If you find yourself asked some version of this question in a job interview, you should have a solid answer prepared in advance as it’s more than predictable. But in order to answer it well, as with all questions, it’s important to know what the person asking it is really hoping to hear.
For starters, the question is designed to see if you even have any plans for your future or not. You might be one of those many who don’t have any plan whatsoever and just drift along from day-to-day, from job to job, from place to place.
On the other hand, you might be one of those folks who has a master plan for their life, and if so, the interviewer is interested in knowing how the job you are applying for fits with your plan. Remember too that companies have short and long-range plans themselves; or at least they should. One of your own questions near the end of the interview might be to spin this question around and then ask the interviewer where the company is headed over the next 5 years, and this could provide you with information that you need to determine if your goals and the direction of the company over that period would best serve each other.
Before you answer the question however, don’t assume that the best answer is to say you see yourself progressing in the company you are applying to. Depending on the job, it could be a position where they are looking to hire someone on a short-term basis only; come in and clean things up and then move on. You could be being interviewed for a project that will be over in two years, and the expectation may be that unless your services are needed to address another project, your position is terminal right from day one. You should of course know this going in to the interview based on the job posting and the homework you’ve done in preparation.
However, let’s go on the assumption that the job has no predetermined expiration. The employer may well value you highly if they believe it is your intent to stay with the company 5 years and beyond. If they value that loyalty, and it fits with your plans, then you are both on the same page, and are seeking a longer term investment in one another. How your previous employment supports such intent or not might come into question. If you’ve worked 4 jobs in the last 3 years, you’d best be prepared to explain the reasons behind the moves to the satisfaction of the interviewer.
Were such a number of jobs in a short period of time your situation, maybe you intentionally were out to get various experiences, a company you believed you’d stay with suddenly shut down for reasons beyond your own control, or they relocated and you couldn’t move with them. What you might be most interested in is latching onto a company with stability and with plans to thrive and grow in your geographical location.
One thing to be cautious of is stating that you are interested in advancement, and hence you expect to see yourself in a different job with more responsibility but with the same company in 5 years. That sounds okay to some of you readers, but with some interviewers it’s a red flag. You see a company might be wanting stability themselves in a certain role within their operations. If you plan to move on, they might just not appreciate having to go through this process again in a 5 year window or less.
Many organizations are fluid; they move people around from job to job and they position themselves to adapt to the market, consider new ways of doing things, reconfigure themselves and as such, their needs constantly change. If you are interviewing for such a company, your adaptability and transferable skills plus your continual interest in ongoing learning and new challenges will be seen as an asset.
Recognize however that other businesses – and there are plenty of them – desire the status quo. Some companies brand themselves on producing the same things from year to year with little variation. They may therefore also value employees who if happy today, will be happy in 5 years doing the same job. Are you the kind of person who likes variety and needs the stimulation of change, or are the type that appreciates doing the same thing from year to year with little change in your own duties?
I personally think that depending on what you discover from your research, a safe way to go about answering the question is to stress that your first priority is to get a solid handle on the job you are currently applying to. It may take a year or more to truly master the job or it may be the kind of job that you can fully do with high proficiency in a short time. Then if you want to, you can also state as part of your answer that you would like to be in a position to compete internally for progressively challenging positions should they become available in the future.
The reply above reassure the interviewer they’ll get a return on their investment in hiring you, that you will be happy staying in the job you are applying to today, but that you have ambitions to grow with the company. Not always the right answer, but more than not.