Finally the answer.
We all hate that question: "Where do you see yourself in five years?" It's an imposing question because it's hard to see beyond our present. So then why do employers torment us with those terrible words?
Well, u/s1256 was just as curious:
Employers of Reddit, what do you really want to hear when you ask "where do you see yourself in 5 years"?
Here were some of the answers.
No But Seriously
I had dinner with the CIO of Fortune 10 company when I was younger and he asked me this. And because he was a funny guy and I'm a dumb -ss I answered "In your position."
We both got a good laugh and then he was like "No really."
Told my hiring manager "it depends what I get out of this job". He wanted to know more. Told him this was my first time working in this field and while I enjoyed school for all I know I could hate the job. Told him my long term plan is to build a career but if I don't like what I'm doing it's not good for me, the service I was applying to, or the patients I'd meet.
Basically his face lit up and the whole panel loved me. I now sit on my butt for most of my shift and get paid half decent to do it.
Be Cool, Boy
I used to never ask this question. I thought it was stupid. Then, I saw an employer on Reddit tell of a time that a prospective employee said that they planned to be spending their life in a foreign country in the next five years and was just looking for a job for six months to save up for the trip. I have asked that question every interview since.
It's not that there's something we really want to hear, it's just that there are some answers that we really DON'T want to hear.
As long as your answer isn't essentially "training me is a waste of your time and money," it's a good answer.
My last interview in August, I told the woman interviewing me that in a little over 5 years I see myself at the company Christmas party and you ask me how long I've been here now and I say 5 years and you say wow has it been 5 years already.
At last years Christmas party she was telling everyone how it was the best response she ever got to that question.
I know that "doing your job" or something of the like isn't the best answer, but I like to hear people who have realistic expectations about how they could grow in their job. So things like: "moving towards a leadership role" or another answer that shows they know what the job they're applying for is, and they know what it can lead to and plan to work towards that, always impress me.
Just Gotta Keep Em
I was interviewing candidates for a sales position recently. If they told me they were interested in developing skills in project management and would eventually like to move there, that's fine. We have project managers too, so even if I lose them in the sales department after a couple years, they're still valuable to the company. If they told me their dream is to become a writer, however, that would be a red flag. We don't have any writers on staff - although that is like 5% of marketing's job.
As a personal anecdote, I started at my last company as an applications engineer. After about a year I was becoming extremely valuable, as I was the only applications engineer at the company (and my performance was excellent) and was ready for a promotion. I was told there was no promotion available to become a sales manager or something like that. After I said I was going to leave, I was offered a promotion to a senior applications engineer... kind of a fake promotion.
I left after about 1.5 years at that company to go work as a product manager at a competitor.
Any sort of plan or ambition.
Moving On Up
I answered this question at an interview with "I'd like to be in Mexico drinking a beer on the beach" it got a good laugh but they asked me to be serious so I said "If I don't at least have your job in 5 years then neither of us have progressed very far". I got the job and had their position in 2 years.
Best Time Available
I really want to hear honesty. The major motivation I have in asking it is to see if 1- you have a general plan for the next few years of life, 2- whether I think that's realistic, 3- how that may factor into your potential role at my work.
Maybe you're going to be a clock rider. You're a warm body. We'll throw small change your way and never give you more than you can handle.
Maybe you're going to school/moving/whatever and won't be able to work for us after (x) time. I want to use the time we have to the best ability without wasting it.
Maybe you're in it for the long haul. We may throw training and extra responsibilities, as well as extra pay, to you that we wouldn't waste on a short-timer.
Unless your answer is wildly delusional compared to your skills and abilities, there's not a "wrong" answer. It's mostly a way to see if your goals match our current and future needs.
"I'd like to have achieved some measurable accomplishments in this role, such as launching a new product. I'd like to take on more responsibility and find myself in a team of supporting, dynamic people. I see myself as constantly evolving and learning, and I'd want to be as eager and creative after five years in a job as I was on day one."
My canned answer was always "I know the answer you're looking for is that I want to further my education and move up in my responsibilities, possibly to management. But the truth is this: I always want to continue my education, but I'm happy doing bedside nursing. I don't want to move away from the bedside. There will always be a need for experienced nurses to care for patients and that's where I want to be."
But one time I saw that the interview was going nowhere, so I said "eating lunch with you guys!" lol I didn't get the job.
I HATE this question. Mainly for the fact that I haven't been at the same company for 5 years.
If I did ask this question, I'd preface it with 'I want you to be honest, because it may not be with this company, and that's fine!'.
IT workers rotate a lot, so it's expected as long as it's not shorter than 3-6 months at each job, unless they were internships or entry level.
The Appropriate Avenue
I always ask where people want to take their career in the future, and preface the question with an explanation that it is intended to learn their longterm career goals and ensure they match with the future career path of the position. If someone wants to be a CEO I won't offer them a dead end data job. But if they want a good work-life balance and aren't concerned with advancing that may be a good fit. I need people who want to climb the ladder and rule the world and I need people who just want to do their job and go home. If you have 100% one or the other you will have problems, and asking candidly is the best way to find out.
Of all the interviews I've conducted, few have included this question. When someone asks it, what I really look for in an answer is to understand how the person thinks, what they want out of life, and if they are straightforward. An answer like "Hopefully still working here" teaches me very little about the person, except that they seem to want or need the job. There isn't really a 'right' answer, except to answer honestly.
The best person I ever hired told me a simple, straightforward, realistic answer. He wanted to be a senior dev lead, and continued on to tell me all the intermediate steps and how he would get there. Working hard, learning, certifications , seeking mentorship, and incremental promotions. It was a very modest answer but it showed he had direction and understood what needed to be done step by step to achieve success.
Nope Hate It
I have interviewed many people, and I have never asked this question. It's idiotic, in part because it's a question that people prep, so you just get the answer the interviewee thinks you want to hear rather than the truth. It's not as stupid as, "What is your biggest weakness?" but it's not great.
That you understand the career progression the role offers. This question is stupid if you're going to work in retail or fast food, but actually has a purpose in corporate America.
The Different Kinds
The right answer: The go-getter. Talking about personal skills development that would help further your career. This shows you are proactive in self-improvement and development, understanding that how far you go in your career is up to you. Also shows you have a genuine interest in the field you are looking for work in.
The most common wrong answer: The casual optimist. Talking about what position you will hold at the specific company you are interviewing for, i.e. the "I see myself with your job" answer. This makes you sound entitled and lack understanding in how career development works, like being at a place for some amount of time means anything if you aren't constantly improving yourself in that time.
The even more wrong answer: The big talker. Bold statements that you will be the person you are interviewing's boss or run the company in 5 years, without being able to articulate a plan of how any of that is going to happen. Being confident and dreaming big is great, but make sure you back it up with a plan of action that makes sense in reality.
The worst answer: The failure to launch. Meandering around different unrelated things of what you could possibly be without any awareness of yourself or the world in general as if you're still in high school.
I am speaking of course about interviewing for professional jobs that have career paths behind them. If you are 16 years-old and interviewing to fold clothes at The Gap for summer then I'd say it's your idiot manager's fault for asking such a useless question for an obvious no-career job and they deserve to get the biggest lie you can give them.
Five Year Hindsight
I actually got asked this in an interview about a month ago. Luckily, they said they really liked my answer to it.
I said "I don't know."
I don't know where I'll be in five years. If I look back 5 years and compare my aspirations then to where I am now, the difference is wild. There are certain things I would love to have/have done in 5 years time, but to say a direction destination of where I want to be is impossible to say. I like having shorter term goals, they're far more realistic. Where do I see myself in 6 months...3 months... Where do I see myself in a month. If I get too obsessed with to far down the road I'll put it off, and be disappointed when it never happened.
Life Life Life
Any answer that shows you have put thought into where your life is headed is a good answer. The point of the question is not to see if you have a good or acceptable plan. The point is to see if you have thought about it enough to make a plan. Pretty important skill in business to look into the future and see what could be, then to plan the steps required to get there.