This is a tough question that will crop up in 99% of interviews. It's not one of those random questions that may or may not be asked, it's all but GUARANTEED to be posed to you just as you think you are nailing the interview.
So what is the interviewer looking for when they ask this question?
Essentially, they want to see how far into the future you have planned. They want to know if you're the kind of person that thinks about their future, or just focuses on their present and their job of today.
They also want to know why you're really applying for this position. Perhaps you're only applying because you need to earn money while your own business is taking off, or you want to get experience to work at another company in the same field. They want to know why you're considering working for them, and if you are planning on working for them for years to come.
How to Answer the Question
When this question is posed, there are a few ways you can answer it:
- Focus on your goals, not your position. No one is going to be CEO of an international company in 5 years, so it's not worth wasting your breath on an answer like that. When you answer the question, tell the interviewer what your goals are. "I want to (streamline X operations, increase sales by X%, work with the leaders in X field)" is the best way to highlight your professional goals. It's sufficiently vague that you're not committing to anything, but you are showing the interviewer that you have big plans for your future--potentially in their company.
- Highlight your desire to work AT THAT COMPANY. If you are applying for your dream job, make sure that the interviewer knows it, and also knows that you see yourself doing big things at their company. If you are serious about making a career with them, definitely shout it from the rooftops in the interview.
- Show your willingness to improve. If you don't have specific career goals, don't try to invent some. Highlight the fact that you are willing to work hard for their company, adapt yourself to their methods, and become the best employee you can be. You don't need to oversell it, but just point out that you will be looking for any and every opportunity to advance within the company.
- Talk about your working for the success of the company. Everyone wants to know that their new employee has the company's best interests at heart. If you have something real to offer the company, use it to answer the question. Whether it's developing a new process, creating more effective software, reaching out to a new demographic, or upgrading the filing system, make sure that your interviewer knows how you are going to help their company be successful.
- Be enthusiastic. This is probably the best way that you can answer this question. Show that you are enthusiastic about the job that you are applying for, and demonstrate your willingness to work hard for their success. Tell them how you see yourself happy at your job, and loving every minute of being part of their company culture. It's a vague answer, but it works!
This is a question you definitely need to prepare for ahead of time. Sit down and think about which approach you want to take, and go into the interview ready to answer this question. It WILL be asked!