Answer by Tom Allen:
“That depends on where this company will be in four.”
I’ve used this line whenever I’ve been asked this question, and it’s always gone down well. It’s honest, and it’s an opener to further questions about the company (which are vital – you should come out of an interview knowing more about the company’s trajectory than when you entered.)
It’s also confronting.
Some companies aren’t growing much, and so their answer is that they’ll be roughly where they are now, just a little bigger. This tells me a lot; they’re already successful so the career opportunity is more about earning than learning.
Some companies aren’t able to answer this. If you work for them, and they don’t know the answer four years out, how on earth are you supposed to know the answer another year later? This isn’t always a bad thing however; some people thrive on uncertainty. So do some companies. The best companies I’ve worked for haven’t known exactly what the future holds, but this question has opened them up to articulate their plans and hopes. The best jobs are those where the company’s goals align with your own, and you can both profit from success. If you can discover this alignment (or that there isn’t one!) in an interview rather than only after working together for several months, then you’re in a much better position to choose your path, and in turn, to answer their original question.
If they’ve given their response and still want you to answer theirs, then your final answer is inevitable:
“Well, now it depends on whether you’ve just given me the job…”