You could say “What are your career goals?” is the adult version of “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
You probably even had a better idea of what to answer when you were 6.
You should channel that same level of confidence when talking about your career goals to an interviewer.
Easier said than done, right? Especially if you’re uncertain about what your goals are or what they should look like in the first place.
So, let’s get started:
What is a Career Goal
Career goals are targets. Things, positions, situations related to your professional life that you have set your mind on achieving.
They can be short-term, like getting a promotion or certification, or they can be long-term, like running your own successful business or being an executive at your dream company.
No matter what they sound like, they should be this sort of prize that motivates you to get going in your career.
Why Is It Important to Have a Career Goal (And Why Interviewers Care)
Firstly, the job interview aside, you should have a career goal simply because it’s beneficial to you.
Not to impress the interviewer, your relatives, or your future Tinder date, but to improve yourself.
Having a career goal will keep you focused and keep you from getting stuck on a cycle where every day looks the same and you forget what you are working for in the first place.
It gives you something to aim for, steps to follow, progress to make.
Now, back to the interviewer and why they’re asking the question. Your answer lets them know about two things:
How long do you plan on working for them
What motivates you to work
All interviewers are curious as to why you want to work for them, and they will ask you straight up about it. However, this question tells them something that the “Why do you want to work for us?” interview question doesn’t.
Your career goal will give them an idea as to what type of employee you will be – long term or short term. Is this position something that you will be staying in for a while, or is this a temporary stop until a better opportunity comes along?
Having a career goal also means you are not applying for a position just because the job ad randomly stumbled in your way and, being unemployed, you’d apply to just about anything so… here you are.
If you have a goal that you want to achieve, it means that this interview was no accident and this job position really aligns with your aspirations. That means you will probably be more dedicated to the job, work harder, and have a great attitude.
An alternative to the career goals question is “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. In both cases, interviewers are trying to get to the same point: your future.
Laying out a list of goals doesn’t make for a very convincing answer. Instead, focus on one or two main goals and briefly explain how you plan on achieving them or how they will benefit your career in the long-term. This shows that you have thought these goals through and are clear about what you want in the future.
For example, if your short-term goal is to learn a new programming language, explain how you will achieve that (certification or auto-didactic learning) and how that improves your work performance (does it allow you to work on more projects? Does the company you work for benefit from that?).
Elaborating on that last sentence: Focus on the employer.
Yes, they’re asking about your career goals, but at the end of the day, they care about their company’s best interest more. (No shocker here.) So, when talking about your goals make sure to express how achieving them will also be beneficial to your potential employer. Convince them it’ll be a win-win situation.