How to Answer the "Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?" Question

You’ve got an interview coming up and you’re doubling down on prep to knock it out of the park.

You’ve tackled the "Tell me about yourself" and "Walk me through your resume" questions. And hopefully you’re armed and ready for some of the more annoying, but still commonly asked questions, like, "What do you consider your biggest strengths and weaknesses?"

One question that might have you stumped is this one: Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?

Let’s be honest: Most people don’t have a clear sense of what five years from now looks like professionally, let alone ten. But, of course, you don’t want to say that.

Believe it or not, there is a way to answer this question in both an authentic and polished way.

The truth is: The person interviewing you probably doesn’t expect you to have a crystal clear idea of what you’re working toward. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why they ask this question.

They ask it to get a sense of whether this job at this specific company makes sense for you. Is it a logical fit? Is it something that you will stick around for and grow with? Will this job give you a reason to get up every day and want to come to work?

Therefore, you have to make sure your answer leaves them knowing that the job you’re interviewing for is going to be a coherent next step. You want to convey it’s in-line with your interests, goals, and potential career path trajectory. But you don’t have to tell them exactly what your future career state looks like in order to do that effectively.

Here’s a simple framework to communicate you’re not 100% sure, but that this position would be a great fit:

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what the next 5-10 years of my career will bring, so I can’t say with certainty that I know what I’ll be doing then.

But I do know two things for sure. The first is that the day-to-day work I’ll be doing will involve [insert type of activity/responsibilities/skills/tasks that tie directly to that position].

And the second is that it will probably be in the [insert type of sector/industry/type of organization that ties directly to the place you’re interviewing].

For example, let’s say you’re applying for a project manager position at an education nonprofit. Your answer might sound like this:

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what the next 5-10 years of my career will bring, so I can’t say with certainty that I know what I’ll be doing then. But I do know two things for sure.

The first is that the day-to-day work I’ll be doing will involve a lot of organizing and working with a team. I am confident my executional, organizational, and people management skills will be at the forefront of the type of work I’m doing.

And the second thing I know is that it will continue to be in the education sector, as this is an issue I’m very passionate about and want to continue to work in.

Voila!

You’ve just managed to tell your interviewer that this role makes sense for you and that the organization and cause you’re working on behalf of is something that you want to continue to build a career in.

Even if you think you’d like to own your own business, or make a shift into corporate project management work, your interview is not the time to say that.

You want to keep your answer as closely tied as possible (without it seeming fake and cheesy) to the position you’re talking to them about.

If the position really does make sense for you given your career history and where you want to go, your answer should be pretty easy to construct with this framework.

This article was originally published on Forbes.