What Are Your Career Goals?

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: August 25, 2022

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If you have been practicing for interviews at all- you likely recognize some common interview questions- such as “what are your career goals.” Even though this is a regularly asked question- it can still be hard to give the best answer possible- especially because some interviewers phrase their queries differently. Other phrasings may include- “what do you hope to accomplish-” “what professional goals do you have-” or “where do you see yourself in five years.” No matter the wording- you still need to prepare to answer this type of question.

If you want to give a good answer- you have to consider what the interviewer is really trying to discover. Most interviewers ask this question to ensure your goals line up with the goals of the company. They also may be trying to determine how long you could work for them. Most hiring managers do not want to hire a candidate who will only stay with the company for a couple of years. At the same time- the interviewer wants to know what goals you have- because a goal-oriented candidate is likely going to be more motivated than a complacent candidate. With a little bit of practice- you will be able to give a great answer to this common question.

A good way to answer a question about career goals is to think in terms of SMART goals. What are SMART goals? SMART stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. When you keep those five words in mind when crafting your career goals, you ensure that you’re creating goals that are clear and reachable.

How Do I Set My Career Goals?

You set career goals by thinking about what you want to do, career-wise, in both the short-term and long-term sense. Think about:

  • Your career interests
  • The industries that your talents and skills align with
  • The level of compensation that best suits your needs
  • Where you’d like to see yourself in 5-10 years, career-wise

How to Answer the Question

The point of most interview questions is to get to know you better. When you are asked about your career goals- what can you say to showcase your candidacy?

Keep Goals Company-Related:

Because hiring managers are looking for an applicant who could be with the company for the long haul- you should try to focus on company-related goals. This means you should not say your biggest career goal is to work for a different company. Instead- talk about what you can accomplish in the position in question and how the company will be able to help you grow as a professional. Always make sure the goals you talk about wanting to achieve could actually happen in the company. This train of thought will not only help you answer the question- but can also help you figure out which companies have a future for you.

Stay Professional:

When asked where you see yourself in five years- it may be tempting to turn to family or personal goals. However- in an interview you should always try to stay professional. The same can be said when answering this question. To help keep your answer on topic- avoid talking about continuing your education or anything else irrelevant to the position at hand.

Avoid Bragging:

It is good to have goals for your future. This shows you are working toward something. It also can show you will strive accomplish things for the business. However- you need to be sure you do not brag while discussing what you hope to achieve in the future. Confidence is a key part of many careers- but overconfidence can lead to bad interviews. For example- certain answers could come off as demeaning towards other positions. If you say- “I hope to be running this company in five years-” you may ruffle some feathers- because there are certain stepping stones you have to take to reach this particular goal. The interviewers and others at the company with seniority have likely been working towards that goal and may not appreciate such a forward answer.

As you try to answer the “what are your career goals” question- you have to find the middle ground between overachiever and underachiever. Try to keep your goals in line with the goals of the company. This strategy can help showcase you as the top applicant as you answer this and other interview questions.

Sample Answers

1. Learning is really important to me. I want to continue learning techniques that will make me a better leader and researcher. That is why I am so excited by the opportunity to work alongside the experts at this company. As I mature as a professional- I hope to take over a leadership role for the next generation of analytical researchers at the company. Eventually I would love to take my researching skills to the application side of the business. For me- making that move indicates I will be able to use everything I learned throughout my education and career to make new innovations.

2. Currently I strive to enhance my communication and motivation skills. I know these are important attributes for leaders in the company. I am excited to start taking small roles of leadership in the projects and day-to-day aspect of the business if I do get this position. I think it is important for employees at any level to have leadership skills. These skills give people the confidence needed to help innovate and improve the business. Eventually I would love to see myself as a manager here. I see management as a chance to help mold the next generation of thinkers and doers.

Similar Questions

What are your long-term goals or career plans?

When asked this question in an interview, keep your long-term goal and career plan focused, first and foremost, on the job you’re aiming to get. In other words, keep it short term—talk about how your goals and plans align with the company’s. From there, make mention of the role/position you’d most like to see yourself in in the next five years or so.

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