Question:  Where do you see yourself in five years?

This question is used more often with applicants who are just coming out of college or are young in their career path.  It is similar to “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Typically for non newcomers, interviewers ask this question to candidates for higher level positions due to the anticipated costs invested with the new hire. The interviewer is trying to determine if you’re settling for this position, using it merely as a stopover until something better comes along. Finally, they could be trying to gauge your level of motivation and/or your self esteem
Traps: The traps are: not having any idea what your goals are, having goals that far exceed what you bring to the table, or having goals that are less than your background and experience would indicate.  In addition, not having done enough research of the company might make your response satisfactory to your background, but not reasonable to what one could expect from the company.  If you aim too high, you might come off as too ambitious and either won’t be around long enough to cover the cost of training or you’ll threaten the position of the hiring manager. If you aim too low, you lack initiative and won’t contribute enough to cover the cost of your salary.

Strategy: Like most questions, preparation is the best strategy.  You should be prepared to address the “flight risk” that could be the issue.  The interviewer wants to know that you will mesh with the job at hand and continue to do a good job in the future.  In completing your research of the company identify the reasons why you want to contribute to its success and plan to include that to offset any concerns.

While you should come across as confident, you, nor the interviewer, know what will be available in five years.  Once you have identified the reasons you would like a career with the company, concentrate on what value you will add now.  State that you do not know what opportunities may present themselves but believe that your contributions should help when the opportunities present themselves.

Possible Answers: I think that the candidate should comment about the work environment that they work best in and give one or two points about how this specific job interests them.  Then they should comment that they don’t have a specific 5 year plan, but will perform with excellence and are flexible and open to opportunities to advance within the organization and hopefully will have learned and grown enough in the current position that they have proven that they can handle additional responsibilities.

“I don’t have specific knowledge concerning future opportunities. I would like to advance. However, I am flexible. I believe my contributions would result in my being considered for promotional opportunities within the organization even if it means changing roles. I am prepared to learn new things and contribute to the overall success of the organization in a number of ways.”

“I’d like to see myself advancing here as opportunities evolve.  I hope to take advantage of whatever opportunities are available – but mostly, I want to do the best I can and know that I’m making a difference.”