Being able to set and achieve goals is a key ingredient for success in most jobs, so interviewers will often rely on a question like “Tell me about a goal you set and how you achieved it.”
There are dozens of ways you might respond to this question, from personal anecdotes to professional achievements. While there’s technically no right or wrong answer, a strong and relevant response can launch you to the top of the candidate pile.
Here we will share tips on what hiring managers are looking for in your answer, as well as sample scripts to help you land the job!
Why do interviewers ask about goals?
This is what’s known as a behavioral interview question, which helps an interviewer learn more about a candidate from their prior experiences. It’s based upon the concept that your past behavior in a given situation is a likely indicator of how you’ll act when faced with a similar scenario in the future.
Setting and achieving goals is an important skill for most jobs, so your description of a time when you did it in the past will help the interviewer understand your abilities in this area.
What hiring managers want to hear
Though your resume may be packed with impressive achievements, interviewers are more concerned with how you approach a challenge than the actual goal itself. So, don’t worry if you’re just starting out in your career and don’t have many amazing accomplishments to cite just yet.
When asking about goal-setting, interviewers want to learn how you define success and whether you’re able to take a goal and break it down into actionable tasks. This skill is particularly necessary for jobs where goals have a long timeline, like construction projects, or complex goals, like building a new piece of technology.
How to answer, “Tell me about a goal you set and how you achieved it”
Pick the right goal
Ideally, the goal you describe will be a professional one that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, but it doesn’t have to be. If you can’t describe a goal that’s similar to the projects you’d be working on in this role, try to tie it to another requirement mentioned in the job description. For example, if the job listing cites leadership as an important quality, you might talk about the time you gathered petition signatures for a project in your neighborhood.
Explain how you made a plan
Use this part of your answer to show your interviewer how you think through the steps required to solve a problem. Explain how you defined the tasks that would be necessary to accomplish your goal and the timeline you set to complete them.
Describe the win
Wrap up your answer by summarizing the top one or two challenges you overcame during the process and the main takeaway or lesson learned. Again, it’s best to tie this to the skills mentioned in the job description.
How not to answer
Pick an irrelevant goal
Talking about a goal from your personal life can work–if you can connect it to the job. A goal that’s too far afield or too superficial (think: buying a fancy sports car) won’t add anything to your candidacy.
Give vague answer
The best answers to this question are specific and detail-oriented, so be sure to give it some thought ahead of time to avoid being caught off guard.
Sample answers to “Tell me about a goal you set and how you achieved it”
“I was tasked with deciding which charity my company would support with its annual giving drive. Coming up with options was the easy part; the hard part was getting approval from our notoriously difficult board. First, I sent out an initial survey to gauge which causes our board members were the most interested in. Once we had narrowed it down, I created a presentation showcasing all the amazing work our selected charity does, complete with a video testimonial. The board ended up unanimously approving my recommendation. It was difficult to get everyone on the same page, but it really strengthened my skills as a communicator.”
Notice that this example does four things: states the goal (choosing a charity), defines the necessary tasks (getting board approval), explains the action taken (sending a feedback survey, making a video presentation), and shares the end result (getting board approval, gaining stronger communication skills).
Use these same four parts when formulating your own answer and you’ll come up with a response that not only answers the question but positions you as an effective and adept problem solver.