If there is one interview question that candidates seem stress over more than any other it is “Where you do see yourself in 5 years?”

This question is complicated because your thought process, which is really what the interviewer wants to hear as opposed to an actual five-year-plan, can reveal several different pieces of information.

As an executive recruiter, I can tell you that this question doesn’t get asked as much as you would think. However, it does still come up occasionally and the exercise of thinking through a response is a valuable one for interview preparation.

To help you prepare, here are four questions the interviewer is really asking when they say, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Have you thought about a long-term future with this company?

Never deliver a generic response to “where do you see yourself after 5 years?” Companies hate turnover. They look for employees who really want to be at that particular company and are committed to building a career there over the next five years. A thoughtful response specific to the company and its specific advancement opportunities shows that you’re serious about settling in there for the long haul.

Is the job you are applying for the right one for your goals?

You could deliver an incredibly thoughtful answer about the future you’d like with the company but it doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing for a position that doesn’t tee you up to get there. Do your research. Make sure that your aspirations make sense as an extension of the role you are being considered for.

Are your ambitions realistic?

Ambition is a double-edged sword when talking about where you want to be in 5 years. You want to show that while you are ambitious, you are realistically ambitious about opportunities within the organization. If you expect to rise too fast, it communicates that you don’t intend to stay in the role you are interviewing for very long but instead that you want to gather experience as quickly as possible and move onto greener pastures.

Are you a good fit for the company culture?

Try to learn everything you can about a company’s culture before preparing to discuss your five-year plan. For example, some companies want to see employees focused on a single, deep area of expertise while others want employees to experience a diverse range of projects and have a broad knowledge base. Some companies want employees who are entrepreneurial and eager to own initiatives while others are more traditional.

With these questions in mind you can prepare a thorough response to “Where do you see yourself after 5 years?” One word of warning: Don’t be so attached to your prepared answer that you can’t adjust based on new information gleaned from the interview.

How do you navigate this sticky interview question? Share your thoughts with us.