I’ve found your site really useful in helping to prepare for interviews. I was wondering if you could give me an idea of what interviewers are looking for when they ask you where you see yourself in x number of years from now.

I’ve heard that question comes up a lot, but I really have no idea of what interviewers are looking for/trying to find out about you when they ask that, so I can’t structure an appropriate answer that would reflect my goals in a way that is appealing to interviewers.

My Response:

This is a funny question. Amongst my former McKinsey colleagues, whenever I asked them the same question, the unanimous answer was usually I have no idea!

Typically, they were sure they want to do consulting for about the next 2 years (which is the up or out evaluation cycle) and after that they weren’t sure.

So I’m not really sure what all interviewers are looking for in asking that question. If I had to guess, it’s to get a feel for the real answer and ideally to see how working in consulting would be a good fit for your long term goals.

So if you want to run your own company, but need more ceo-type training, you could say the consulting helps give you that. If you want to go into the non-profit world, but want to see how the for-profit world works first and apply it to non-profits, that could make a lot of sense.

What you don’t want to convey is that you have no idea why you want to work in consulting and you have no idea how it well help your long term plans.

At a minimum, giving a general answer like I want to learn, never be bored, be challenged, and would love to stay in consulting if my experience in the first two years is what I anticipate it to be.

My suggestion is to forget “gaming” the answer, and just be truthful… AND explain how consulting ties into your goals.