(MoneyWatch) This old-school job interview question still pops up from time to time, and can trip up even the most confident job interviewer. "I see it as a no-win situation because if you answer with some esoteric response, you could be construed as too strategic and not tactical enough. Likewise, if the answer is along the lines of 'I really haven't considered that far ahead in my career,' the take is probably the opposite -- too tactical and lacking in strategic thinking!" says Paul Falcone, author of 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire. While this question is not on Falcone's list of worthwhile ones, there are some ways to answer it "correctly" if you encounter it.
First, acknowledge that 10 years is a long time but that you'll do your best to lay out a timeline, suggests Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions. Then, be specific and break your plan into chunks. Explain how many years you'd like to spending learning about the company, mastering X skills, gaining Y responsibilities and (hopefully) moving up to Z position within the organization. She suggests focusing on how you'll contribute, over time, to the company. For instance, "By year seven, I can see myself in a management role, bringing new ideas and initiatives into the organization, and really helping us grow our revenues and client base. Ten years from now I want to have made an impact on this organization in a significant and positive way."
Clearly, you'd never share that you see yourself leaving in a year or two, using this job as a stepping stone to a better one. But if it seems insincere to say you would spend 10 years at an organization, be super specific regarding the first 5 years and broader when discussing the 5 after that. And never admit to not considering your future at all, even if you don't have a solid long-term plan. Ditto for saying, "I'd like your job" or "I want to be CEO of the company." This will make you come off as entitled and a poor team player. Remember: Your goal should be to show that you're not only ambitious, but also loyal.
How do you answer questions about your 10-year-plan?