Find out more about yourself and your career goals, as well as answering the dreaded "What are your career goals?" interview question.

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

Interviews are difficult enough. Between the pressure you put on yourself, the curveballs thrown by the interviewer, and the negative thoughts in the back of your mind, you’re already facing a mental and emotional overload. And then you get hit with the million-dollar question: What are your career goals? Such a wide-open question can elicit thoughts of fear and uncertainty. The silver lining is that you can reasonably expect the question. That gives you time to prepare a satisfactory answer that not only wows the interviewer but also allows you to explore your professional aspirations. So if you’re dreading this timeless interview question, here are some tips to put your best foot—and answer—forward.

What Are Your Career Goals? Here Are Some Examples

Before diving into the ultimate, quintessential answers to what are your career goals, you might want to mull over a few examples first. These examples serve not as a blanket answer or a generic response. Instead, they should allow you to freely think about what your personal answer(s) might be. That said, these answers can also show you the breadth of responses that might resonate with you or your potential employer. They span a wide array of professional goals, which can also help you discover where you are on your professional journey, as well as where you’d like to go.

To answer what are your career goals, you may also want to consider both short-term and long-term responses. This will give you both measurable answers for yourself, as well as illustrating to the interviewer that you’ve contemplated both long-term and short-term ideas. In addition, it will help you describe your career goals to both the interviewer and yourself.

Examples: What Are Your Career Goals in the Short Term?

  • Expanding your professional network
  • Learning new skills relevant to success in your industry
  • Making a switch to a remote job or a new industry
  • Reaching a milestone such as increasing quarterly sales

Creating these goals as part of your answer will also have a twofold effect. First, they’ll give you some answers to provide during the interview. And second, they’ll provide a path to help you pursue long-term goals in the future.

Examples: What Are Your Career Goals in the Long Term

  • Starting your own business or becoming a successful entrepreneur
  • Improving long-term skills such as leadership
  • Gaining a promotion
  • Becoming an expert in the industry through experience, certifications, or other credentials
  • Gaining membership to a professional organization

Obviously, these long-term goals will vary depending on your expertise and the job you want. So fine-tune them, alter them, or just use them as a starting point to analyze more concrete goals.

Career Goals Statement Examples

Another handy way to answer the question “what are you career goals” is to put together a career goals statement. So what is a career goals statement exactly? It’s a written statement that provides a road map to your professional aspirations. It may include:

  • Education or certifications you need to succeed
  • Experience necessary to meet your long-term career goals
  • Your overall career objectives
  • Other things you need to achieve to meet your career objective

Questions to Ask to Help You Write a Career Goals Statement

If you can’t currently answer these questions or write them down, you need to do some more soul-searching and contemplation. To do this, ask yourself a few questions such as:

  • What skills do I need that are prized by my industry of choice?
  • Do I need to go back to school to achieve my professional goals?
  • Where do I see myself in five years? In 10 years?
  • What professional tasks give me a sense of self-worth, passion, and accomplishment?
  • Are there any aspects of my career that I need to improve upon?
  • What are my values? How important is it to find a company that meets these values?

Concrete Examples of a Career Goals Statement

Once you’ve answered these questions and any other questions that come to mind when you’re brainstorming, you’re ready to piece together a career goals statement. Like SMART goals, you’ll need something that’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Here are some examples to get you started:

Aiming to become an HR Coordinator in the next 7 years. To achieve this, I will earn a certification from the Society of Human Resource Management, gain four years of experience, and gain comprehensive knowledge of HRIS Systems and reporting capabilities, employment, and benefits laws.

Looking to become an executive assistant within the next year. To achieve this, I will learn to use industry-specific software, operate standard office equipment, and improve my communication skills.

To become a senior project manager over the next five years. Achieving this will require me to become certified in project management, gain valuable on-the-job experience, and gain an in-depth knowledge of project management and business software.

Aiming to become a skilled content writer over the next three years. To achieve this, I will focus on a specific niche, take classes to improve my writing, and learn the basic principles of search engine optimization and digital marketing.

So Why Is a Career Goals Statement Important?

The final question you may have is why a career goals statement is important and/or necessary. But the answer is simpler than you might think. Ideally, you’ll create the statement for the following reasons:

  • To discover your passions (keep in mind that these can change over time, necessitating a rewrite of your career goals statement)
  • Provide motivation, especially during the COVID era
  • Hold you accountable for achieving your career goals
  • Provide a measurement for future success
  • Give you the direction you need

So even if writing a career goals statement seems superfluous to answering the “what are your career goals” interview question, it can actually help you put your career in perspective. In turn, this will go a long way to helping you nail this popular interview query.

How to Pinpoint Your Career Goals When You Don’t Know

If you’re 25, 35, or even 45 or older, and you’re still asking yourself, “what do I want to do when I grow up?” you’re not in the minority. Some people never actually know what they want to do, others blindly fall into a career path, and even some who seem like they’ve found their calling still are unsure. Interestingly, famed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson summed this up at the ripe old age of 22 to one of his friends. While your opinions of Thompson may vary, his thoughts hold true to career goals.

A Word of Advice from Hunter S. Thompson

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path that will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path that puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Hunter S. Thompson

While this is a simplified version of defining your career goals, it definitely gives you some perspective that will allow you to at least dive into what your career aspirations might be.

Accepting That You May Never Know

In some regard, you may have to accept that you may never know exactly what you want to do from a career perspective. Maybe you have an insatiable sense of adventure that causes you to change careers. Or perhaps you’ll only know what you want to do when it happens. And that’s okay. But you can at least help yourself in an interview and for your future by following these perspectives.

  • Experiment or use trial and error to find out what you don’t want to do
  • Think of your career in the sense of FOMO, or fear of missing out, to help jump-start your approach
  • Rely on your strengths and skills

Remember that finding your career goals or at least putting together enough information to answer the interview question isn’t something that happens quickly. This may take you weeks, months, or even years. But by making a proactive attempt to figure these out, you’ve already gotten one step closer to acing your interview.

How Do You Plan to Achieve Your Career Goals? The Answer

Once you’ve answered “what are your career goals,” you’re likely to get a follow-up question. “How do you plan to achieve your career goals?” While this seems like a relatively straightforward question, what the interviewer is actually wanting to know is whether your career path lies in tune with the the company’s goals, operations, and culture. And while no right or wrong answer exists for this question, understanding what it means can often help you formulate an answer that lets both your career aspirations and personality shine.

Examples of Answers to How Do You Plan to Achieve Your Career Goals?

The answer to this question may come easy to some people while others struggle. With a few examples, however, you give yourself some level footing to craft your own answer.

To advance my career, I plan on taking online classes and increasing my involvement with professional organizations. I also noticed that your firm offers educational stipends and reimbursement programs, and I would love to take advantage of such a program.

Getting certified over the next two years is my main goal outside of day-to-day job roles and duties. I’ve already started to attend classes and prepare for my first exam. By gaining this certification, I can push myself on the path to become a senior project manager, which will allow me to take on more responsibility within the organization.

Graduating magna cum laude and gaining a summer internship gave me the experience I need to excel in my first full-time position out of college. In the role of social media assistant, I hope to develop my marketing skills and advance within the company over the next three years.

When you’re finally ready to put together your own answers, remember a few aspects:

  • Always be clear, concise, straightforward, and honest. Don’t embellish your answers or come up with something you think the interviewer wants to hear
  • Relate your answer back to the job at hand
  • If possible, provide concrete examples of your hard and soft skills

Don’t Dread the Question “What Are Your Career Goals?” You’ve Got the Answer.

Like many other aspects of your job search or professional improvement, preparation is key. So before you start to dread this interview question, take a different approach. Add it into the research you’d do on the company or other prep you need to excel in the interview. By making it a mandatory part of your pre-interview process, you won’t feel caught off-guard. As a result, your answers will flow naturally. That’s something that can take you from the “we’ll call you” pile to the next interview. And hopefully, it will take you all the way to a new job.

Do you have any stellar answers to “what are your career goals” in an interview? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!

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