I have never been comfortable answering the standard interview question, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" because I never planned my career in that way. Many people feel the same way. It's not that we don't have goals, but our goals are not oriented toward picking a spot for ourselves on the organization chart. Perhaps 30 years ago people in stable organizations could plan careers that way, "I see myself as Director of ____ in 3 years," or "I plan to be Vice President of ____ in 5 years."
But those days are long gone. And it's time to retire this old chestnut of an interview question.
I've always engaged in the types of problems that interest me, and spent my time getting better and better at solving the problems that I'm passionate about. If you show me a staffing problem, I'm endlessly interested and engaged, but if you show me an accounting problem I'm not. With this career approach, there's little focus on whether I will be a Director or Vice President of ____ in 3 to 5 years. A title is not my goal. My goal is to constantly improve my ability to solve the specific kinds of business problems I'm interested in.
Interviewers, when you ask, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" you really are not learning much, except how well they can rehearse answers to obsolete questions. You are not learning how ambitious they are, because the whole exercise is so predictable that anyone could give you the "right answer" without believing a word of it. And if the candidate really is ambitious, and really does care about where they will be on the org chart in five years, can you promise them anything? Of course not. So the whole exercise just sets you up for a cycle of empty rhetoric. Don't waste your time this way.
With any open position, you want a candidate who is really good and engaged in the certain types of work that position requires, so you'll find it's better to ask "What kinds of problems do you like solving?" With this question, you're bound to find out a lot more regarding where the candidate's interests and passions are, as well as insight into whether they're self-directed and self-motivated, and whether or not they are happy to self-train to pursue their career interests. And if they do all that, won't you want to promote them in five years anyway?
If you would like to spend less time on the irrelevant, superficial aspects of interviewing, and more time understanding the deeper elements of what will make someone successful, download our Employer Guide to Interviewing.