Interview Question: "What Are Your Career Aspirations?"

Confident millennial female applicant talking at job interview answering questions
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When you’re interviewing for a new job, recruiters will try to figure out if the job will be a good fit given your projected career path. You may encounter questions about how a position fits in with your career plan. This kind of question will also help a recruiter see if you plan to stay at the company long-term or hope to move on quickly.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Your interviewer's main goal with this question is to determine if you're a good fit for the job — does it make sense given your long-term career strategy? Will you stick around in the position for a reasonable amount of time? Are your ambitions reasonable, and in line with the company/industry?

The interviewer doesn’t expect you to commit a lifetime to the company, but they also don’t want to expend resources on your training and path to success if you’re going to leave after a short time.

In order to make the determination of whether you’re a good fit for the job, the interviewer could also ask why you are interested in the job or why you want to work at the company.

In order to be able to tell the interviewer what they really want to know, go into the interview armed with whatever research you can find on the company. Once you’ve read about the company and done some in-depth research, you can better answer the questions. Always be honest but try to match your interests with the company’s needs.

How to Answer: 'What Are Your Career Plans and Aspirations?'

An interviewer will almost always ask this question. You want to come to your interview prepared to answer it a way that will make you seem that you are prepared to stay with the company for a reasonable amount of time. You want the interviewer to understand that you feel that the job you are interviewing for will help you, perhaps, develop a certain skill set.

After re-reading the job description, see if you can tie some of the functions of the job to any career goals and aspirations you might have. This will strengthen your case in the interviewer’s eyes.

career aspirations infographic
J.R. Bee/The Balance

This is not the time to go into any plans you might have for your family, a second job, or a hobby. You don’t want to discuss salary, location, or company history yet. Place the emphasis on your career for the interviewer. If you don’t know what your career goals and aspirations are yet, focus on your skill set when speaking with the interviewer.

Examples of the Best Answers

This is your chance to tell the interviewer where you see yourself in the future and how this job will help you achieve your career goals and aspirations.

Here are some sample answers that might help you formulate your own response:

I am looking for a way to transfer my writing, media relations, event planning skills, and public relations expertise to a position within healthcare. I am fascinated by the trends in healthcare and have a family background in medicine so the prospect of working for a hospital is very appealing to me. Ultimately, I have an interest in managing a communications operation at a hospital, but I see that as a few years down the road after I have further honed my skills.

Why It Works: You have a family background and interest in medicine. You have worked in communications and would like to eventually manage a communications operation in a hospital. Those facts should reassure the interviewer that you might be a “good fit” for the job since you would be in a position to move up the ladder as time passes. Interviewers are often interested where candidates see themselves 5 years from now and this answer would work for that question.

I have always loved sales and thrived on the excitement of landing new clients and competing with my peers. Your position is attractive since it would provide the opportunity for me to enhance relationships with current major clients while also pursuing new customers. I want to stay in sales for the foreseeable future. My goal will be to become one of the leading account managers on your staff, recognized as a product expert with a strong track record for satisfying customers.

Why It Works: Since you are committed to sales as a career, the interviewer can see that your goals for the future are compatible with the job.

As you can see from my background, I have spent the past three years since graduate school as an HR generalist. During this time, I have enjoyed my work in recruiting the most, so I am looking to specialize in the employment arena with a company like yours that has a large recruitment operation. Ultimately, maybe 3 - 5 years down the road, I would love to direct a recruiting operation at a major company, if I could keep my hands in some of the activities I enjoy, like interviewing candidates.

Why It Works: Since you are newly out of graduate school, you are still mapping out your career plans. You have reassured the interviewer that you would stay with the job for 3-5 years, although you have also stated what you would be looking for in your next job

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Advance planning: Before you go to an interview, be aware that the interviewer is likely to ask you about your career plans and aspirations. Plan your answer to that question or some variation of that question. If you don’t know, talk about where your strengths lie in your job skills.

Reassure the interviewer: The interviewer doesn’t want to invest the company’s time and resources in you if your career goals are simply to stay in this job for a short-time and then move on to another job. You should reassure the interviewer that this job means something to you and that you intend to devote yourself to it for some time to come.

Competition: Chances are, you aren’t the only one interviewing for this job. Competition is steep in the job market. Before your interview, pick out a characteristic that you have that aligns with your possible career path and aspirations that you feel is unique and emphasize that to the interviewer. It might give you an edge on other candidates.

What Not to Say

Avoid specifics: The interview is not the time to inquire about salary, job location, or other very specific information. You are interviewing for a position. Keep the discussion about the job unless the interviewer makes it about something else.

Don’t discuss personal issues: Don’t make your job interview about personal issues. For example, don’t say something like “I’d like to relocate to Minnesota where my daughter’s gymnastics coach lives.” Don’t mention caring for your elderly parents or your own health issues.

Don’t say you don’t have any weaknesses: You’re human. Everyone has weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to talk about a weakness or two in your professional life. It’s not going to cost you the job.

Possible Follow-up Questions

Key Takeaways

  • Be able to state your career plans and aspirations concisely.
  • Be honest if you plan to move on but emphasize you will stay for some time.
  • Find out all you can about the company in advance.
  • Don’t bring personal issues into the interview.