“What are your career goals?” is a common question you’ll hear in many interviews. And you need to prepare an answer because employers ALWAYS prefer to hire someone who can show they’re goal-oriented and have long-term objectives in their career.
There are also a couple of big mistakes you need to avoid when you describe your career goals in an interview, so we’ll cover how to avoid those mistakes, too.
Let’s get started…
What are Career Goals?
Career goals describe where you’d like to be, what you’d like to experience, and what you’d like to achieve in your professional life over the upcoming one to five years – or more.
Long-term career goals are made up of a series of short and mid-term goals that act as steps or building blocks toward that greater professional goal. The role you’re applying for should act as a relevant step toward the career goal described in your interview.
Solid (and relevant) career goals are considered a big plus to interviewers and hiring managers, because they keep you organized, active, motivated and focused on the task at hand – all qualities a savvy employer looks for in a new recruit.
Make Sure You Have SMART Goals
Career goals are only useful when they’re SMART. That is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Unless your career goals are SMART, the chances are they’re only dreams.
Imagine your Specific long-term career goal is to advance to a leadership position in your new product design job. The goal is Time-bound by the company’s yearly promotion cycle and, to Achieve it, you’ll need to plot Measurable short and mid-term goals that are 100% Relevant to the overall goal.
These sub-goals might include upskilling, leading a small team to gain experience, innovating a new product, and getting noticed as a candidate for promotion.
Watch: How to Answer “What Are Your Career Goals?”
Why Employers Ask This Interview Question
When the company asks an interview question like, “What are your career goals?” they want to know if this job will hold your interest in the short term and potentially long term! (Companies love to hire people who will stay with the company for years and grow/advance).
Companies don’t want to hire you for a role that isn’t bringing you toward your professional aspirations because you’ll be less motivated and more likely to leave the job quickly.
It’s okay if a job doesn’t meet everything you’re looking for in your career. For example, you can say that you eventually aspire to take a leadership position, even if you’re not being considered for a leadership role in this interview.
But then, in your interview answer, you’d want to show how this job is bringing you closer to those future plans/goals. You can do this by ending your answer by saying something like:
…So I was excited to apply for this role because on the job description, I saw a few responsibilities and skills related to leadership, such as training new team members. That’s something I’ve been eager to start doing.
I’ll share some full word-for-word sample answers coming up soon.
How to Answer “What Are Your Career Goals?”
You always want to seem goal oriented, so it’s not a good idea to say, “I’m not sure” or “I haven’t thought about that.” That’s NOT going to impress hiring managers. But you also need to make sure the career goals you mention fit into the job you’ve applied for.
Here’s how this can hurt you if not:
Imagine you’re interviewing for a customer service position. And the hiring manager asks about your long-term career goals. If you say, “My goal is to move out of customer service and find a role that doesn’t involve working with customers as much. I prefer to work behind the scenes,” then the hiring manager is NOT going to hire you for their job. Employers want to hire someone who really wants this specific job, because then you’re more likely to be motivated, have a great attitude, etc. So prepare a few goals and aspirations you can talk about, but make sure your goals fit with the job you’re interviewing for. Otherwise, adjust the goals you plan on talking about for the interview. Be strategic and think about what’s going to get you hired for the job you want, and don’t say anything that suggests you’ll be bored, frustrated, or want to leave this job quickly.
One more note: Just like with the question “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” you’re not expected to be able to predict the future accurately. Nobody’s going to check on you in two years and see if you’re following what you said in a few years.
Hiring managers just want to see what your interests are and whether you’ve thought about this at all. And they want to make sure they’re not hiring someone who’s going to be bored in their job. That’s why employers ask questions about your long-term career goals and ambitions in an interview, and how to answer.
“What Are Your Career Goals?” Example Answers
Now that you know how to answer questions about your career goals in the interview, let’s look at some word-for-word example answers. First is an example of an entry-level job seeker. After that, we’ll go through an example for job seekers with more experience.
Entry-Level Example Answer to “What Are Your Career Goals?”
I just graduated with my degree in Finance, and I’m excited to get my first position in the industry, now. My longer-term goals are to learn a variety of areas within the field of finance and work toward deciding what area of specialization I want to take. I’d love to become an expert in one specific field of finance in the long term, but I know the first step is to build a solid foundation and learn the basics in an entry-level role. I saw this job offers exposure to a variety of areas, which is something I liked.
Notice that the end of this example answer includes a line about why their particular job interests you. This is a great tactic you can use with a variety of your interview answers. Answer their question, but then conclude by putting the focus back on their job and why you want this position! Most job seekers don’t do this. You’ll really stand out with this tactic and put their mind at ease that you’ll love their job. (Employers are REALLY scared of hiring someone who won’t love the job, even if you have the necessary experience. Because it costs a lot of time/money/energy to hire and train someone, and that’s all lost if you leave in the first year).
Mid-Level Example Answer to “What Are Your Career Goals?”
My goal for many years was to become a Manager. I achieved that last year. Now as I look forward in my career, I’d like to build and manage larger teams and continue advancing as a leader. I’ve found I really enjoy mentoring and leading a team, even more than I enjoyed working as an individual contributor earlier in my career. When I saw your job description mentions a chance to hire and lead a team of five, I knew I should apply.
Again, this sample answer for “what are your career goals?” does a lot more than just answering the basic question. You start by mentioning a past achievement, then you answer the question, and then you mention what you saw in their specific job that excited you. This is a great formula to follow when answering this question as a mid-level or senior-level job seeker.
Senior/Executive-Level Answer Example
My career goal right now is to take the leadership and management experience I’ve obtained over the past 12 years and transition into a Fortune-500 company. I feel this would provide a new challenge and bring out the best in my abilities at the same time. I’ve excelled most in roles where I was involved in cross-functional team leadership involving multiple departments, and I feel this is something I’ll gain more exposure to in a Fortune-500 firm. I saw on your job description that this is mentioned as a part of the role here. Can you tell me more about that?
Ending your job interview answer with a question directed back at the hiring manager is a great way to make the interview more conversational. Try to do this at least a few times, instead of just answering a question and then waiting for the next question. This can be a real game-changer in your interviews in terms of the flow and how confident you feel and appear.
Short Term vs. Long Term Career Goals
When you’re asked interview questions about your professional goals, you’ll need to decide how far in the future to discuss. Should you share a career goal that’s ten years in the future? One year? Or something in between. I recommend discussing your career goals in a two to five year timeframe. That shows ambition and shows that you’ve thought about your long-term career, but at the same time, those goals aren’t so far out that you can’t discuss exactly how you’ll achieve them.
You want to be able to talk about how you’ll reach your goals, through personal development and professional improvement. And that becomes hard to do if you’re talking about your goals a decade from now. You don’t want to name a goal like becoming a CEO, when you’ve never held any leadership positions. It’ll just seem like you’re hoping rather than aiming. So as you share your own goals, I recommend picking a career goal that’s a few years out. Not too short-term, but not too far away.
Let’s take a look at some career goals ranging from short – long term:
- Short-term career goals:
- developing professionally with design, leadership and skills certifications
- gaining experience by leading a small team on quarterly assignments.
- Mid-term career goals:
- innovating great new products with your team each quarter
- establishing more efficient work processes as you go
- being commended as an effective team leader at the end of every quarter
- becoming the prime candidate for that sought-after leadership role by the end of the year.
- Long-term career goals:
- getting hired as department leader managing four small teams.
Mistakes to Avoid When Answering
There are a couple of costly mistakes you should avoid when you describe your career goals in a job interview.
- First, I recommend not sharing anything that will seem like a threat to the company or make them worry that you won’t stay for long in their job. For example, if you’re interviewing at a company in the healthcare industry, don’t say your goal involves switching careers and joining the tech industry. That’s just going to leave the hiring manager wondering why you even took the interview for their position. For this same reason, I don’t recommend saying, “my career goal is to have my own business in the near future.”
- Keep personal goals like that private. I think it’s a great goal. I quit the corporate world to do that myself. But if your future career goals involve quitting and leaving this potential employer, don’t say so when answering this interview question.
- And one more mistake as you answer interview questions about your goals: Don’t use humor or make a joke. For example, don’t tell the hiring manager, “My goal is to have your job.” This is a serious interview question and you’re going to do better in your job search if you respond with a thoughtful, serious answer that shows you’re goal-focused and motivated.
Answering “What Are Your Career Goals?” – Quick Review
- Never say you don’t have any goals or haven’t thought about it
- Always share a goal that’s at least somewhat related to the job you’ve applied for
- Start your answer by explaining your current situation and what you accomplished previously in your career
- Next, explain your future career goals and how you plan to achieve them
- Conclude by telling the interviewer what interested you in their particular job (based on the job description) – make sure they can see how their job fits into your bigger career goals
If you follow the advice above, you’ll give a great answer when interviewers ask about your long term career goals and objectives. You’ll show them that you’re someone who has long-term aspirations and plans and they’ll love to see this.
You’ll also show them why their job interests you, which tells them you’ll be motivated and work hard. This makes them FAR more likely to offer you the position than someone who can’t clearly explain their career goals and how those goals fit into this job they’re discussing.