How to Answer Interview Questions About Career Goals

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Are you preparing for a job interview and wondering what the hiring manager will ask you?

One common question is, “What are your career goals?” This can be a difficult question to answer, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do with your life.

You don’t want to seem too ambitious or like you’re not committed to the role, but you also want to assure the hiring manager that you’re taking a holistic look at how the company can fit into your long-term goals.

Don’t worry! With a bit of preparation, you can give an answer that demonstrates your commitment to your career and shows the hiring manager that you’re a motivated candidate dedicated to this role and its future possibilities.

Why Do Interviewers Ask “What Are Your Career Goals?”

nervous man in a job interview
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Interviewers often ask about your career goals to get a sense of your long-term commitment to the job. They want to know if you have a clear plan for your career and how you intend to grow within the company.

Additionally, they want to see if your goals align with the company’s mission and values.

By asking about your career goals, interviewers are trying to better understand your motivation and potential. Asking about your career goals is also a way for interviewers to gauge your fit for the role itself.

This is especially true if the company will have to invest time in training or relocation if you’re hired or if the position requires a certain soft skill.

By taking the time to plan your goals and how to phrase them successfully, you can show that you’re committed to the job and have a clear vision for your future.

Other Ways the Interviewer Might Phrase the Question

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It’s pretty standard for hiring managers to get a feel for your long-term goals, but they might phrase that differently. Here are a few examples of ways you might find that question framed.

  • What are your long-term goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are your ambitions?
  • What do you see yourself doing in the future?
  • What are you looking for in a new position?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish in your next role?
  • How does this job fit into your career plan?

How to Answer “What Are Your Career Goals?”

Young woman in job interview
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The best way to answer this question is to be specific and give a concise overview of the next goal you’ve set for your career.

For example, if you’re looking to move into leadership, you could say:

“I’m looking to become a team leader within the next five years. I want to start by shadowing a current leader and eventually take on more responsibility within the department. I’m confident I have the soft skills to succeed in this role and am eager to learn the hands-on skills it requires.”

What to Say When You’re Not Sure

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If you’re not sure what you want to do with your career, it’s OK to say so. However, it would help if you still had an idea of the direction you want to go. And more importantly, how this job is an intentional step toward a more specific future.

For example, you could say:

“Admittedly, I’m not sure exactly how I can best utilize my skill set, but I’m passionate about supporting more equitable health care access, which is why I’m excited about working for [XYZ Company].

“This temporary position will allow me to get in on the ground floor and examine how the different roles support the outcome. I’m excited to use my experiences here to help me create a more detailed career plan for the next five to 10 years.”

Talk Long-Term Goals

Young employee at first job
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Another approach, if you’re still unsure of your career plan, is to talk about your long-term goals, but frame them in terms of how they will benefit the company.

For instance, you might talk about your desire to hone your skills in online sales or boost your cultural literacy by expanding into new markets.

By articulating your goals in terms of how they will benefit your employer, you can show that you are both ambitious and motivated by the right things. And you can often sidestep a lack of highly targeted career goals.

Discuss Your Experience and Interest

Older woman in a job interview
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Finally, if you’re looking to change careers, you should explain why you’re interested in the new field and how your skills and experience will transfer.

For example, you could say:

“I’m building my career in project management because I thrive working on teams and enjoy seeing projects through from start to finish. Additionally, my experience in marketing has given me a keen eye for detail and excellent organizational skills, both of which will be valuable in project management.

“After extensive research into the field, I’m confident that I can learn quickly and make a positive impact.”

Detail Your Career Plans

Happy woman working her job from a desk
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Remember, when answering this question, you want to show that you’re committed to the job and have a vision for your future — even if you don’t have the next 40 years precisely mapped out.

The key is to be specific and give a detailed plan for the next steps in your career. By doing so, you’ll show you’re committed to the job and have long-term potential.

Additional Tips for Creating Your Answer

An older worker shakes hands at a job interview
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Be honest about your goals; don’t try to fit what you think the interviewer wants to hear. It’s almost guaranteed to come through as insincere.

Not to mention, if you do get the job, they might line you up for opportunities that don’t truly align with your objectives.

Conduct Thorough Research

Woman looking at laptop
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Always research the company before the interview and tailor your answers to align with the company’s mission and values. If the company is a good fit for your passions beyond your salary and job title, mention that in your answer.

For example, if one of your goals is to work with a company that supports conservation, that is something you want to mention if you’ve seen the company highlighting their conservation efforts on social media.

Be Specific

Meeting with HR
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Avoid giving vague answers, like “I want to reach the next level” or “I want to make an impact.” Generic answers won’t impress your interviewer and could make you seem unfocused.

Instead, you need to provide specific examples of what you hope to accomplish in your career. For instance, if you’re hoping to move into management, you could mention that you aim to take on more responsibility and lead a team of your own.

Or, if you’re aiming for a promotion, you could mention that you hope to increase your sales numbers or contribute to the company in a new way.

While that is likely to create opportunities for promotion, you’ve articulated that you understand the steps you’ll need to take to get to that point.

Don’t Forget to Practice

Young woman doing video interview
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Once you’ve decided what you want to say, practice your answer out loud so you’re comfortable saying it in an interview. And remember that the hiring manager might state the question in multiple ways.

Therefore, it’s best not to memorize an answer word for word. You might get thrown off if the phrasing doesn’t fit exactly.

Instead, practice answering in different conversational ways and consider enlisting a friend, family member, or professional career coach to practice with a mock interview.

Answering Open-Ended Interview Questions About Your Career Goals

Two women in a meeting
Adam Gregor /

At first glance, open-ended interview questions are intimidating, but they offer an excellent opportunity to bring your resume to life for the hiring manager. This is your chance to highlight how you’ll fit the team.

By following these tips, you can confidently answer the question “What are your career goals?” and impress your interviewer.

And with a bit of preparation, you can show them that you’re an excellent fit for the position and the organization.

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