Interviewers don't expect you to explain precisely what you will be doing in five years. They just want to know if you've given any thought to your professional development or if you even have a plan. Where you'll be in five years depends on whether you get the job you're interviewing for, your job performance and the opportunities for growth within the organization. During your interview prep time, think about this question and rehearse a well thought-out response that suggests you have career goals.
Hanging Up Your Cap and Gown to Don a Suit
This question may be a difficult one if you're interviewing for your first job out of college or technical school. Connect your schooling to your career, as in now that you have the theoretical foundation for your field, you're ready for the application to practical work experience. It could take a good five years for you to develop an entry-level professional expertise in your field. You could say, "As I've just recently graduated, in five years, I intend to have an excellent grasp of my field and expertise consistent with that of a junior-level professional who is preparing for a leadership role."
If you're looking for advancement opportunities and your current employer doesn't offer what you want or you simply want a change, exercise caution when you answer this question. Avoid leaving the interviewer with the impression that you want a promotion and since you can't get it where you're currently working, you'll jump ship and find opportunities elsewhere. Explain that the time you've devoted to your current employer has prepared you for greater challenges and more responsibility, which you'd like to explore with a new organization. The key to answering this question at this stage in your career is how what you've learned in your current role enables you to bring a significant amount to the table at another company.
Moving to C-Level
When your five-year plan involves moving into an executive role -- otherwise, a corner office, chief executive role or C-level -- consider several points about the job you want and the organization. Determine whether the job you're interviewing for can realistically position you for an executive role in five years. You must know about the organization's current structure and the likelihood that any of the current executives will be leaving within that five-year period. If the hiring manager has indicated that a senior executive is retiring within the next five years or that the candidate they choose to fill the position is going to be specifically groomed for an executive role, then by all means, state that your goal is to be a C-level executive within five years.
Five Years Until Tee Time
An avid golfer might be tempted to say that he plans to be spending a lot of time on the golf course within the next five years. Unless you're applying for a job at a golf club and hope to work your way up from golf shop attendant to golf instructor, keep your retirement and leisure plans under wraps. Disclosing that you intend to retire in just a few short years could concern some employers -- the idea of an interview is to stress that you are worth the investment to bring on board, but for longer than five years.