By Mike Simpson
What are your career goals? Do you have them? Do you need them? What happens if you’re asked what your career goals are in an interview? How do you answer? Is this question even important?
You bet your job-seeking booty it is…and for a few very important reasons. But before we get into those, let’s first answer what is a career goal?
What Is a Career Goal?
In a nutshell, career goals are the milestones you hope to hit as you advance in your chosen profession.
My goal is to make a ton of money. Isn’t that everyone’s career goal?
Well, technically, yes. The primary driving motivator for any job is a steady paycheck, but there’s more to life than just feeding your bank account, and that’s where career goals come into play.
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! Wasn’t that easy?
Of course it was!
And we’re about to tell you why it’s so important to have career goals, but before we do, we wanted to give you an excellent free cheat sheet that is going to help you answer the question “What are your career goals?”, but also, how to tackle some of the other tough interview questions that you’re going to face in your next interview.
Here it is:
Get Our Job Interview Questions & Answers Cheat Sheet!
FREE BONUS PDF CHEAT SHEET: Get our “Job Interview Questions & Answers PDF Cheat Sheet” that gives you “word-word sample answers to the most common job interview questions you’ll face at your next interview.
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. It’s a bit like living in the movie Groundhog Day. 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 and over and over again.
Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? This scenario is exactly why you need career goals!
You need something to focus on… something to drive you forward and something to motivate you to improve your situation and grow. Career goals are what will help you get ahead in this world and help you go from just another day at the office to another day closer to achieving what you ultimately want with your career.
So, now that we know what a career goals is…let’s talk about what your career goals should be.
“Total world domination!”
Whoah, okay there, Pinky. 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, but let’s keep in mind this is an answer you’re going to give a hiring manager and with an answer like total world domination, you’re less likely to get the job and more likely to end up on some international watch list. 😉
Speaking of hiring managers, knowing why they ask this question will make it much easier to know how to answer this question. When a hiring manager asks you, “What are your career goals,” (or the ever-popular variation “Where do you see yourself in five years,”) they’re trying to determine two primary things:
Are you a person who plans 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.
Are you someone who is interested in both personal and professional improvement and growth? Candidates who are motivated to improve are often driven to succeed at the jobs they’re hired to do.
Hiring mangers 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:
- Goals focused on productivity: Productivity refers to the results you are able to produce for your employer or client within a given time frame.
- 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.
- 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.
- Goals focused on personal development: Just as important as education, continuing to improve yourself personally can only help you out in the long run. Improving 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 types 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
Whew! We’ve gone over a ton of stuff already but now we’re getting to the most important part…how to set your career goals.
When it comes to setting your own career goals, it’s important to look first at the big picture, and then focus in on the smaller steps you’ll need to accomplish in order 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! What are your goals?
Next, start outlining what you’ll need to do in order 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.
That’s it! Simple, right?
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 career goals. 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.”
We briefly touched on this above when we told you that “total world domination” probably wasn’t a career goal you wanted to share with a hiring manager, but there are several other pitfalls you will want to avoid as well including:
1. Relaying goals that have nothing to do with the job you’re applying to:
This one falls under the ‘no duh,’ category of dumb interview answers. The last thing you want to do is tell a hiring manager in an interview for 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:
Remember to always keep your answers on topic and 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. Remember, while the interview is about you, it’s also ultimately 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:
Again, world domination isn’t an acceptable answer. Neither is becoming the CEO or insisting that you’ll be running the show in five years. While we’re not saying these things can’t happen, try to maintain a level of realism when doing your interview. Confidence in an applicant is a good thing. 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 manger 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 goals 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
And now, here is an example of how to answer this question:
“My immediate goal is to secure a position at a company like this one where I can continue to grow and improve myself both personally and professionally. I enjoy challenges and look forward to opportunities where I will be able to assume more responsibilities. Ultimately, I’d like to move into management with a focus on strategy and development and work my way into a long-term position where I can build a solid career. Right now, I’m focusing on improving my communication skills through continuing education programs outside of work. I’m very interested in leadership positions and know effective communication is critical. While I’m very happy as a member of any team I’m on, 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. I have been so lucky to have been surrounded by manager and team leaders who have been generous with their knowledge and I look forward to an opportunity to become a mentor for others like me within this field.”
So there you have it. We’ve covered what are career goals, why they’re important to have, how to set your own career goals, why a hiring manager is going to ask you about what your career goals are, and how to answer the question “What are your career goals?”
Whew! That’s a lot to cover in just a few pages.
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- What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
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Co-Founder and CEO
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.
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