What are your career goals? And how should you answer this question? Basically, career goals are milestones that you hope to achieve as you progress in your career. Your career goals are just as important as your qualifications, education, and professional experience. The interviewer will, therefore, almost certainly ask you about your plans for the future.
Other ways the interviewer can ask you the same questions are:
- What are your short and long term career goals?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your future plans if you get this position?
When the interviewer asks you about your career goals, this is a good opportunity to demonstrate your suitability for the job and show that your goals are in line with the position that you’re applying for. It allows you to share your plan and show that you’re able to add value to your potential future employer.
In this article, we discuss why this is the case, but also why the interviewer is asking you about your career goals, and what they are looking for in your answers. Also, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here.
Why the interviewer is asking about your career goals
Your career goals are brought up during job interviews because the interviewer wants to find out a couple of things. First and foremost, they want to know whether or not you plan on staying at the company for a while or if you are likely to leave if you get another opportunity. Second, it shows if you have a plan in your career and how you plan on developing yourself. Furthermore, your answer gives them an understanding of if your professional goals and expectations of the position match what they can offer you.
Interview questions about your career goals help the interviewer make better hiring decisions as well. You can imagine that it’s best for the company to hire candidates whose long-term goals match the objectives of the business. It also works the other way around. Job candidates such as yourself are more likely to want to work at a company that is interested in your long-term goals and invest in your development.
The interviewers’ goal during a job interview is to get to know you better and gather information about your career goals, motivation, and any training needs. They want to identify the job candidates who could be a potential fit for or who could grow into other roles within the company, whether this is now or in the future.
What the interviewer is trying to assess
The interviewer wants to know more about your career goals. If the company decides to hire you, they want to create a career path based on what motivates you. Therefore, it’s important that you are able to demonstrate your goals as they will be used as a starting point for learning and development processes.
Another important thing to remember is that you do not mix up career progress with career goals. This is especially important for the position that you’re applying for. You should make a difference in discussing what new knowledge you want to gain or what skills you want to cultivate and the long-term goals of your career as a whole. Also, make sure that both are relevant to the open role. Discuss what skills you want to develop over the next years and what action you plan on taking in order to do so.
If you want to pick up another study or course mention this. The interviewer will see this as a positive thing, and it’s not a reason to disqualify you. They will probably ask you more in-depth follow-up questions on why you’re interested in that particular field of study, how it will contribute to your career goals and how they align with the interests of the company/job position. Therefore, make sure to highlight how your development will contribute to your goals as well as the ones of the company.
The interviewer will most likely ask you follow-up questions to try to learn more about your motives. Demonstrate that you’re the right candidate for the job and that you’re curious, motivated, adaptive and a calculated risk-taker.
Red flags for the interviewer when discussing career goals
Just like there are with other commonly asked job interview questions, there are also answers that will raise red flags for the interviewer when you’re discussing career goals. The interviewer wants to gain knowledge about your plans for the future and what you want to achieve in terms of your career as a whole, but also in terms of learning and development. Below some red flags are discussed that you should avoid at all times because they could decrease your chances of getting the job.
Your goals do not align with the company goals
For an employer, it’s important that your career goals align with the company goals as much as possible. If you indicate that you would like to take another direction in your career which is not in line with the position you’re applying for this might raise a red flag. This is because, from a strategic point of view, employers want employees who will stay for a longer period of time. If your goals do not align with the company goals, the employer might struggle in retaining you in the long run. As a result, they would need to start the hiring process all over to find a replacement.
Lack of aspiration
If the interviewer brings up your career goals during a job interview, you should show excitement when providing an answer. From the interviewers perspective, the ‘right’ job candidates are the ones that want to develop themselves continuously, regardless of their (current) level of knowledge and work experience. If you fail to discuss goals you set, whether these are short or long-term goals, this will raise a red flag for the interviewer.
Too general or cliché answers
If you’re expecting questions about your career goals you should, of course, prepare an answer in advance. However, this does not mean that you should just recite an answer when the interviewer brings the topic up. If you’re dealing with a well-seasoned interviewer, they will ask you specific and in-depth follow-up questions to assess if you’re openly discussing your goals and not saying what he or she wants to hear from you.
Make sure you are able to back up your career goals and statements by already thinking about what follow-up questions you can expect based on your example answer scenarios. To-the-point and original answers that align with the business goals are the way to go in order to make a great impression.
Unrealistic or unclear goals
If you’re a graduate applying for a job, it’s natural that you do not have fully planned out your career and future yet. However, for more experienced professionals, this is definitely a red flag. The same goes for unclear or unrealistic goals. If you provide the interviewer with an over the top answer such as for instance ‘I want to grow the client portfolio by 50% in my first month’ this could be a red flag. Also, it can indicate that you do not have a solid understanding of the industry or your abilities.
How to define your career goals
To be able to answer questions about your career goals the right way, you should first know how to define them. Start by thinking about what you want to achieve in the next five years of your career. Make sure to focus on logical and realistic goals. You can also plan further and think about the next decade ahead. Take some time to write down the career goals that you want to achieve, both short term and long-term.
Types of career goals
There are different types of career goals that you can distinguish. In general, you can break them down in short-term and long-term goals. However, between goals, you can go more in-depth and focus on specific elements.
Career goals that focus on productivity
These are goals that focus on improving the results that you are able to produce for an employer or client in the position that you’re in, within a set time frame.
Career goals that focus on efficiency
Just like goals that focus on productivity, goals that focus on efficiency regard achieving results. However, these goals do not just regard results; they are about improving your speed, consistency, and accuracy by which you are delivering your results.
Career goals that focus on education
The goals focus on additional professional education that can help you improve your position within the career you have chosen. Goals that help you develop or improve your skills and abilities, such as getting (additional) education or training, are always good to mention – as long as they align with the company goals.
Goals that focus on personal development
Personal development is just as important as setting goals for the points mentioned under one to three above. Goals that focus on improving your skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, leadership will make achieving your short and long-term career goals easier.
How to set career goals
Defining your career goals is only the start of the process. Throughout the term that you have set out for each goal, you need to keep your mind on accomplishing the goals you’ve set. However, if you do not map out your goals properly, it will be harder to explain to the interviewer how you’re going to achieve them. Therefore, make sure that when you’re preparing your career goals to discuss during a job interview that your goals are according to the criteria set out below.
When you set your goals, you should keep in mind what success means to you and what you value in achievements. Based on this, you can break down each milestone.
When you’re setting your career goals, you should come up with a way to actually track and measure them. This can, for instance, be done by setting a certain timeframe. General example: ‘I want to complete a specialization course within one year.’
As stated earlier, it’s important that you set realistic goals. This does not mean that your goals should not be challenging; they should be. If your goals do not make you a little bit uncomfortable and excited, then you should probably set your limits higher.
Action plan for each goal
For every goal that you set you to need to make an action plan to accomplish it. List all the different activities that are needed to accomplish your goals in the short or long-term.
To get started, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- What are you good at?
- What do you want to be good at?
- Which elements do you enjoy most about your current position?
- What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
- Are there any other job positions or projects that look appealing to you? Which ones?
- In which opportunities do you want to engage within the next few years?
- Which skills and abilities do you want to gain or develop over the next years?
As soon as you have answered the questions above, you can make your career goals more tangible. However, remember to keep them challenging but achievable.
Example career goals
Below a couple of general career goals are discussed. Make sure to tailor your specific career goals to your own career and try to relate them to the position that you’re applying for in order to make the right impression with the interviewer.
Increase your performance metrics
Make sure these are measurable and specific metrics. Think of goals that will help you increase your productivity and efficiency, customer satisfaction, helping the company reduce costs, etc. Ultimately, these career goals should lead to you building up a reputation within the company, which should make it easier to achieve long-term goals like getting a promotion.
Earning a specific degree or professional certificate
In general, it’s important to keep continue your education and remain up-to-date with industry knowledge. Additional education, training, or certification can help you improve your skillset. In turn, this makes you a more valuable asset to the company.
A valuable professional network can help you accomplish your long-term career goals. Contacts in the industry can introduce you to new opportunities and knowledge in general. If you want to work on your professional networking, use every professional and social opportunity to meet and connect with new people. Networking should be a continuous career goal as it can help you open doors now and in the future.
Improving communication skills
Improving your communication skills should always be mentioned as a career goal. Communication is the basis of other soft skills. Think of teamwork, leadership, and your work ethic in general. Furthermore, improving your communication skills is facilitative to your personal development as well.
Frequently asked job interview questions about career goals
Below you can find commonly asked interview questions about your career goals:
- What would you like to learn more about in your field of expertise?
- Are you planning to pursue additional education or training? If so, what do you have in mind?
- What are your future career goals, and how do you plan to achieve them?
- Why do you want to work at this company?
- What motivates you?
- What accomplishment are you most proud of? Why?
- How does this position fit into your career goals?
- What career path interests you most in this company?
- Why is this job the right one at this time in your career?
- What are you looking for in your next job position?
- Do you think this position aligns with your professional goals? In which way?
- What have you done to improve yourself in the past year?
- Have you progressed in your career as you have expected?
- Tell me about a career-related goal that you set and did not reach?
- What do you do to achieve your professional goals?
How to answer job interview questions about career goals
There are a couple of elements that you should consider when answering job interview questions about your career goals.
- Start off by outlining that you have short-term goals and long-term goals. It’s important that you are able to separate those since they require a different approach and strategy.
- Next, outline how you plan on reaching your goals. Make sure to keep your outline to-the-point and concise. Also, focus on keeping the steps you discuss logically. This might sound like an open door, but the interviewer does not know you. Demonstrate to the interviewer how your goals align with what the company needs and how you can add value.
- To emphasize your suitability for the job you should keep your career goals focused on the company and the job that you’re applying for. Your response to the interviewers’ question should answer how your goals will ultimately add value to the team and company.
- Keep your answers focused on yourself and what you can do for the company – not the other way around.
Example answers to discuss your career goals
Below some general examples are given to discuss your career goals. However, always make sure that you tailor your answers to your own situation and relate them to the job that you’re applying to.
Example 1 – short-term career goal:
‘In the short term, I hope to work as a customer service representative for a company like yours. I’m excited to work for a company that is known for its excellent customer care and service in general. Starting as a customer service representative will give me the needed knowledge of the service, support, and solutions that the company offers. My primary goal is to eventually work my way from a customer service representative to a team leader. I feel that what your company offers is a strong path towards my goals and I’m very excited about what this position has to offer.’
Why this answer works: The answer demonstrates that your short-term goal can be achieved by working for the company that you’re interviewing for. Furthermore, it’s a to-the-point answer that concisely answers where you’re starting, where you want to go, and how you want to do this.
Example 2 – short-term career goal:
‘My short-term goals are fairly simple. I want to further develop and use my communication and project management skills in this job. I’m focused on gaining as much experience as I can over the next years to eventually grow into a position that will allow me to continue to use these skills while also managing my own team. I want to achieve these goals by working on different projects and on different teams. To be able to manage a team effectively, communication is key, and I look forward to taking on small leadership roles, eventually working my way up. This opportunity is the right one for me since it’s the next step in my career that allows me to continue to grow as a professional. Furthermore, one of my key motivators is the ability to work with different coworkers from different departments, so this is especially exciting about this opportunity for me.’
Why this answer works: Besides including a short-term goal the answer also provides insights into your longer-term goal and how you can add value to the company. Furthermore, it’s a concise way of discussing why what the company is offering is the right fit for you at this moment.
Example 3 – long-term career goal:
‘One of the reasons I want to work for this company is because I find the opportunities that you offer to develop myself exciting. The mentorship program within the company sounds very attractive to me in order to progress my career and knowledge-levels. In five years, I want to be an expert in my field and add value to the company by leading my own team in some capacity. Also, I want to become a person that others can go to, to discuss ideas and strategies. Furthermore, I would like to develop myself as a professional that can help and mentor co-workers and be a part of the mentorship program myself.’
Why this answer works: The answer demonstrates that you did your research and that you’re aware of the training and development opportunities within the company. After, you answer the question about where you will see yourself in five years by explaining what the training will bring you in the long-term. The answer is relevant to the position, realistic in nature, and also shows that you aim to add more value to the company. It shows commitment to the company and team for the long-term.