Demystifying Job Interview Questions: ‘What Are Your Career Goals?’

Career Goals

Questions about the future are not uncommon in job interviews and represent an opportunity for careful preparation.

Interviewer motivation for asking: The interviewer wants to determine if you are goal-oriented and how you go about achieving your goals. He or she also wants to get at how you envision your future with the prospective employer. Are you planning to stick around for a while? 

Strategy for response: Consider carefully the entity asking the question. Most employers will not want to hear that your career goal is to run for Congress or start your own business, because those responses have nothing to do with the organization you’re interviewing with, and your goals will not contribute to the organization. If your career goals don’t relate to the company you’re interviewing with, the message the hiring manager picks up is likely: This person wants to absorb as much knowledge and expertise as possible from our company but then apply it to the next phase of his or her career instead of to our organization.

You need a plausible (and ideally, honest) response that shows ambition and brings the hiring organization into the equation.

Your response could be: “I’m here to let you know that I am the best person for the job because ... [list relevant skills and bottom-line results that track to the employer’s needs]. If in the future you feel I would be a candidate for a higher-level position, I know I wouldn’t be passed up.” 

OR: “I hope to stay at the company and expect that in five years, I’ll have made significant contributions to the organization.” 

OR: “I would like to become the very best ______________ your company has.” 

And then there’s my personal favorite, which I heard secondhand. The interviewer’s question was “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The response: “Celebrating the five-year anniversary of you asking me this question!” While the response likely made the interviewer laugh, it’s probably not the best answer. 

Since you will probably be asked questions about your goals, be sure you know what your goals are and can articulate them clearly. Be prepared to give examples and tell stories of achieving your goals. When asked about future goals, be sure to integrate the organization you’re interviewing with into those goals, using the preceding strategy for future questions. 

Sample questions in this subject area:

  • What specific goals, including those related to your career, have you established in your life?
  • What specific goals have you established in your career? What will it take to attain your goals, and what steps have you taken toward attaining them?
  • Would you describe yourself as goal-driven?
  • Describe what you’ve accomplished toward reaching a recent goal for yourself.
  • What short-term goals and objectives have you established for yourself?
  • Can you describe your long-range goals and objectives?
  • How does this job align with your long-range goals and objectives?
  • How do you see your current and future activities helping you to obtain your goals?
  • What do you expect to be doing in five years?
  • What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
  • Give me an example of an important goal that you had set in the past and tell me about your success in reaching it.
  • Give an example of when you took a risk to achieve a goal. What was the outcome?
  • How long are you likely to stay with our organization?

Sample response to “What are your career goals?”

In all my previous positions – whether I advanced to the next level through a promotion or a new job – I knew when it was time to move up because the job no longer challenged me, and I was constantly seeking new opportunities to reach my potential. I am at that point now with my current position. I am ready to lead the entire sales force. I am ready for the challenges that I will face in trying to improve sales in all your regions and territories, especially some of your problem areas. I look forward to the challenge of motivating and teaching the sales force, helping them to reach their potential. I have many ideas for motivating, training, and leading the entire sales force to maximize sales and sales revenues. Becoming vice president of sales also brings me into the strategic inner circle, where I will be challenged to excel, bringing forth mission-driven marketing and sales ideas that will help the organization achieve its goals and vision for the future. I have excelled in my current position as regional sales manager, succeeding in obtaining increased sales–above quota – in all the territories I manage. I want to take that success – and the ideas, strategies, and tactics–and put it to work for you as your VP of sales.

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