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Suzy Welch: What to say when a job interviewer asks, 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years?'

Suzy Welch: Here's how to answer the interview question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Suzy Welch: Here's how to answer the interview question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Of everything you could be asked in a job interview, there's one question you're almost guaranteed to encounter: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

It's a difficult one to answer, and not just because you have to gaze into your future.

"It's an infuriating question because honestly, who knows how the future will unfold?" bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch tells CNBC Make It. At the same time, "you know they expect you to answer by saying something like, 'Right here, at this fabulous company!'"

Most candidates will end up giving a response about how they hope to still be with the company at that point. But the hiring manager has likely heard that dozens of times before, and won't be impressed.

CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch.

"You need a 'wow' set of comments," Welch says, "to add onto that reply."

Here are two strategies for answering the question truthfully and standing out at the same time:

1. Show you understand the company

"Let your comments demonstrate you have a clear-eyed view of the company's culture and the industry's growth trajectory," Welch says.

After you express that you'd like to still be with the company five years from now, add details that show that you are aware of the organization's needs and how it operates. According to Welch, a great response would be something like this:

"In five years, I'd love to be right here, hopefully having transitioned into a strategic role. But I understand this company is very deliberate in the way it develops employees, so if my moving into strategy happens in five years or if it takes longer, I'm still incredibly excited to be a part of this organization and its mission."

Your response will convey to the hiring manager that you're both smart and realistic.

2. Explain how you want to make an impact

Another way to impress your hiring manager is to answer in terms of the impact you hope to have on the company, says Welch.

You could say something such as, "In five years, I hope to be in a more strategic role, because I was part of the team that launched our expansion in to Asia." Or you could say, "I hope to be in a leadership role helping expand the company's incredible client base in the renewable energy sector."

"You've just reflected your understanding of the organization's strategic goals," Welch says. "Plus, you've made clear that you see your career trajectory is linked to their achievement."

That's a winning strategy, she says, because it shows you are committed to the team.

"Give them what they least expect," she says. "Not dreams and titles, but realism and results. That's a future they just might bet on."

Suzy Welch is the co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute and a noted business journalist, TV commentator and public speaker. Think you need Suzy to fix your career? Email her at

This is an updated version of a post that appeared previously. 

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