How To Answer “What Are Your Career Goals?” in an Interview

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    Job interviews can feel intimidating. It’s important, though, to remember that you are on the right track! Take a moment to congratulate yourself. Receiving a job interview is a key step in the job search and ultimately, the process of finding a career you love.

    During your job interview, there are a few key questions you should prepare for, including the “tell me about yourself” interview question and the “what are your strengths and weaknesses” interview question. In this article, however, we will focus on the “what are your career goals” question. We will provide plenty of sample answers for you to consider and draw inspiration from.

    Why do employers ask the “what are your goals” interview question?

    Employers want to know what your plans for the future are — specifically if your plans involve staying and growing with their company. Hiring and training a new employee can be a big investment. This is why companies want to get a sense of your professional timeline and goals. 

    “What are your career goals” is a very common and very important interview question. That said, there are several iterations of this question. 

    • What is your long-term career goal? 
    • What are your professional goals?
    • What are your goals for the future?

    All of these questions share a similar subtext: 

    How ambitious are you? Are you passionate about your profession? Are you planning on furthering your education? Are you interested in expanding your professional skill set? Do you have an interest in pursuing leadership opportunities? Do you want to stay and grow with a company? 

    What is a career goal?

    • Going back to school or taking continuing education courses
    • Pursuing  internships and job shadowing opportunities
    • Switching careers
    • Gaining a new skill
    • Getting a raise
    • Earning a promotion
    • Receiving a professional certification
    • Engaging in more networking opportunities

    Why is it important to have a career goal?

    Career goals give professionals a sense of purpose and direction while helping to foster ambition. Having a career goal and other future plans can also help you make other life decisions (such as whether or not you want to go back to school and where you want to live).

    So what are some career goals? Let’s take a look at several examples of career goals for different types of professionals:

    What are your career goals? (examples)

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    Example #1:

    Jane works as an art teacher but doesn’t have enough energy to work on her projects after school. Her professional goal for the year is to create a series of paintings that will be displayed in the local gallery.

    Example #2:

    Frank is a real estate professional. This year he plans to take a photography class so he can improve his existing marketing materials.

    Example #3:

    Sally is a biologist who aspires to write a book on the migratory patterns of humpback whales.  

    Types & examples of career goals

    There are lots of different types of future career goals, regardless of your specific career. In this section, we will explore some working goal examples.

    Short-term career goals

    Short-term career goals typically refer to goals that can be completed within the year. A short-term career goal might include finishing up your final year of graduate school, completing a project you have been working on, gaining more clients, asking for a raise, or increasing your rate of sales.
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    Long-term career goals

    Long-term career goals include goals with multiple steps. For example, a long-term career goal might be to become a doctor. To accomplish this, you will need to complete your bachelor’s degree, attend medical school, pass your Medical Licensing Examination, and complete your residency. As you can see, this career goal has many steps and will take many years to achieve.
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    Educational advancement goals

    We depend on our careers for financial stability. This is why salary-related goals are so important. Salary-related goals may involve earning a promotion or a raise or finding a new career.
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    Salary-related goals

    In this section, we will provide several long-term career goals examples. Review each of these “what are your long-term career goals” example answers to help you start brainstorming for your own response.
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    3 successful “what are your career goals” example answers

    In this section, we will provide several long-term career goals examples. Review each of these “what are your long-term career goals” example answers to help you start brainstorming for your own response. 

    What are your career goals answer #1

    “In the next three to five years, I would like to transition from being an in-house editor to a freelance book editor. I am passionate about working with literature and being my own boss. As a highly creative individual, having the freedom to choose my own projects is very attractive to me. Currently, there are a plethora of writers pursuing self-publishing and other independent publishing opportunities. Given my professional experience and knowledge of the industry, I believe that I would be a powerful collaborator. ”

    What are your career goals answer #2

    “Currently, I work as a real estate assistant. Through this position, I am gaining valuable industry-related experience and am learning from my brokerage’s different team members. My goal is to take my real estate exam by the end of the year. Then, upon earning my real estate license, I plan to partner with my current mentor.”

    What are your career goals answer #3

    “I have worked in the restaurant and service industry for the last 10 years. From washing dishes to waiting tables, to acting as a line cook, I have done a little bit of everything. I am passionate about preparing Thai cuisine and plan to open my own Thai restaurant with my wife. We are currently touring commercial properties and storefronts. We are also in the process of receiving a business loan. We plan to secure a loan and sign a lease within the next 6 months.”

    3 extra tips on how to answer “what is your career goal?”

    It’s important to feel prepared and to know how to answer career goals questions, as well as other common interview questions. As a job seeker, it’s important to improve your interview skills. Mostly, this just takes practice.

    Other important steps to take before a job interview include reviewing your social media presence and updating your LinkedIn profile.

    Be honest and specific

    Do your best to be honest and genuine. Provide specific details. This will help demonstrate that you have thoroughly reflected on your career goals and are serious about pursuing them.

    Stay relevant

    Your answer should always relate to the position you are applying for. Maybe the position isn’t your dream job, but there is also a reason why you are applying for it. Ask yourself the following questions to prepare: Why do I want this position? How does this position relate to my interests? What do I hope to learn from this position?

    Include an actionable plan

    Be brief but concise. Don’t share too many personal details with the hiring manager or prattle on about your plans for self-improvement. But do share two or three actionable steps you plan to take. Ideally, you should include both short-term goals and long-term goals.

    Things not to say: 3 mistakes to avoid when replying to “what is your career goal”

    “What is your career goal” is a personal question. That said, it’s important not to be too personal in your response. Focus more on your professional development, as opposed to your personal development.

    Review these 4 tips for what not to say when answering this question.

    Don’t focus too much on salary

    Don’t volunteer too much information about your target salary during your initial interview. You will have plenty of time to negotiate your salary later on. Bringing up your salary prematurely may give the wrong impression. Wait until your second-round job interview questions.

    Avoid being vague

    If you give a vague response (including the dreaded, “I don’t have any career goals”), the hiring manager may question your work ethic, ambition, and passion. A vague answer may also signal that you aren’t serious about the position that you are applying for.

    Avoid sharing too many details

    Tailor your answer to the job you are applying for. (Take time to review the job description as well as details about your potential employer beforehand). If you are applying to be an academic tutor but are actively searching for employment in the publishing industry, don’t mention your outside career goals. Instead, speak to why you think the position you are applying for relates to your larger career goals. 

    Key takeaways on answering the “what are your career goals?” question

    The most important thing to remember when answering the “what are your career goals” question is to be specific — but to also use discretion. Tailor your response to the specific position you are applying for. After all, there is a reason why you decided to apply for it! Take time to practice your response before your interview. Having a clearly defined career goal will help demonstrate your passion, work ethic, ambition, and sense of motivation.

    If you are struggling to set career goals and feel like you could benefit from having professional career guidance, reach out to learn more about our services. Whether you are interested in a career change, pursuing more leadership roles, or need help coming up with an action plan, our career counselors can help you reach your career aspirations.

    FAQs

    Still have questions? Review these 12 frequently asked questions and their corresponding answers. 

    Like anything, defining your career goals takes research, reflection, and trial and error. Reflect on your past jobs. What did you like and dislike about each job? What does your ideal lifestyle and schedule look like? What do you enjoy doing?

    A career goal summary is a detailed, concise statement that explains your career goals (separate from your personal goals). This statement should include an actionable and achievable plan. For example, instead of saying “I plan to become an actor,” say something like: “I am currently enrolled in an acting class and am actively working on my craft and technique. The acting industry is competitive so I plan to attend at least 20 auditions this year. So far I have attended eight.”

    “SMART” stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. This acronym will help you plan and define your career goals. Let’s take a look at an example of a SMART goal: Dylan is a professional writer working on his first novel. One of his current career goals is to write one chapter a week for a total of 15 weeks. This goal is clearly defined, i.e. it is “specific.” It relates to his career, i.e. it is “relevant.” It follows a timeline, i.e. it is “time-based, measurable, and attainable.”

    For many, a common 3-5 year career plan involves attending college or graduate school. Of course, there are no limits to what your 3-5 year career plans might entail! Maybe your 3-5 year plan involves joining the Peace Corps, starting a small business, or finding funding for a research project. 

    Many college students haven’t decided on a career path yet. That’s okay! In fact, it is to be expected. That said, it is important to have a clear and thoughtful response, such as the following: I’m naturally a very empathetic person and enjoy fulfilling a caretaking role…Right now, I am considering a career as a nurse, social worker, or therapist. This semester I am taking psychology, biology, and sociology. Hopefully, between these three courses, I’ll be able to get a better idea of what type of career I might want to pursue.  

    It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to this question, but you should always have an answer prepared. Also, reflecting on this question may help you discover goals you didn’t know you previously had. Conduct some research and find out what’s possible. Maybe you want to actively work on your leadership skills of project management capabilities.

    Here are some common career goals for a software developer: learn a new programming language, complete a coding project, increase your professional network, debug a program, and earn a certification. 

    Here are some common healthcare career goals: earn your EMT or LNA license, attend nursing school, attend medical school, complete a healthcare internship, pursue a specialty, and attend professional conferences.

    Here are some common career goals in education: earn your teaching certificate, complete your student teaching requirement, design engaging lesson plans, conduct a research project, and earn an advanced degree.

    Here are some common career goals for a social worker: continue your education, gain more professional experience, and learn a practical skill (such as how to speak a foreign language or how to write a grant proposal).

    These are some financial certifications you can work towards: Chartered Financial Analyst, Certified Financial Planner, Certified Public Accountant, Financial Risk Manager, Certified Management, Accountant, Chartered Financial Consultant, Certified Investment Management Analyst, Certified Public Accountant and Personal Financial Specialist, and Chartered Market Technician. You might also want to start your own business, pursue a management position, optimize your budget, or increase your client base.

    Here are some common career goals for architects: continue your education, expand your portfolio, pursue a leadership position, grow your own practice, expand your professional network, and optimize your budget.

    Contact a Prepory college admissions coach and start your college admissions journey.

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