How many times have you been asked “Where do you see yourself in five years”? This is a tricky question. For one, it assumes that the world remains constant and is the same in five years as it is today. For another, it assumes that whatever decisions you make today do not change over the next several years. The five-year question ignores the relevancy and inevitability of change. It is designed to be a static snapshot in time.

The ominous five-year question is not intended to use your career plan and long-term personal goals to measure your professional capabilities. The value to the five-year question is that it provides insight into your personality, ambition, values, and so on. It helps potential employers evaluate whether or not you are a good fit for a particular job environment or corporate culture. And, it helps you assess your goals and your vision for your future.

Having a go-to answer for the five-year question is really about knowing yourself so you can get closer to what you want. It’s about putting some strategy around your long-term goals so you not only know where you want to be, but how you’re going to get there. It is about knowing who you are, what you want, how you’re going to get it, when you’re going to get there, and who is going to help you along the way. And it’s about moving forward.

These five steps will help you to create a five-year plan that allows you to put your long-term vision into action and know exactly where you see yourself in five years.

Step 1: Engage in Self-Assessment & Discovery

In this first step, engage in self-assessment and discovery. Developing a five-year plan is not about coming up with a rigid schedule of activities to carry out over the next several years. It is about knowing yourself and being able to identify who and what you want to be. Who is the future you? What are you doing? What have you attained? If you could look ahead five years, what would you want to see?

The first step is critical in that it is where you discover your true ambitions, values, and your vision of your future. This is where it all begins. This step is where you figure out who you are.

Step 2: Develop Long-Term Goals

After discovering the vision you have for your future and what your ambitions are, the second step is to develop the long-term goals that will take you there. Create a list of goals that give shape to your vision of the future. Your long-term goals should form the foundation to achieving the vision for your future you identified in your self-discovery process. They are the atlases that guide you to your end destination, one step at a time.

It is important that your long-term goals be specific, realistic, and attainable. They should also be measurable as they are used as benchmarks as to how well you’re progressing towards your vision. This step is where you figure out exactly what you want.

Step 3: Design Your Roadmap

Now that you have a clear vision and goals for your five-year plan, the next step is to draw out a roadmap. Designing your roadmap is simply articulating how you plan to create the opportunities and acquire the resources you need to reach your long-term goals. Your roadmap should be dynamic and fluid, and you should be comfortable with the reality it is an iterative process that will change and flex as you move through your goal list. Your roadmap should not only expect, but it should anticipate change.

Ultimately, your roadmap is your strategy to reaching your goals, and therefore, your five-year vision. Make sure that your roadmap is hierarchal and that it flows smoothly from one transition in life to another. This step is where you figure out how you’re going to get there.

Step 4: Identify Milestones

After developing the strategy that will guide you along your path to reaching your long-term goals, you should be able to pluck out key milestones that demark notable accomplishments along your journey. These milestones are the benchmarks to reaching your long-term goals, as well as measuring sticks as to how you’re progressing. They’re also motivators: they provide short-term goals that coalesce into your ultimate goal.

As you determine your milestones along the roadmap to your long-term goals, set timelines against them. Remember that you’re planning five years into the future, and think realistically about what and how much you can accomplish in that timeframe. This step is where you determine when you’re going to get there.

Step 5: Ready Your Support Network

In this step you should reach out to others who will support you, mentor you, and guide you along your journey. They are stakeholders in your success. They will motivate and inspire you. They are will push you and challenge you to keep moving. They will provide you with the opportunities and assistance you need to reach new heights. In the end, these are the people you’re going to say you couldn’t have done it without. This step is reaching out to the people who are going to help you get there.

This blog was originally posted on on May 15, 2012.