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

By Mike Simpson

UPDATED 5/26/2022

What are your career goals? Do you have them? Do you need them? And what happens if you’re asked about your career aspirations in an interview?

While career aspirations are often personal, having some is incredibly important, and not just for reasons you expect. Additionally, being able to talk about your short- and long-term goals is essential, particularly if you’re preparing for an interview.

So, if you want to ensure you can achieve professional success, here’s not just an answer to the classic question, “What are career goals?” but a look at why they’re important and how to discuss work goals during an interview.

What Is a Career Goal?

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

While a primary driving motivator for any job is a steady paycheck for many people, you need something deeper if you’re going to stay focused and engaged in your career. After all, there’s more to life than just feeding your bank account.

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!

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. In many cases, 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 again.

But by having career goals, you can break that cycle. You’ll get something to focus on and drive you forward, keeping you motivated to improve your situation and grow.

Career aspirations help you get ahead, leading you from just another day at the office to another day closer to achieving what you ultimately want. Plus, studies show that goals lead to higher success rates, which is a boon.

Now that you know what career goals are and why they matter, let’s talk about what your work goals should be.

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; just don’t fall into the trap of overstretching, as unachievable goals can be demotivating.

Plus, you’ll have to share your long- and short-term goals with a hiring manager. If they’re unrealistic, you won’t impress.

Hiring managers ask about your goals for work for two reasons. First, they want to find out if you plan 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.

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

Hiring managers 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. Enhancing 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 kinds 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

When it comes to setting your own career aspirations, it’s important to look first at the big picture. Then, focus on the smaller steps you’ll need to accomplish 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. Is it a management position? Leadership role? CEO? Now is the time to think BIG!

Next, start outlining what you’ll need to do to achieve this ultimate goal. These are your short-term supporting goals and should include:

    • Learning more about what it takes to achieve your long-term goal
    • Getting the education and training you need
    • Gaining the experience and developing the associated skills related to your long-term goal
    • Making the connections and networking with the people in your chosen field who can help you achieve your goal

Of course, career goals don’t have to be limited to just one final end result. It’s perfectly acceptable to have multiple long-term goals for work. The important thing is to have a reasonable, actionable plan of attack that will help you achieve those goals.

Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “What Are Your Career Goals”

As with any interview question, it’s possible to make missteps when sharing examples of career goals with a hiring manager. Here are some pitfalls you will want to avoid:

1. Relaying goals that have nothing to do with the job you’re applying to

The last thing you want to do is tell a hiring manager in an interview that your goal is to do something totally unrelated to the job you’re applying for right now. Remember, hiring managers would much rather bring someone on board they feel will have a future with the company, not someone who views the position as a temporary landing spot on their journey in life.

2. Relaying goals that aren’t professional

While it’s tempting to throw personal goals into your answer, you need to make sure you stay focused on the ultimate immediate goal, which is to get the job you’re interviewing for. Yes, the interview is about you, but it’s also about the company and finding the right employee to fill the spot. Make sure your answer focuses on your professional goals.

3. Relaying goals that aren’t realistic

World domination isn’t an acceptable answer. Neither is becoming the CEO or insisting that you’ll be running the show in five years if you’re just now getting an entry-level job.

While we’re not saying these things can’t happen, try to maintain a level of realism when doing your interview. Confidence is a good thing. But overconfidence can make you come off as arrogant and cocky, two personality traits that are more likely to get you shown the door than the corner office.

How to Answer the Interview Question “What Are Your Career Goals?”

We’ll give you an example answer here in a minute, but before we do, here are a few quick tips:

Start with your short-term goals, and then roll into your long-term goals.

    • Briefly outline your steps to achieve those goals. This will help demonstrate you are thinking about these goals in a logical manner and can help show a hiring manager how your goals align with the needs of the company.
    • Keep your goals focused on your employer and the job you’re applying for, and how your career aspirations will ultimately add value to the company.
    • Keep your answer focused on your final achievements rather than salary or compensation.
    • Focus on generalized goals without getting too specific. This allows you to maintain some flexibility and gives you the ability to adjust your goals as you learn more about the company and position you’re applying for

What Are Your Career Goals Example Answers

And now, here are four example answers to this question, each representing a different point in a person’s career:

Entry-Level No College

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“Right now, I’m taking my first steps into the workforce. One thing that really drives me is the ability to help others, which is why I was drawn to this role. Customer service gives me a chance to make a difference in someone’s daily life. Plus, your company offers training to enthusiastic candidates, which I feel I am. As a result, I think this job could be the basis of an exciting career, opening up new doors that could help me grow and advance.”

Entry-Level Recent Graduate

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“As a recent graduate, my main goal is to get real-world experience in the field. The ability to keep learning and growing is a priority, which is why I found this job opening so enticing. Along with being able to put my existing technical skills to work, I’ll be a part of a collaborative team at a company that values professional development. In time, I think the culture would make moving up in the company a real possibility, allowing me to move into a higher position and, potentially, gain leadership skills that would put me on a management track down the line.”

Mid-Level Individual Contributor

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“Ultimately, I’d like to move into management with a focus on strategy and development, working my way into a long-term position where I can build a solid career. Right now, I’m focusing on improving my coaching and communication skills through continuing education programs outside of work. I’m very interested in leadership positions and know effective coaching and communication are critical.

“Additionally, I’m looking forward to being able to take on small leadership roles, eventually working my way into a position as a manager and team leader. That’s why I found this role particularly appealing. Along with putting my technical skills to work, it’ll let me oversee project teams, getting me closer to my long-term career goal of entering management.”

Management-Level Professional

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“Three years ago, I achieved one of my major long-term goals by securing a management position. Now, as I set myself on the horizon, my primary goal is to become a stronger leader. I’ve really had an opportunity to hone my leadership and mentoring skills, and I’m excited to face new challenges that can put those capabilities to the test. In the coming years, I’m hoping to be strong enough to transition into a higher-level role, such as becoming a department head at an innovative company like this one.”

Putting It All Together

So, there you have it. We’ve covered what are career goals, why they’re important to have, how to set your own career aspirations, why a hiring manager is going to ask you about what your goals for work are, and how to answer the question “What are your career goals?” Use that information to your advantage, ensuring you can excel during your next interview.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.