Where do you see yourself in five years?
This question is especially tough if you’re at the beginning of your career, when your path is less clear and you might be unsure where you’re headed. What’s most important is to show that you have clear goals, and that the position you’re interviewing for makes sense as part of your trajectory. Make sure that the goals you state are not only compatible with but also directly related to the role. Most interviewers are proud of their companies and aren’t interested in hiring someone who sees a job as merely a steppingstone to where they really want to be.
At the same time, hiring managers understand that no one aims to stay in a junior role forever. If you’re interviewing for an entry-level position, talk about your passion for the industry and your interest in advancing in your field. If the company employs more senior people in the same area, you can talk about eventually gaining more responsibility and contributing more substantively to the organization. The one exception is that at a very small company, it can come across as aggressive to talk about moving up in the ranks—in this situation, focus on growing within the industry in general.
In addition, if you don't have a concrete set five-year plan, you want to focus on the immediate, what you're going to do in the very near future, what your plan is if you're offered this job. By doing this, you take the answer away from discussing any untrue and fluffy future plans. So, your answer could look something like this:
“Five years is a long time, so while I do think a lot about my future and career, I find it's often difficult to see very far ahead. In the past, it's been my experience that plans don't always work out the way I envision. Inevitably, unforeseen events and opportunities arise that alter those plans. But what I certainly plan on doing in the near future, and what I’d definitely plan to do here, is to do my best to always be improving my skills and abilities, and learning as much as I can.
“My plan is to treat each day as a possibility to learn and progress, and I plan to work as hard as I can and take on as much responsibility as I'm able to, in order to improve, progress, grow, and be more effective in my position.
“That said, I know it takes time to grow, and careers are marathons, not sprints, so I'm willing to put in the work and time, and trust that if I do that, opportunities will present themselves to me.
“Lastly, in the past, it's been my experience that pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do, putting myself in uncomfortable positions, outside my comfort zones, have been among my best learning experiences, and the best opportunities for growth. So I plan to do my best to remember to welcome those opportunities in the near future, which hopefully will include working for your firm in this position.”
Of course, this sample answer is not meant to be used if it doesn't ring true for you. But if it does ring true, make sure to put it into your own words.