Answering "What Are Your Career Goals?" (Interview Question)

Sometimes in interviews a hiring manager will ask you, “What are your career goals?” They ask you this question because they want to get a sense of how they can offer you upward mobility within the business.

Upward mobility is the opportunity to advance yourself in meaningful ways. Companies recognize that they must be able to give employees opportunities to grow or else they might leave the company and go elsewhere.

It’s important to HR departments that they are thinking about upward mobility and advancing employees at a pace they are comfortable with and in a setting, they are comfortable with. When they ask you this question, it’s important that you have a clear answer and path that you can describe to them.

A 5-Year Plan

Having a 5-year plan is something that’s becoming more challenging in the workforce. That’s because there is more changing of jobs than ever before. If an employer asks you for a 5-year plan, it’s important that you tell something that’s not too specific, because it might not be true in a few weeks.

Keep it direct and something simple. An example answer would be, “I’d like to stay within the same job function I’m in but hopefully by that time I’m a director or vice president. I think that’s realistic.”

A 12-Month Plan

Your 12-month career goal is going to be more realistic to share. It should contain very specific goals that you plan on actually achieving. It is more realistic to set your standards on a 12-month timeframe than on a 5-year timeframe.

When you’re thinking a 12-month career goal, think of something that is going to be measurable as well. That means a benchmark of some kind. It doesn’t have to be explicitly related to the company. Let's say you are an engineer, your benchmark might be something like, “having published 2-3 open source projects on GitHub.”

I wouldn’t set your measurable plans too high. Something like writing a book. That would be too high. Something small like reducing the time you watch TV or reducing the time on your phone during the weekends is also an okay goal to put in there.

But make sure it’s something that’s going to have an impact on your employer. Either by showing some of your personality or showing some of your commitment to the job function. It is okay to say that you’d like to be at a certain level of employment as well. “My goal is to be a manager within the next 24 months, ideally in the next 12 months I’m groomed for that opportunity.”

Your Short Term Goals

When the employer asks this question they might also say, “How do you see yourself getting there?” it is important that you have an answer to this.

Let’s say that your goal is to be a manager. What you should say is that you have a long list of books that you’d like to read which you feel will help you. Books like High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove. Or The Five Functions Of A Team by Patrick Lencioni. These are books which are great for managers. Express that these books are on your reading list and by being able to complete them, it is part of your grooming for your 12-month and 24-month career objectives.

Plans Change, It’s OK For You To As Well

HR managers know that plans change. When you are asked this question, they are going to recognize that you might change your mind. Don’t feel like you need to have some type of strict plan which you must uphold. It’s okay to evolve.

This question is more so designed to know whether or not the environment is going to be able to feed your career objectives. So be sure that you don’t answer with something that’s unrealistic. For example, a bad answer would be, “I expect to be CEO within the next 12-months.”

Clearly, that’s a bad answer. That opportunity won’t be available to you. If you were to answer as such, the interviewer might think to themselves, that’s unrealistic and we can’t provide him/her that.

Answer with honesty and relevance to the company you are speaking with. If they are over 100 employees, most likely they will have management opportunities open up within the next 12 months. Which makes your management career path a good one. Consider the variables like company size, industry growth, job functions that exist and recent job openings. Use that to your disposal when answering the question.

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