Interview Question: What Are Your Career Goals? [+ Example Answers]

By Mike Simpson

What are your career goals? Do you have them? Do you need them? What happens if you’re asked what your career goals are in an interview? How do you answer? Is this question even important?

You bet your job-seeking booty it is…and for a few very important reasons. But before we get into those, let’s first answer what is a career goal?

What Is a Career Goal?

In a nutshell, career goals are the milestones you hope to hit as you advance in your chosen profession.

My goal is to make a ton of money. Isn’t that everyone’s career goal?

Well, technically, yes. The primary driving motivator for any job is a steady paycheck, but there’s more to life than just feeding your bank account, and that’s where career goals come into play.

Think about your employment situation right now. Where do you see yourself in five years? How about ten? What about when you retire? Do you have an image in your head of where you want to be and who you want to be during those points in your life?

Congratulations, you just came up with three career goals! Wasn’t that easy?

Why is it Important to Have Career Goals?

For many people a job is just that…a job. It’s something they do for 8 hours (or so) a day in the hopes of getting that paycheck at the end of the week. It’s a bit like living in the movie Groundhog Day. Every day is exactly like the day before it…and exactly like the day after it. Sure, there might be some variety, and a raise thrown in every now and again, but overall, it’s the same thing over and over and over and over again.

Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? This scenario is exactly why you need career goals!

You need something to focus on… something to drive you forward and something to motivate you to improve your situation and grow. Career goals are what will help you get ahead in this world and help you go from just another day at the office to another day closer to achieving what you ultimately want with your career.

So, now that we know what a career goals is…let’s talk about what your career goals should be.

“Total world domination!”

Whoah, okay there, Pinky. The first thing we need to do is make sure our goals are realistic and professional. We’re not saying you can’t dream big, but let’s keep in mind this is an answer you’re going to give a hiring manager and with an answer like total world domination, you’re less likely to get the job and more likely to end up on some international watch list. 😉

Speaking of hiring managers, knowing why they ask this question will make it much easier to know how to answer this question. When a hiring manager asks you, “What are your career goals,” (or the ever-popular variation “Where do you see yourself in five years,”) they’re trying to determine two primary things:

Are you a person who plans on making a long-term commitment to the company? Most employers would prefer to avoid hiring anyone who sees the position as a short-term stop, especially if it involves extensive training.


Are you someone who is interested in both personal and professional improvement and growth? Candidates who are motivated to improve are often driven to succeed at the jobs they’re hired to do.

Hiring mangers are going to be interested in both your long-term and short-term career goals, which is why, when you’re prepping your answers to this question, you need to take both into consideration.

Long-term Versus Short-term Career Goals

Long-term and short-term career goals are exactly what they sound like; long-term goals apply to achievements you’d like to make in your future and short-term goals are supportive, actionable items you can focus on right now that will help move you closer to your long-term goal.

MIKE'S TIP: When it comes to a timeline, it’s reasonable to assume short-term goals are achievable within 6-12 months and relate to improvements in performance and skills and long-term goals usually extend out from 1-10 years and are generally focused on the final direction of your ultimate career choice.

4 Common Types of Career Goals:

While goals are broken down into the two primary categories, long-term and short-term, there are generally four common types of career goals:

  1. Goals focused on productivity: Productivity refers to the results you are able to produce for your employer or client within a given time frame.
  2. Goals focused on efficiency: Similar to productivity, goals that focus on efficiency refer to your ability to achieve results, but with a focus on not only producing the desired results, but with the speed, accuracy, and consistency by which you deliver those results.
  3. Goals focused on education: Continuing your professional education helps to ensure that you are always at the forefront of developments within your chosen career. Seeking out opportunities to develop or improve your skills can help put you ahead of the competition, ensuring you remain current and relevant within your field.
  4. Goals focused on personal development: Just as important as education, continuing to improve yourself personally can only help you out in the long run. Improving personal skills like communication, networking, teamwork and leadership will make achieving both short-term and long-term goals easier.

Within these four types of common career goal categories are the hundreds…no, thousands of different types of career goals.

Overall Career Goal Examples Could Include:

  • Improving your networking skills.
  • Switching careers.
  • Starting your own business.
  • Getting a promotion.
  • Becoming an expert in your field.
  • Assuming a leadership position.
  • Earning a degree or certificate.
  • Closing more sales.
  • Landing a huge account.
  • Learning a new skill.
  • Winning an award.
  • Becoming a manager.
  • Becoming a mentor.
  • Improving the company bottom line.
  • Becoming more proactive.
  • Growing the size of your customer base.

We could seriously spend the rest of this article just listing possible career goals, both long-term and short-term and still not come close to exhausting them all…so let’s move on and focus on what matters the most…you!

How to Set Career Goals

Whew! We’ve gone over a ton of stuff already but now we’re getting to the most important part…how to set your career goals.

When it comes to setting your own career goals, it’s important to look first at the big picture, and then focus in on the smaller steps you’ll need to accomplish in order to achieve that end result. That means looking at the long-term and then the short-term.

First identify exactly what you ultimately want to achieve with your career. <