How to answer an interview question about your career goals

By understanding why an interviewer is asking this question, you can frame your answer in a better way
by Bethan Rees


Dreaming big in your career and striving for the best possible outcome is always a good thing. But in a job interview setting, when the interviewer asks you "what are your career goals?" how should you respond?

Why are they asking?

It helps to know what the interviewer is really getting at here. They may want to know if you're planning on staying at the company for the long term, or if you're likely to jump ship at the first opportunity, writes Alison Doyle in an article for The Balance Careers. "For employers, this tactic helps reveal if you have any long-term visions or plans. It is expensive to hire and train an employee. The interviewer wants to make sure that you intend to stay a while at the company." She adds that the interviewer will also want to see that you have ambition and future goals.

In an article for Careers Sidekick, Biron Clark echoes this and says that it's "not a good idea to say, 'I'm not sure' or 'I haven't thought about that'". He adds that the angle of the answer should fit with the job you're applying for.

This question could be asked with the aim of finding “out whether the job and the employer will help you to get where you want to be", says an article by Target Jobs. "They want to be sure that they will be a good fit for you because, if they are, you’ll be more likely to stay with them for the long term."

The Target Jobs article suggests another reason for asking this question. It could be to "find out how much you know about the sector you are applying for, how much research you have done into the employer and how committed you are to your future career".

How to answer

There are plenty of ways to answer this question, Doyle says in The Balance Careers article. "Answer this question with the company in mind. If your personal goals don't mesh with the company's vision for the future, it's better to keep them to yourself," she says.

You can start preparing for this question by establishing your short- and long-term goals. Be prepared to share some of these aspirations with the interviewer. Doyle recommends starting with the short-term, before moving onto long-term goals.

Doyle suggests focusing on the employer – "you want to convey that you won't abandon the employer anytime soon", she says. Here, you could focus on how you'll add value to the company while at the same time achieving your own career goals.

As with any interview question, prepare some points in advance for this response. "Practice answering questions about your career plan and goals out loud, so you can be more comfortable during your interview," says Doyle.

In the article, she gives some examples of ‘best answers’ to follow when framing your response:

In the short term, I hope to work as a sales representative for a company such as yours – one with a mission based on excellent customer service and care. Working as a sales representative for a company I believe in will prepare me to take on expanded team leadership responsibilities in the future, as those become available.

Doyle says that this is a good response as it's referencing the company and shows that you want to stay there for a while.

My current short-term goal is to develop and use my marketing and communications skills in a job like this one. However, I eventually want to develop into a position that allows me to continue to use these skills while also managing a marketing group. I will prepare for this goal by taking on leadership positions in team projects, and by developing my professional career through attending leadership conferences such as the one put on annually by your company.

Doyle says this answer works well because it shows how short-term and long-term goals can be accomplished within the company.

How not to answer

The Target Jobs article says that you should avoid saying "that you really want to work in a different sector or for a different employer altogether" because interviewers will prefer an employee who has a clear preference for their sector and their employer. However, if you do say this, you can justify it by explaining how the job you're interviewing for can help you get there, the article says. "The best answers show that this role will help you on your way to success – and that you will be committed to making a success of your time with the company."

In The Balance Careers article, Doyle recommends that people avoid mentioning goals related to earnings, raises, bonuses or perks. "You want to focus on the work you hope to achieve, rather than the money you want to make," she says.

She also advises not delving too deeply into specifics. For example, don't name a specific company and a specific role within it (unless it’s the one you're interviewing for). "Emphasise more general goals, such as taking on responsibilities. This allows you to balance clear aims with a flexible attitude," she says.

Keep your answers general in terms of a role within a company, and highlight your short- and long-term goals and how the position you're interviewing for will help you achieve that.

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Published: 26 Mar 2021
  • Soft Skills
  • job-hunting
  • soft skills
  • Interview
  • leadership
  • career development
  • interview tips
  • Career advice

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