job interview prep, learn as much as you can about the company, its history, and its goals. Look at the company’s website, especially its “About Us” and “Company History” pages. Follow them on social media and read recent news stories about the organization. If they’re big enough to have a profile on Glassdoor, read user reviews of the company and its interview process. Finally, re-read the job listing.

Join The Break Community

As you do your research, pay close attention to any indications about the company’s direction. What have you learned about their current requirements and future goals? How can you show that your goals fit with theirs?

Sample answer: “In my current role, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to help develop our internship program, and that’s something that really interests me going forward. I know you’ve said that you’re hoping to get a similar program off the ground in the next few years. I’d love the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.”

Be Honest But Selective

It’s a bad idea to lie about your interests, skills, or aspirations. Best-case scenario, you’d get hired only to hate your job. But you’re also not required to share all of your motivations with the hiring manager. For example, if you’re unsure about your career direction, you can share interests you’re hoping to develop or skills that you’re currently building and want to use on the job.

Sample answer: “Over the next few years, I hope to learn more about the tech side of web development. I’m currently taking a coding class and am looking forward to continuing to hone my skills. One of the reasons I love working for startups is that it gives you a chance to wear a lot of hats. I like the idea of being able to contribute on multiple levels.”

Show Enthusiasm For The Role

Don’t play it cool in job interviews. Now is the time to show the hiring manager that you’re excited about the job, the company, and the team. When it’s time to make a decision, an employer will always go with the candidate who seems thrilled to be chosen.

Sample answer: “As an alumnus of the school, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to teach here. In a very real way for me, this is a homecoming. I know you’ve said that you’re looking for someone who wants to stay here long-term. That’s my dream!”

What To Avoid When Answering “Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?”

This question can be anxiety-producing because it provides so many chances to make a mistake. Here’s what to avoid:

Saying, “I Don’t Know”

One of the goals of asking tricky job interview questions is to see how you respond in stressful situations. The worst answer is no answer (or hemming and hawing, which amounts to the same thing).

Making A Joke

Don’t joke that you’d like the boss’s job, the CEO’s job, or the hiring manager’s job. Don’t say that you’re just looking for a paycheck, or figuring it out as you go. Don’t make jokes of any kind. It will make the interviewer think–rightly–that you’re not taking the process seriously.


If you know that you tend to babble when you’re nervous, it’s extra important to practice answers to common job interview questions like these. Keep your response short, to the point, and positive–and then move on.

Painting Yourself Into A Corner

Make sure your response shows that your goals align with the organization's. For example, don’t talk about wanting to ascend to management at the company if you know that management roles are few and far between.

Making It Up As You Go

A little preparation goes a long way in job interviews. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard by questions like these. Review common job interview questions, prepare answers that show your relevant skills and qualifications, and practice until you feel comfortable.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need to know where your career will take you in order to share your goals and enthusiasm with the hiring manager. Do your homework, match your skills and talents to their needs, and be ready to make the case that you’re the best candidate for the job.

Ready to start building your future with a new employer? Find jobs near you with ZipRecruiter.