I know it's a cliché, and there's a lot of buzz about more trendy interview questions, like how you'd go about transporting whipped cream in a sandstorm, but classics become classics for a reason, and if you can nail this oldie but goodie, you can make it all the way to Number One on the prospective employee charts.
I used to think employers asked "Where do you want to be in 5 years?" just to see if you've actually thought about your career, but now I realize there's more to it than that.
The question is used to get a sense of how you see yourself and your career trajectory, to ascertain whether you'd be a good fit with the company. It's one of those questions which challenges your diplomatic skills, because you want to show you're ambitious, without being cocky.
Remember, it's never a good idea to irritate the interviewer.
Instead, try showing the interviewer your multi-faceted approach to your career. Here are the key areas to address in your response:
Career Development: Employers are looking for people who will keep growing once they're on the job. Think of areas in which you would like to develop your skills. Do you want to move into management? Deepen your expertise? This is your opportunity to show off your interests and demonstrate how closely they align with the company's.
Responsibility: Think about how you would like to grow your role in what the organization does every day. Think about how you would like to participate in decision-making and what kind of an impact you would like to have. It's not about accumulating power or symbols of prestige, like moving into the corner office. Do you want to be a dealmaker, an innovator? This is where you can show off your insight into how the world will change in 5 years, and how you can prepare the company to meet those changes.
Salary: Some employers will ask you to get specific. Prepare for this eventuality. Start by looking at where you are, both physically and fiscally. Pay varies substantially by region, so make your projections realistic. However, if your prospective employer has a main office someplace else, you could show some moxie and reference that… (But don't irritate the interviewer!) Review the standard rates for your field and project out how you think you and the economy will be doing in 5 years. Compare these against what you can find out about the company's pay scale.
Community Involvement: People that make hiring and firing decisions often like to see employees concerned about giving back for the greater good. Really. So think of how you'd like to be contributing to your community in five years.