“What are your career aspirations?” This seemingly simple interview question has stumped many people. It’s extremely common to get it, yet applicants still struggle to answer it in a decisive and impressive manner.
When you haven’t crafted a well-thought-out answer to this question, you’ll usually end up stumbling to communicate effectively. Considering the typical interview can last from 45 minutes to an hour and you’ll go through two to three of them before it’s all over, you’d better be ready for it.
From the employer’s perspective, it’s really not that difficult to answer. Have you ever stopped to wonder why they want to ask about your career aspirations? Understanding why they would ask will go a long way toward helping you. And they most certainly want an answer—a specific one—which we’ll go over a bit later.
- Tips on how to answer the interview question, “What are your career aspirations?”
- Insight into why interviewers want to ask you about that subject
- Guidance on creating a strong vision and goals so you can ace tough interview questions about your career
What Are Career Aspirations?
Career aspirations express a person’s dreams and goals for their future. To be effective, they should communicate a general direction in someone’s career for the next 12–36 months. Interviewers are interested in this vision of the future because it shows them what is important in a person’s professional life. It also provides insight into whether or not the candidate will be a good, long-term fit for the business.
Examples of Career Aspirations
- Founding your own company
- Becoming a C-suite executive
- Earning recognition as an expert in your field
- Driving top results in your industry
- Developing new leadership skills every year
- Being an effective team leader or manager
- Serving as an educator or mentor
Why Career Aspirations Matter to Employers
As Daniel Stephenson of How To Interview explains, “[Employers] love people that are career-focused, have a plan, and are on their way to getting what they want.” Additionally, during the hiring process, hiring managers have a responsibility to:
- Ensure the company and potential hire have the same objective: Every business leader wants to make sure the person they’re hiring has the same end goal as them. When people on the same team have the same objective in mind, they’re going to work well together. For instance, let’s say you apply for a graphic design job, but you plan to be a data scientist in two years. It shows the employer that your career path doesn’t align with that of the company.
- Determine how long you plan to stay at the business: Employers don’t want to invest their resources in an employee whose long-term career goals will take them on a job search in six months. It’s costly to lose an employee that you’ve trained. According to SHRM, it costs an organization an average of 4,000 dollars to bring on a new hire, while Bill Bliss of ERE Media puts the estimate much higher at more than 77,000 dollars. Employers want people to grow their careers in the organization, and they don’t want to have to rehire someone for the position every year.
- Gather insight into whether you’re a good culture fit: Your qualifications may perfectly match the job description, but that doesn’t mean you’re a fit for the company culture. Employers ask about career aspirations to get a better understanding of how you’ll fit in the organization. They want to see if you will become a leader or if you’re someone who’s just coasting by, unsure about their future.
- Understand your ambitions: The answer to the question about career aspirations will indicate how ambitious and passionate someone is about what they do. When you have a clear plan in mind and are seeking to develop daily habits to make those dreams a reality, you show the interviewer that you have an A-player attitude and mindset. That’s just what they want to see.
Tips for Answering, “What Are Your Career Aspirations?”
1. Research the Business to Understand Their Vision and Mission
Research is creating new knowledge.Neil Armstrong
During a job search, you want your career goals to align with fulfilling the organization’s vision and mission. To determine this, you will likely have to do a bit of research before the interview.
Check out the company’s online resources to understand why their business exists. Do they have a vision statement and mission statement? Draw from that to see if you’re on the same page. Note how you will help the team get closer to achieving the vision and mission.
Not every company will simply list their vision on their website, so you might have to do some more digging. The important thing is to have a good idea of what the company is aiming for and where you would fit in. Create an action plan to show hiring managers you’ve thought this through. It’ll show that you’re dedicated to helping the company create transformational change in the lives of its customers.
Where to look to research a company’s vision and mission:
- The company’s website
- Official social media accounts
- Social media accounts of the organization’s top executives
- Articles featuring interviews with the business’s leaders
- Press releases from the company
- Directly interviewing someone within the company (if you already know them)
2. Communicate the Vision You Have for Your Life
When you have vision it affects your attitude. Your attitude is optimistic rather than pessimistic.Chuck Swindo
It’s not just about the company’s vision—you should have your own that you want to follow. When you have a vision for your life, you show that you know who you are and what you want to accomplish regarding your career goals. Basically, you want to show that you’ve thought about your long-term future and how the current job you’re applying for is part of that journey.
Cast your vision for your interviewer. Talk about exactly where you picture yourself in the next three to five years. You should also discuss your short-term vision and how this will contribute to your long-term goals.
You may even create a vision board before you walk into a meeting so you can visualize what your future will look like. If you’re on a video interview, you can even show it to your future employer. This demonstrates you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into planning your future, and will impress employers.
How to cast a vision:
- Set aside time daily dedicated to refining and expanding your vision.
- Practice communicating your vision out loud.
- Pay particular attention to the details of your vision.
- Make your vision emotionally resonant.
3. Speak with a “We” vs. “Me” Mindset
There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.Henri-Frédéric Amiel
As you discuss your professional aspirations during a job search, try to remove the word “I” from your vocabulary. Remember that you want to start a partnership with the company. If you constantly talk about yourself—and only yourself—interviewers will interpret that as you only caring about what you want.
Use words like “together” and “we.” Show that you care just as much about helping the company grow and succeed. By doing this, you demonstrate a team player mentality. You also show that you’re humble and have a collaborative spirit. Employers want people that will work well in a team environment.
By eliminating talk of yourself, you show more confidence in your abilities. Be sure to paint a clear picture of what you could accomplish together if you’re hired. The more detailed you are, the more a hiring manager can visualize you in that role.
How to show you’re a team player:
- Be open to new ideas and perspectives from others.
- Demonstrate how you would adapt to changing conditions.
- Be on time with your assignments and projects.
- Show respect and courtesy to other team members.
- Focus on the company’s goals and vision.
- Show appreciation for others’ work and victories.
4. Go Into the Interview With a Plan
The sooner you start planning your life, the sooner you will live the life you dream of.Hans Glint
If you go into any job interview without a plan for your life, you’re going to have trouble answering any questions about your career goals. Before the interview, make sure you create a short outline for your short-term and long-term goals with the business and in your life.
Not only should you have goals in mind, but you also need to have a plan of action. Detail how you intend to achieve these goals. The more self-awareness you have, the better you’ll perform. As you put more thought into your answer, you can relate it back to the business and the bigger picture. A hiring manager that sees you with a detailed plan will know you’re the right person for the job.
Sample Answers to “What Are Your Career Goals?”
The following sample answers can serve as a helpful blueprint for your next job interview. Look at what type of role you’re interviewing for and tweak each sample so you can give a solid answer about your career aspirations.
- Entry Level Position: “I want to start on a career path by working with you to develop vital skills that will benefit your company both now and in the far future. The skills and training you provide will help me learn to become more proficient and productive, in turn helping your organization grow. As someone who wants to become a leader and manager in your company within five years, I want to demonstrate my capabilities in this new role and show I can help my team reach our objectives and goals.”
- New Managerial Role: “As a manager, I want to grow into my role as a leader to help my team become better and work together efficiently. With your help, I will become more familiar with the company and take a leadership position to instill the organization’s core values and vision into new hires. I hope to prove my capabilities and show I am ready for further responsibilities to enrich the company and make our customers’ lives better. Within the next five to ten years, I wish to contribute by becoming a leader in one of the company’s departments.”
- Department Lead Role: “After internalizing the company’s core values, I plan on spreading that message throughout an entire department, embracing innovation and openness along the way. Though we’ve experienced success together, I hope to bring more of it by continuing to develop core skills and widening my influence. I plan on becoming a key leader in the organization and continuing to move us forward into the future. One day, I hope to be an executive in the business.”
- Executive Role: “I plan to use the skills and talents we’ve developed together to take the organization to the next level and reach closer to our vision. We will become more successful through the use of innovation while doubling down on our core values. I plan on helping this company become number one in its field, providing opportunities for aspiring young leaders to gain experience. By the time my career is over, I will leave the company in good hands and a bright future.”
Don’t Try to Wing It
Questions regarding your future aspirations require careful thought and strategy to answer. With this, you need to not only know what those goals are but also how to achieve them. Plus, you’re only provided a certain amount of time to answer both of these questions, so plan accordingly.
Again, this is a two-part question, one that most people fail because they’re unable to outline how they plan to make it all happen. Being able to communicate your plans helps the hiring manager see you as an A-player who goes above and beyond.
The one thing you don’t want to do is make something up on the spot. Hiring managers can tell if you’re just winging it. It’s a losing strategy no matter how you may look at it. So, outline and, better yet, live your professional aspirations. Turn them into daily habits. To know how best to do this, check out this article about Atomic Habits.
And if you need to learn about creating more time to work on these skills, read this article about time management.