Companies ask this for a number of reasons, from wanting to see what the competition is for you to sniffing out whether you're serious about the industry. “Often the best approach is to mention that you are exploring a number of other similar options in the company's industry,” says job search expert Alison Doyle. “It can be helpful to mention that a common characteristic of all the jobs you are applying to is the opportunity to apply some critical abilities and skills that you possess. For example, you might say 'I am applying for several positions with IT consulting firms where I can analyze client needs and translate them to development teams in order to find solutions to technology problems.'” Focus on them: In five years, you should have made a significant impact to the company’s bottom line. Think about how you can achieve this in the role you are interviewing for. In technology careers, advancing your skills is important, too. You should be able to share what areas you want to strengthen in the near term (but be careful that they are not areas of expertise that the company needs now). Example: “I would say that as a security officer, I’m vigilant, proactive and committed to ensuring safe, secure, and orderly environments. In my last incident response rating, I received a 99% against the team average, which has been at around 97% over the past 3 years. I like to be thorough, documenting all incidents. I’m also a lifelong learner, always seeking out the latest security equipment and techniques to patrol buildings. I frequently make suggestions to management about security improvements and changes as my motivation comes from making a meaningful contribution.” Focus on them: In five years, you should have made a significant impact to the company’s bottom line. Think about how you can achieve this in the role you are interviewing for. In technology careers, advancing your skills is important, too. You should be able to share what areas you want to strengthen in the near term (but be careful that they are not areas of expertise that the company needs now).
DON’T say a number. Why? you have the least amount of leverage possible at this point, assuming you’re early in the interview process. You haven’t finished interviewing with them, they don’t know if you’re any good or if they even want to hire you. So you can’t command a high salary right now. If you go too low with your price, they’ll hold you to it later. Go too high? You’ll scare them off before they even know what you’re worth!
Start by explaining what you'd need to do to get ramped up. What information would you need? What parts of the company would you need to familiarize yourself with? What other employees would you want to sit down with? Next, choose a couple of areas where you think you can make meaningful contributions right away. (e.g., “I think a great starter project would be diving into your email marketing campaigns and setting up a tracking system for them.”) Sure, if you get the job, you (or your new employer) might decide there’s a better starting place, but having an answer prepared will show the interviewer where you can add immediate impact—and that you’re excited to get started.
Any candidate can read and regurgitate the company’s “About” page. So, when interviewers ask this, they aren't necessarily trying to gauge whether you understand the mission—they want to know whether you care about it. Start with one line that shows you understand the company's goals, using a couple key words and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two.