Interviewers ask where you want to be in five years because they are gauging: 1) Your ambitions – Are you someone who is looking to learn? Do you have drive? Are you willing to work hard? Are you satisfied with complacency?, 2) Your relationship with reality – Are you applying for an entry-level position and see yourself as a CEO in only five years?, 3) Your devotion and loyalty – Are you planning on leaving the company after they have invested money into your training and success? With the power to understand where the question is coming from, you have the power to adjust your answer to the interviewer.
Most likely you are being interviewed by someone from the department you’re applying to, probably a manager. As an interviewee, we must assume that person has worked hard to be in the position he/she is in, and what does someone who has worked hard want? Recognition. That’s why one of the best answers you can give is, “In five years, I see myself on the path to become a (manager/insert name of that person’s position), because I plan on growing and learning from the company as much as I plan on contributing to the company’s growth.” You want to establish yourself as someone committed to learning, with aspirations, and a personal steady growth-model. By choosing the position of the interviewer, you’re inadvertently complimenting the interviewer, as well as setting personal goals.
Of course, there are caveats to this. If you happen to be interviewed by the CEO of the company, you want to say that you see yourself working in management, helping to steward a team to motivate and inspire. If you’re being interviewed by someone in the same position you’re currently applying for, you can also use the management point.
No matter what position you are applying for, the key to any interview success is research. Know the company you’re applying to, and know their hierarchical structure. If you can’t find this information through basic research, it’s okay to structure your response with a question first: “I would like to continue to grow with this company in five years, but could you explain to me the opportunities that could become available?” As always, be true to yourself; if you really can’t see yourself with this company in five years, consider other opportunities.