It may not seem like a tricky question, but your response to, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" can make or break your interview.
"The purpose of asking this common interview question is to understand whether a candidate is looking for a career rather than just a job, whether their goals align with the organization's goals, and whether they have a realistic plan for their future," explains David Wishon, a senior director of Monster Talent Fusion.
Dale Kurow, a New York-based executive coach, says your response to this question can also tell the company if you have the requisite work ethic, attitude, and loyalty to be a good hire in the long term.
Here's what hiring managers do and do not want to hear when they ask this question:
1. They want to know that you've put thought into your response.
"Don't get caught without a long-term plan," Wishon says. Show the interviewer that you have thought about this question and have a basic trajectory mapped out. But let them see that you're flexible. "Everyone understands things can change, so strike a balance between being set on where you want to go and also understanding that the path may change," he says.
2. They want to know that you're driven — but that you have realistic goals.
"Don't come off as overly ambitious," Wishon says. "It's okay to mention some future promotions within the organization, but it may be overkill to say you want to be CEO in five years if you're applying to an entry-level job."
3. They want to hear that you are willing to pay your dues before expecting a promotion.
"The hiring manager doesn't want to hear that you are looking to move up to a higher-level position within a year or that you want to become eligible for your boss's job," Kurow explains. Don't threaten anyone else's career, and let them know you realize it may take time, and a lot of work, before you'll move up.
"Emphasize your willingness to work on personal and professional development to progress your career path within the organization," Wishon adds.
4. They want to know that you're loyal and willing to make a commitment to the company for at least five years.
Companies invest a great deal of time and money in recruiting and training candidates, and they don't want to lose their investment in a hire that's going to leave in a year or two, Kurow says. That's why it's best to avoid saying you hope to be at another company, in another industry, or even a drastically different role than the one you're applying for (even if it's true).
5. They want to hear how the company and role you're applying for fits into your longer-term goals.
"Make sure the role you are interviewing for is at the foundation of the answer you provide," Wishon suggests. "Tell them that how you can achieve your long-term goals by performing this role to a high standard."
Also share how you plan to contribute to, and grow with, the organization over the next few years, Kurow adds.
If you want to make sure your five-year plan is aligned with theirs, take the lead and ask what results the interviewer is looking for from this role, Wishon suggests. "This will help to best understand the progression and potential timeline," he concludes.
6. They want to know you're excited about the job.
In showing how the job fits into your longterm plans, you'll also be letting the hiring manager know you're enthusiastic about the job and unlikely to leave it right away, author Alison Green writes for US News & World Report.
As in any interview situation, it's important to sound passionate and make clear that you covet this job, as opposed to any job.