“What are your career goals?”
This is a common opinion interview question. You might find it difficult because you have to talk about not only your long-term goals, but also how the job you’re interviewing for will help you in the short term.
In this article, we’ll show you the steps to creating your own unique answer to this interview question.
Variations of This Question
You might encounter different versions of this question. They include:
- What are your future goals?
- What are your career goals?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your future plans if you get this job?
- What are some of your professional goals?
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Recruiters and hiring managers look for candidates with reasonable expectations in terms of how the job can help them achieve their goals.
They want someone who knows where they’re going in life and how this job fits into their career plan, as unrealistic expectations can lead to dissatisfaction and quitting after a short time in the position.
They’re also looking to gauge how goal-oriented you are and whether you’re an ambitious person.
The interviewer knows working at a job when you have no higher ambitions will lead to boredom and apathy, which isn’t good for employee morale or productivity.
How to Answer: “What Are Your Career Goals?”
We created a 3-step formula for answering this interview question:
1. Start by Describing Your Career Goals
Mention one or more ambitions you have that are relevant to the position.
This lets the employer know this job is part of your plan, even if indirectly, so you’re more likely to put in your time, energy, and passion to succeed.
Choose goals that aren’t tied to a specific job title or position. Instead, focus on a broader objective like educational goals or skills you’d like to perfect.
More specific career goals might include:
- Securing a senior position
- Becoming a recognized expert
- Earning a relevant certificate or degree
- Mastering certain technical skills
- Improving productivity or efficiency
- Working in a new industry
Again, make sure it’s relevant to the job in some way, as you’ll be mentioning how it relates later in your answer.
Here’s an example:
“My career goal is to learn the skills needed to provide excellent hospitality and customer service to my guests. I’d like guests to ask for me by name because they know I’ll anticipate their needs and make their stay amazing.”
2. Explain How You Plan to Realize Those Goals
Next, lay out your plan for executing your goals.
Employers look for candidates who are forward-thinking and take the initiative to plan ahead. It shows they have real intentions with their goals and aren’t afraid to take action.
Think about the actions you can take to get you closer to your goal. Remember to make them relevant to the job.
These actions might include:
- Learning new skills
- Making the right connections
- Seeking a mentor in the industry
- Taking advantage of educational opportunities
- Trying new strategies
- Volunteering for committees or projects
Here’s an example:
“I would like to find a mentor who’s already succeeding in the hospitality industry. I also hope to pursue a degree in hospitality or business management by attending college online, as this will help me understand how to ensure customer satisfaction.”
3. Finish by Relating it Back to the Job
Finally, tie it all together and show your interviewer how this job fits into your career plan.
This is important because if you’re working toward a larger goal, the employer knows you’ll be trying to glean as much education and experience as you can, making you a harder and more productive worker.
Think about how this role will act as a stepping stone to achieve your main career goal, and outline what parts of the job will help.
You might find this information in the job description or a list of benefits, so read through the job listing carefully before your interview.
Perhaps the job:
- Has great opportunities for career progression
- Allows you to work with specialized technology
- Offers tuition reimbursement for those seeking higher education
- Exposes you to leaders in your industry
- Provides a lot of networking opportunities
- Has a culture that encourages creative thinking
Here’s an example:
“This is one of the most popular boutique hotels in the city, and I know I’ll be able to learn from some of the most hospitable people in the area. In addition, I saw that you offer flextime, which will allow me the time to pursue my degree on a part-time basis while still working full-time.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
Sometimes, seeing a formula in action is the best way to make everything “click”, so here are 3 full sample answers:
Example #1: Recognition as an Expert
“One of my goals is to become so proficient in my field that I’m a well-known resource for others to look up. In fact, I’d be thrilled to be asked to speak at a TED event about working with the homeless.
I plan to keep up with my continuing education in the field of social work by attending workshops and conventions. I also look forward to working closely with other experts in this field as well as in related industries, like community health and immigration services.
This position would allow me to network with leaders in the community while providing needed counseling and other services to the city’s homeless population. I know I’d have the opportunity to travel to at least one convention per year, too, which is important to me.”
Example #2: Technical Skills
“Now that I’ve finished my electrician apprenticeship, I’m looking forward to working my way up the ladder to become a master electrician. I want to work with architects and engineers to power up buildings like schools and theaters.
My plan is to continue on in my education by working as a journeyman and learning about how to wire up different types of projects, repair and replace old electrical systems, and manage projects. I’ll learn most of this on the job, but I would also attend classes as needed.
This job as a journeyman is exactly what I need to get to the next step in my career. I appreciate how this company promotes from within, so I hope to be here for many years as I grow as an electrician.”
Example #3: Success in a New Industry
“After having worked in the restaurant industry for most of my career, I’m ready to pursue a career in finance. I enjoy learning about personal finance and helping people make good decisions for their future.
I’ve taken a few classes at the community college in Finance, and I plan to continue on a part-time basis. I also look forward to working with individuals on their financial portfolios under the supervision of people who can teach me what I need to know.
I am excited about the opportunity to work for this bank because I know it provides great service to its customers. I want to be a part of that, learning how to help others in the city to achieve their financial dreams.”
How NOT to Answer
Every question in an interview can set you up for failure. Watch out for these particular mistakes with this one:
Don’t Talk About Irrelevant Goals
Don’t go off on a tangent and talk about personal goals or ambitions that have nothing to do with the job you’re interviewing for.
The interviewer is looking for an employee who will be engaged and interested in the job. Discussing irrelevant goals indicates you’re not very interested and might leave as soon as a more suitable opportunity comes along.
Instead, think of a goal that you can work toward using the skills you’ll learn at this job.
Don’t Say You Don’t Have Career Goals
Avoid giving the impression you haven’t thought at all about where you might want to be in the future, professionally speaking.
Employers want people who have some type of plan in mind, even if that plan changes over time. Having no ideas can make you seem uninterested, unambitious, or apathetic.
You aren’t wedded to the goals you mention in your interview, but you should have some idea of where you’re headed and what you want to do in the future.
Don’t Be Unrealistic
Stick to realistic goals rather than discussing a pipe dream or something that’s unlikely to ever happen.
Saying you want to be President of the United States when interviewing for a job at a pizza restaurant is not realistic, and it gives your interviewer the impression that you’re naive or unable to think rationally
Choose a goal that’s achievable in the foreseeable future. You’re not limiting yourself for the rest of your career; you’re just presenting what your future might look like during and after your time in this particular role.
- Think through ways the question might be phrased
- Explain one or two goals that could be aligned with this job
- Add in some steps you’ll take to achieve your goal
- Point out how this particular job will help you
- Don’t use a goal that isn’t related to the role
- Don’t shrug off the question
- Don’t be irrational in your response