What are your career goals? This interview question can easily be confused with “where do you see yourself in five years”. Although there is certainly some overlap in what an interviewer might get out of these two questions, how we’re going to answer them is fundamentally different. So before we get too far into how to answer this interview question, we going to try and understand exactly what is the interviewer trying to get out of asking this question.
Reasons Interviews Ask
The first reason then ask is because they want to know that you’re a driven individual and motivated to succeed. A person with no goals is a person who lets life happen to them. Strong goals show that you’re moving towards something and have the drive to succeed.
The second reason is actually more important though, and that’s to see if your goals are aligned with this job and this company. This question is just another way to sniff out how interested you actually are in this specific job position, so saying your goal is to get promoted as soon as possible or move to different job positions is just throwing giant red flags for the interviewer, anything that shows that this ISN'T the job you actually want is going to cost you a job, so be sure to avoid this!
I’m serious here! I know somebody who passed up on a candidate just because of their answer to this question. It wasn't because they weren't qualified, it wasn't because he didn't like them, it’s because the candidate's goals were not aligned with the job position, and the hiring manager didn't want to take the chance that they’d be putting time and effort into training this person just for them to turn around and go somewhere else in six months.
In that situation, the candidate was interviewing for a developer position, When they were asked what their long-term goal was, they responded with being a leader in the cybersecurity field.
Now let's back up for a second. Are those two fields related? Sure they can be. Having a grasp of cybersecurity and risk in the IT world is extremely relevant and even helpful in a development job. Likewise, understanding development and coding can be a great background if you’re looking to have a well-rounded technical career with a focus in cyber security.
So at the surface, this might seem like a reasonable response to the question what are your career goals. From the candidate's perspective. And that perspective here is key. we really need to look at this from the eyes of the interviewer, who is likely the hiring manager. This is true for every interview question, by the way. But if we take a look at that response through a hiring manager’s lens, it looks a little more like this
"My long-term goal is to be a leader in a field that is NOT this job that I’m applying to. There is some overlap which is why I figured this job could be a good stepping stone and get me some good background experience for the job I really want, which, to be clear, is not this job. Short term I’ll do my job well enough that you don’t fire me while I maneuver myself towards a job I’m actually passionate about. Which again… is not this job…"
It’s not enough that your goals make sense and that this job that you’re applying to is the logical next step in your career plans. That’s great! For YOU… but not necessarily this interview. That gap between the real answer to a question and the “interview answer” is a bit more pronounced because of the fact that your goals are going to likely be selfish. That’s fine! You’re the hero of your own story, nobody else’s life goals are going to be for you to succeed, you need to be your own biggest fan. But an interview is all about how you can provide the most value to the company.
These two things don’t have to be at odds, but it is a much more difficult line to walk if you’re trying to be 100% authentic in your interview answers.
Forming Your Response
So how are we going to form a response that allows us to be true to our real career goals, but shows that we’re still going to be adding value to the team?
Well, we know our response needs to be focused on the value that we can add. So the answer’s obvious right? Our goal is to add value to the company! Well actually yes! Though it’s not that simple because literally saying my long-term goal is to add value to this company! Is going to come across as inauthentic and honestly a little weird. So how can we form a good response here?
The first step when forming our response is to share your passion about something that this position offers or needs. Pick something about this job position that you can cling onto, you can grab it right off the job listing if you want, but just pick something that you can elaborate on as a goal of yours.
Personally, I like to use processes like problem-solving and critical thinking because those actually do line up with my career goals and what I’m looking for in a job. For me, I love puzzles, I love having a set of tools and trying to find the best way to accomplish a challenge in a way others don’t usually think about using my creativity. Since problem-solving and critical thinking are almost always on the job listing, I find I can twist this to pretty much any job position.
Take this to the next level by understanding the biggest pain points of the team, and tailoring your strengths and goals to meet those needs. An example of this part of your response could look like this:
“I’m a person who's passionate about learning and growing, so my long-term goal is to be in an environment where I can provide value by mastering that specific process. that’s why I applied to this position because I believe it would allow me to grow and add value by performing that processes”
The second thing we’re going to do is Use our Past Accomplishments. You want to show that you’ve already accomplished a goal and that this is the obvious next step. Not only do you get to brag for a second, but you show them that this isn't the first time you’ve thought about this and that you have a track record of success that will follow you into this new job position where you to receive an offer. An example could look something like this:
"I recently finished my degree in Finance and I’m really motivated to start my first role in the banking industry. My short-term goals are to get up to speed in my new position and apply my newly learned skills. I know by doing this that I’ll build a foundation that I can build on. And use that to move into a role on the team where I can take on more responsibilities and provide even more value."
Finally, we want to explain why this company and job role achieve our goals
The whole purpose of them asking this question is to see if your goals line up with their team's goals, and if you’d be motivated to succeed in that company, so make it easy, and hand them that answer on a silver platter. Impress upon them that THIS company holds the key to accomplishing your goals.
"One of my long-term goals is to constantly grow my professional network and work with a skilled group of individuals. I am the most fulfilled when I’m contributing to something greater than myself and providing value to a team is the best way to do that, and from everything I know about this company, this is the place where I can see myself doing that long term, which is why I find myself here today."
Having strategic and achievable goals is a great way to keep learning and growing in your professional career. But Being able to translate those goals into a job-specific answer to the question “what are your career goals” is a critical skill that you’ll need to know before your next interview.