"Where do you see yourself in five years?" How do you answer this common interview question? The following is an excerpt from my book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, available from Amazon.
What's behind this interview question?
Why do interviewers ask you this? For one thing, they want to know whether the job aligns with your goals, and thus whether you'll stick around. They may also be hoping you have some ambition. Ambitious people often make better employees. They're more motivated, and they may work harder and smarter. They make a point of growing their abilities.
On the other hand, those who come in with their eye on a higher position and view the current role only as a stepping stone may be impatient and lack commitment to the tasks at hand.
So give an answer that combines a desire to grow, on the one hand, with realism, patience and commitment on the other.
Before the interview, see if you can find information about paths to advancement from within the position. If the only position you can advance to is that of the person you're interviewing with, proceed with care! He probably won't like the idea that you have your eye on his job, so just talk about growing and taking on more responsibility.
In most cases you won't have much information, in which case it's safest to start with a general answer followed by a question, like this:
"Over the next few years I see myself building my skills, taking on more responsibility and moving up, if it's appropriate. Can you tell me about how others have advanced from this role?"
Although the question often includes the phrase "five years," you don't have to be that precise in your answer. More open-ended terms like "over the next several years" may be best.