Job Interview Questions About Your Career Goals

Woman Being Interviewed
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During a job interview, the interviewer might ask, “What are your long-term career goals?” Or, you might get similar interview questions such as, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What are your goals for the next five to ten years?

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Interviewers want to know whether you plan to stay at the company for a while or if you're likely to leave at the soonest opportunity. Asking future-looking questions during interviews is very common. For employers, it 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 at least a while at the company. However, the interviewer also wants to make sure you have ambition and goals for your future. 

How to Answer Interview Questions About Your Career Goals

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5 Tips for Answering Questions About Career Goals

It might be difficult to think about the future during your interview, so it’s good to plan for such a question. Keep in mind, there are plenty of ways to answer it successfully.  Answer this question with the company in mind.

Prepare an answer that focuses on your career goals as they relate to the company you are interviewing for.

You can divide those goals up into short-term goals and longer-term goals.

If you’re not clear about what you want to achieve, review this guide on how to set career goals. Then, spend some time setting your short- and long-term career goals.

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are some examples of answers you can follow when framing your own answers.

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.

Why It Works: The applicant references the company he or she is interviewing for in his answer to the question, letting the interviewer know that he would like to be hired by the company and would like to stay there, at least 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 myself for this goal by taking on leadership positions in team projects, and by developing my professional career by attending leadership conferences such as the one put on annually by your company.

Why It Works: This answer works for two reasons. First, the applicant states that his or her short-term goal can be accomplished by working in a company like the one in which he or she is interviewing for. Second, the applicant relates his or her long-term goal to an annual conference put on by the company.

Although I have just completed my LPN certification, my long-term goal is to take my nursing career to its highest level by eventually earning my RN degree. My plan is to work full-time in a long-term care environment or hospital for the next few years, which will give me the experience I’ll need in order to excel in an RN program.

Why it Works: Since the applicant is obviously interviewing in a hospital or long-term care environment, he or she is relating long-term goals to the same environment. This reassures the interviewer that they may be able to retain the applicant if they hire the applicant.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Start with short-term goals, then move to long-term goals. You probably have a good sense of your short-term goals, such as getting a job with an employer like the one you are currently interviewing for. Start by describing these goals, then move to long-term plans.

Explain the actions you’ll take. Listing goals is not going to make for a strong answer. You also want to (briefly) explain steps you will take to achieve them. For example, if you want to take on a management role, describe the steps you have taken, or will take, to become a manager.

Perhaps you are developing your leadership skills by running group projects, you plan to attend a series of leadership conferences, or you are pursuing a specialized management certification.

Describing your plan demonstrates that you are thinking analytically about your career future and your potential growth within the company. For example, if you plan to further your education, explain it in a way that enhances your worth to the company.

Focus on the employer. Even though this question is about you, you want to convey that you won’t abandon the employer anytime soon. 

Mention that one of your goals is to work for a company like the one for which you’re interviewing.

Focus on how you’ll add value to the company through the achievement of your own goals. Also, convince the interviewer that working at this company will help you achieve your goals for a win-win situation.

Take the Time to Practice. Practice answering questions about your career goals out loud, so you can be more comfortable during your interview. It’s also a good idea to review a variety of job interview questions and answers so you’ll be fully prepared.

What Not to Say

Avoid discussing salary. Don’t focus on 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. It’s fine to provide a salary range if asked (although you might try to avoid getting pinned down too early in the process). However, you should never volunteer your target salary unasked, or tie any information to your circumstances, rather than the job market

Here's an example of what not to say when you're talking about salary with a prospective employer:

Don't Say This: Can you provide the salary range for this position? My target salary is at least $45,000. My rent just went up and I have student loans, so I can’t consider a position that comes in under that.

Avoid delving too deeply into specifics. While you want to present clear goals, do not get into too many details. For example, if you know you want to work for a company in a specific position (that's not the company or role you’re interviewing for), don’t share this information with an employer.

Emphasize more general goals, such as taking on responsibilities. This allows you to balance clear aims with a flexible attitude. 

Review an example of what not to say when you're discussing your goals:

Don't Say This: I’m excited about the possibility of joining this organization. While I’m applying for an administrative assistant job, my hope is to move into an editorial role as soon as possible. Can you tell me how long it would take to move into an editorial assistant position?

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

  • Prepare your answer focusing on your career goals as they relate to the company you are interviewing for.
  • Relate both your short-term and long-term career goals to the company you are interviewing for unless you are clearly interviewing for a short-term position.
  • Prepare an answer that includes the steps you intend to take to achieve your career goals.
  • Don’t get into too many details.
  • Don’t discuss salary or benefits.