How To Answer ‘What Are Your Career Goals?’ The Right Way

What are your career goals? To create the optimal response to this interview question, you’ll need to understand why the interviewer is asking this question in the first place. What is the interviewer hoping to learn about you by asking this question? Do they simply want to get to know you better, or is this question being used to disqualify you as a candidate?

As a general rule, the best way to answer the interview question ‘what are your career goals?’ is to highlight your past relevant goals and achievements, and align your future career goals to the goals of the company or team you’re applying to.

Why Do They Ask This Interview Question?

The first reason they ask this interview question is that 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!

Why Do Common Goals Matter?

Let’s take Joe. Joe is extremely interested in breaking into the cybersecurity field. While Joe is studying to pass his Security+ certification, he applies for a job as a software tester. Obviously, this isn’t his first choice, but he views it as a stepping stone to getting the real job he wants in cybersecurity.

In his interview, Joe mentions that his long-term career goal is to become a cybersecurity expert and that he is hoping to gain diverse skill sets in surrounding areas such as software testing in order to grow his overall portfolio.

Now let’s back up for a second. Are these two fields even 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, coding, and testing can be a great background if you’re looking to have a well-rounded technical career with a focus on cybersecurity.

On the surface, this might seem like a reasonable response to the question ‘what are your career goals‘, but this response is 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 Joe’s 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 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 toward 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.

How To Form Your Interview Response

Your response to this interview question should allow you to be true to your authentic career goals, show that those goals are aligned with the company’s goals, and highlight the value that you’ll be adding to the team.

That last part is probably the most important part. Your response needs to be focused on the value that you can add to this team and this company. Though it’s not as simple as literally saying “my long-term goal is to add value to this company.” That’s going to come across as inauthentic and kind of robotic, so here are the steps we’re going to take to form a great answer for the interview question “what are your career goals.”

Step 1: Pick Something Related To This Position That You’re Passionate About

The first step when forming your response is to share your passion for 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. 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 is 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 those processes.”

Step 2: Highlight Your Past Accomplishments

The second thing you’re going to do is use your 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. You get to show them that you have a track record of success that will follow you into this new job position. 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. After graduating I made it my priority to get my Chartered Financial Analyst certification which I accomplished last month. Moving forward 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 create a foundation that I can build on. I hope to use that foundation knowledge to take on more responsibilities and provide even more value to the team.”

Step 3: Explain How This Job Position Aligns With Your Goals

Finally, you’ll want to explain why this company and job role achieve your 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.

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 you’re going to answer them is fundamentally different. If you’re interested in learning more about that interview question, be sure to read this article, or check out the video below.


James is an Air Force veteran and software developer. He's passionate about personal development and sharing that knowledge with those who want to learn. He loves to mentor students to land their dream job, and excel once they’ve got it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts