One of the most commonly asked questions in a job interview is 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?'. There are two reasons why a potential employer will ask you this question in a job interview:

  • To see if you are planning to stay in the company for a long time.
  • To see how ambitious you are.

So the answer that you give needs to be focused around these.

For the first, it's important to know that companies don't like to lose staff. It not only takes time and money to replace them, but there is a risk that any new staff member they do hire won't work out. So you need to convince the interviewer that you plan to stay in the company for a long time. So just tell them that you see yourself in the future in their company.

Talking about your ambitions for the future can be more difficult to get right. Although in general being ambitious is seen by many employers as a good thing in a candidate (it shows commitment and is a good indicator that you will be willing to work hard in your job to progress), for some jobs being seen as too ambitious isn't.

To help you both know what to say and how to say it when answering this question in a job interview, I have created the below exercise. Through reading the three example answers below, you'll learn not only what type of things to talk about, but also professional English phrases and vocabulary that you can use in your own answer.

In addition to this exercises, we have a lot of other free online exercises on CVs/resumes and job interviews vocabulary and techniques


Example & Exercise:

Below are answers which 3 different candidates have given when asked the question 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?' in a job interview. Each of the answers is very different to the others.

Read each of the answers and think about why each candidate has said what they have said.

Candidate One:

'I am an ambitious person. I think it is important on a professional level to be so. I find that having ambition not only makes people work harder, but makes them a lot more likely to excel at what they do in their job. And like most people, I would like to obtain a role which has more responsibility in the future.

And that is one of the reasons why I am applying for a position in your company. From what I have read and heard, there are not only a lot of opportunities to progress in your company, but your company also has a reputation for both recognising and rewarding talent.

So to answer your question. In 5 years time, I see myself in a more senior role with more responsibility.'

Candidate Two:

'I have been doing this type of job for over 5 years now. I consider myself very lucky that I have found a job which I love doing. Many people go through their whole life without finding the job which is perfect for them. So, I can see myself in the same or a similar role in 5 years time.

I have never really understood why some people change companies every two years. It takes time to build up relationships with your clients and your colleagues. And If you keep changing companies, you are throwing all that knowledge away.

So, if you find me to be the most suitable candidate for the position, I would see myself here in five years time.'

Candidate Three:

'Like most people, I would like to see my career progress. But that's in the long term. Before you can even think of promotion you need to build up your experience, knowledge of the organisation you are working in and most importantly trust. And that all takes time.

So if the opportunity to take a more senior role in your company did arise in the future, it would be something that I would seriously consider.'



After you do the quiz below, learn how to answer other job interview questions by doing our below exercises:



Quiz:

To help you understand what you need to say in an interview when answering this question, below are seven questions about what the candidates above have said. Choose the answer from each question's selection box which you believe is correct. When you have finished, click on the "Check answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, an Additional Information Icon "" will appear next to the answer. Click on this for extra information on why this answer is correct.

1. The answer that candidate one gives, shows that they are
     

Very ambitious:
If you are applying for jobs where you believe they will be looking for somebody who is ambitious, you should say that you are. This is exactly what candidate one does in their answer. In addition to telling them this, you need to also justify why you being very ambitious is also beneficial for them also.

But even in jobs where being ambitious is an important quality to have, it does have a downside: it'll make you seem less loyal and more likely to leave if a better opportunity arises. So, you have to reassure them in your answer that you want to stay in the company for the long term.

In the answer which candidate one gives, he/she does all of this.

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2. The answer that candidate two gives, shows that they are
     

Not ambitious:
If you are applying for jobs where you believe the people who could hire you don't see ambition as a desirable quality to have in an employee for the job, you need to make them aware in the answer you give that you aren't ambitious. This is exactly what candidate two does in their answer.

You shouldn't directly say that you aren't ambitious (because this will sound false), but focus on explaining how you love the type of job you do or are applying for. In addition to this, explain the benefits which staying in the same position/role for a long time provides for both you and the company/organisation.

In the answer which candidate two gives, he/she does all of this.

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3. The answer that candidate three gives, shows that they are
     

Between the two:
For most types of jobs, you should never appear too ambitious (it'll make you seem like a person who'll leave the company as soon as a better opportunity arises) or not ambitious at all (it may make you seem as potentially lazy or not committed). You have to come across as a person who is between the two extremes.

To do this, you need to explain that you would like to advance your career, but you are not actively looking to do it. You should also make aware that the possibility of this happening would be in the long term (e.g. 4 or 5 years).

This is exactly what the candidate three does in their answer.

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4. Why does candidate one say the following: "I find that having ambition not only makes people work harder, but makes them a lot more likely to excel at what they do in their job."
     

To explain why being ambitious is important:
When you say how ambitious you are (e.g. very ambitious, not ambitious etc...) when answering this type of question, you need to justify it. What I mean when I say justify it, is that you need to explain what the benefits are to the company of employing a person with the level of ambition you are telling them that you have.

If you are telling them that you are very ambitious, you could explain how it will make you work harder. If you are telling them that you are not, you could explain that if you change jobs/roles a lot, you'll never gain sufficient experience to excel at the job.

There are many things that you can say here, but whatever you do say needs to suggest a benefit to the company of them employing somebody like you.

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5. Why do two of the candidates use the phrase 'senior role' when talking about the job they would like to have in the future?
     

Because it's better not to specify what job they want to have when answering:
One of the things you should never do when answering this type of question is to be specific about what job you would like to have in the future (e.g. manager of the department, senior analyst etc...). One of the reasons for doing this is that you could name the position that one of the people who is interviewing currently holds (and they probably won't take hearing that you want their job too kindly).

So be vague in what you say. For me, the best thing to say is a 'more senior role', because this can mean anything. You could also say that you'd like to have a position with 'more responsibility'. Which is equally as vague and works just as well.

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6. Apart from talking about your level of ambition in your answer, you should also say that
     

You see yourself in the company in the future:
You always need to tell the interviewers when asked about where you see yourself in the future, that you see yourself still working in their company. The obvious reason why you have to do this is that companies don't like to lose staff. It takes time and money to replace them and there is a risk that any new staff member they do hire won't work out.

There are different ways that you can do this. To see examples, look at how each of the candidates say this in their answers in the exercise text.

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7. Which of the candidates' answers would be best used if you are unsure what type of person the company is looking for?
     

Candidate three:
For some types of jobs (e.g. sales related jobs, senior managerial role etc...), you'll know they will be looking to employ ambitious people. While in other types of jobs (e.g. most jobs in the public sector), you'll know that they won't. But if you are unsure what type of person the company is looking to employ for the job you are being interviewed for, you need to be careful about how ambitious you say you are.

If you say you are very ambitious when the company is looking for somebody who isn't very, you can say goodbye to the job. And the same goes for the other way around. So if you are unsure, the best thing to do is to play it safe and be vague in the answer you give. Say that you would like to progress in the company, but only if the opportunity arose.

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Practice

Now that you understand how to answer questions where an interviewer asks about your future work plans, practise by creating your own answer to this type of question.

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