Sometimes a job interview can feel like a first date… or even a tricky final exam. Interviewers ask questions under the guise of learning more about you, but they’re actually making a judgment about you with every word that comes out of your mouth. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in mind for how you’ll answer a question like “what are your career goals?”
You probably have a general idea of what you want to do with your career, but have you thought through how that breaks down into short-term and long-term goals? What about how the job you’re applying for will contribute to moving you closer toward your goal? These are not only great questions to help determine whether a position is a good fit; they’ll also help you craft a perfect answer to an interview question about your professional goals.
To help you nail this question, we’re breaking down why interviewers ask it and sharing some examples of winning responses.
Why would an interviewer ask about career goals?
In asking about your career goals, interviewers are hoping to better understand what motivates you. Will the position hold your interest? Will it be engaging to you? If you have a long-term vision that’s associated with taking this particular job, you’re going to stay longer and be more motivated to work hard at it than someone who just sees it as a paycheck.
An interviewer also wants to understand what kind of mental timeline you’re on. Someone who aspires to be a CEO by the time they’re 40 will probably be looking to move up a little faster than someone who would like to become a department manager. A hiring manager wants to know if your expectations for advancement are realistic based on the job and company norms.
What a hiring manager wants to hear in an answer
When asking about your career goals, an interviewer wants to see that you have direction and drive, which can mean you’ll be a more productive employee. Knowing more about your intended career path can help them assess whether they’ll be able to manage you effectively.
While the content of your answer is important, so is the way you answer the question. An interviewer is looking for someone who responds with confidence, showing that they’ve given this topic some consideration, rather than someone who wavers or gives a vague answer.
How to answer the interview question “What are your career goals?”
Show how your goals benefit the company
Most companies are more interested in how hiring you will help them advance their business objectives than how they can help you advance your career goals. So, it’s a good idea to tell them directly how your goals benefit them. For example, “since I’m interested in running my own company one day, I’ve been working on obtaining my MBA. I’ll have it completed in two months. My supply chain and Six Sigma coursework will be an asset to me in the position of operations manager.”
Mention both short- and long-term goals
While it’s fine to have big dreams, only citing your moonshot goals can give the impression that you have unrealistic ambitions. Instead, touch on both your broader career goals and your more specific goals for the short-term, like the next 12 to 24 months. This shows you know how to make an action plan to achieve an objective.
Bring it back to the position
Wrap up your answer by tying it back to why you want the job, which creates a strong closing statement. For example, “I’d love to become a published author one day, which means I need to be an expert in the field. The more face-to-face interactions I can have with clients, the more I’ll learn, which is why I’m so interested in the position of intake coordinator.”
How not to answer
Being unrelated to the job you’ve applied for
Maybe your true ambition is to become a skydiving instructor. That’s awesome! Unfortunately, the hiring manager for a staff accountant job probably isn’t going to find that goal too reassuring. Instead, be sure to choose goals that have obvious relevance to the position for which you’re interviewing.
Focusing on money
Salary is a motivating factor for most working professionals, but it doesn’t make for a compelling answer to an interview question about your career goals.
While preparing a good answer for this interview question is important, your response doesn’t seal your fate for life. It’s fine if your goals shift or even completely change over time. What’s important is giving an answer that demonstrates that you’re motivated to succeed in this particular position at this particular time in your career.
Sample answers to “What are your career goals?”
“My goal is to become the leader of a software engineering team. I know that Rust is one of the fastest-growing coding languages, so one of my plans for the next six months is to complete a Rust programming course. This will serve me in the software developer job and help keep the company’s coding knowledge current.”
“My short-term goal is to work as a CNA at an organization like yours so I can gain experience with patients in a hospital setting. Long-term, I aspire to become a nurse practitioner working with patients with chronic illnesses. I’m passionate about helping patients receive more individualized care, which is why I think I’d be a great asset to the Caremount nursing team.”
After talking about your career goals, be prepared for a follow-up question on why you want this particular job. This is an opportunity to explain what motivated you to apply for the position and highlight the strengths that make you the right choice.