How To Answer The Interview Question “What Are Your Career Goals?” (With Examples)

By Ryan Morris
Jan. 23, 2023
Articles In Guide

Find a Job You Really Want In

Summary. To answer, “What are your career goals?” in an interview, talk about your specific short-term and long-term goals and how they’d add to the company. If you don’t know what your career aspirations are, talk about the type of company you want to work for and how this one fits that.

During an interview, a potential employer might ask “What are your career goals?” They aren’t just asking because they are curious.

They want to know if your future plans align with what they are looking for in an employee.

In this article, we will go over why they are asking, how to answer, and give some examples to give the perfect answer.

Key Takeaways

  • Interviewers ask about your goals to find out your motivation for applying for the job and how forward-thinking you are.

  • Talk about both short-term and long-term goals.

  • Give specifics and focus on the value you’d add to the company with your professional goals.

How to answer the question

What Are They Really Asking?

When someone’s asking about your goals, what they’re really trying to figure out are two main things:

It’s easy to give a bad answer to either of these hidden questions, mostly because it’s not always clear what sort of candidate a hiring manager is looking for.

It’s okay to not be sure about what you’re trying to do with your life, or to apply for a job that you’re worried you may not want to stay in forever — but it’s important to keep in mind that hiring managers may not want to hear that.

They’re looking for a sound investment — someone they can hire and bring up to speed quickly so that the new hire can start making the company money as quickly as possible.

How to Answer “What Are Your Career Goals?”

When answering this common interview question, you don’t want to say that you haven’t thought about it or that you don’t know. You also don’t want to sound too eager to move on and out of the position you’re applying to.

The trick is to strike the balance between having an idea of what you want to get out of the job in the context of your larger career, without giving your interviewer any reason to worry that you might not stick around for very long.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you start trying to answer this question:

  • Talk about concrete goals. If you you have very specific goals, impress the hiring manager by describing them in as concrete terms as you can.

    Start with your short-term goals and then go into your long-term goals.

  • Tell a story. Privilege the narrative you’re selling as much as possible. The best long term goals are basically stories that you hope to make come true through careful planning and hard work.

  • Focus on the value you can add. Wherever possible, also try to focus on the value you’ll be adding to the company.

    It’s important to mention what you’ll be getting out of the deal, but ultimately, the hiring manager is going to be considering you based on the value they think you can bring to their company.

  • Research the company. If you’re not sure about precisely what you’re looking for out of your career, try talking about the kind of company you’d like to work for.

    It helps to do your homework on the company you’re applying to in the first place so you can make sure that the company you’re describing applies to them, but if you do your homework, you shouldn’t need to lie here.

Example Answers to “What Are Your Goals?”

Career goal examples could include:

  • Assuming a leadership position

  • Learning a new skill

  • Becoming an expert in your field

  • Enhance your networking skills

Let’s pull everything together with some sample answers. Don’t just copy what we say; adjust your answers to reflect your situation and keep the above tips in mind.

  1. Short-Term and Long-Term Goals Example Answer

    Short term, my goal is to learn more programming languages so that I’m able to speak more fluently with the developers about projects. I find that there’s a lot of time lost in translation, and being more knowledgable about how my team talks helps cut this wasted time down.

    Longer term, I’m interested in developing my leadership abilities, which is what attracted me to this position. My time as a product manager has taught me what works and what doesn’t, and I hope to never stop learning how to enhance my managerial capabilities.

  2. Assuming a Leadership Position Goals Example Answer

    My career goal involves eventually stepping into a position where I can manage marketing campaigns from the top. Working as a data analyst here will help me work towards this goal, as I can learn how the process works from the bottom up.

    I also actively seek out leadership conferences as a way of developing my people skills, so that I’m ready to take on a supervisory role down the road.

  3. Becoming an Expert in Your Field Goals Example Answer

    In the next couple of years, I hope to be an expert in Photoshop and other graphic design software. That’s why I’m so excited about this internship opportunity, which will give me the opportunity to grow the knowledge I gained in college and make a real impact in the professional world of graphic design.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “What Are Your Career Goals?”

  • Discussing salary. Try not to focus on any goals that are related to earnings and salaries. This is the time to focus on the work you hope to achieve. If you only mention goals related to money, a potential employer might think you only want the money and nothing else.

  • Discussing goals that involve you switching careers. If you are interviewing for a tech company, don’t say your goal is to switch to career in teaching. This will make them wonder why you are even going for the position.

    Another thing to avoid would say you plan on owing your own business one day. This could result in the same thing, thinking why are even going for the position.

  • Goals unrelated to the position. If you have any personal goals such as losing weight or a goal to see all seven wonders of the world, this isn’t the time to share them. Your potential employer wants to see what goals you have in your professional life.

How To Use This Question to Learn More About Your Industry

There’s a very distinct possibility that, beyond not having much in the way of long-term goals, you might be so new to an industry that you don’t even know what reasonable goals for your career even look like.

This can often be nerve-wracking since you typically come to an interview prepared to ANSWER questions, not ASK them.

This can be the perfect opportunity to learn a bit more about it while also impressing your potential employer by engaging them on something they know about themselves.

Here are some questions you might ask at this point in the interview that can help you learn more about your specific career:

  • “What’s the typical career path for someone at this company in this position?”

  • “What are the company’s long-term goals? Where is it headed in the next few years?”

  • “What are some of the biggest challenges people in the role face when it comes to moving forward with their career?”

Ask the Experts

How To Answer The Question “What Are Your Career Goals?”

Erin Wolfram
Owner, Career Advantage and Career Advantage Golf

Prior to the interview, thoughtfully consider why you want this job at the particular organization. Yes, hiring committees want to hire someone who is qualified, but more importantly, they want to hire someone who is passionate about the position AND the organization, so be able to prove that passion throughout the interview. When considering your ‘why’ figure out how this position fits into your career trajectory as well.

First and foremost, when talking about your career aspirations in an interview, focus on the value you can bring to the organization. It is also important to relay how your previous experience has prepared you to be successful in this position and how this new position is the logical next step to continue your career growth. If they ask you about your long-term goals, make sure they align with the organization. For instance, you can focus your response on how you would like to grow and advance your career with this organization while also helping their company grow.

Career Goals Interview Question FAQ

  1. What is a good career goal statement?

    A good career goal statement is a description of your specific and achievable long-term professional goals. For example, a good career goal statement would say, “My goal is to be in a position in five years where I’m managing engineering projects.”

  2. What are five tips for setting career goals?

    Five tips for setting career goals are:

    • Set achievable goals.

    • Set specific timelines.

    • Identify how you’ll reach those goals.

    • Research common career paths in your field.

    • Remember that goals are just meant to keep you moving forward, they aren’t pass/fail assignments.

  3. What are examples of career goals?

    Examples of career goals could be:

    • “Short-term, my goal is to learn two new programming languages. Long-term, my goal is to develop my leadership abilities and become a manager.”

    • “In five years, I see myself in a position where I’m developing a new high school science curriculum.”

    • “My goal is to become an expert in Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects in the next three years so that I can create videos entirely in-house.”

  4. What is a realistic career goal?

    A realistic career goal is a goal that aligns with others’ career paths. Dreaming big is good, but if no one in your industry becomes a manager before gaining five years of experience, your goal of doing it in two years isn’t realistic. A more realistic goal would be to become a manager in four or five years.

Final Thoughts

That’s all for this one! Just keep in mind:

Remember that the biggest thing here is that you want to give the impression that you plan on staying in the job you’re applying to for a reasonable length of time.

For most positions, that can be anywhere from as little as six months to as many as two or three years.

That’s why it’s important to know what you’re getting into long before you show up to your interview — you don’t want to end up unnecessarily burning bridges because you only plan on spending 2 months in a position that typically doesn’t turn over for a year or more.

And last of all, remember that lying — at both your own discretion and peril — is always an option for you, in cases where you know for a fact that your goals don’t line up with the goals a given hiring manager might want you to have.

Best of luck! Here are some other links to help you on your way:

8 Helpful Tips for a Successful Onsite Interview
How to Answer the Interview Question “What do You Know about Our Company?”
3 Tips for Identifying the Worst Companies to Work For

References

  1. The Wall Street Journal – How to Set Professional Goals and Plan Out Your Career

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Author

Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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