How to Talk About Your Career Aspirations at an Interview

Career aspirations

Do you know what you want your life to look like in a year? In three years? In five years? While you don’t have to have a clear picture, defining your career aspirations will help you advance in your professional life. Career aspirations are the milestones you aim to reach as you progress in your career. They help you develop, grow, and, ultimately, succeed at work.

Not only is having goals helpful to your growth, but you will undoubtedly be asked about your career aspirations during a job interview. It’s best to be prepared to answer this question every time you go in for an interview. We’ve all been in situations where an interview question completely stumps us. Luckily, instead of having to sit in that discomfort, there’s a way to prepare for this question.

Here, we’ll discuss why interviewers commonly ask about career aspirations and detail how you can answer this inevitable question. By giving some career aspirations examples that you can use the next time you are asked, “So, what are your career aspirations?” you’ll be well on your way to nailing your next interview and landing that new job. Hopefully, you’ll also have defined some goals for yourself and laid out a career plan that will take you to where you want to go.

Why do interviewers ask about your career aspirations?

You’ve prepared a killer resume and landed a coveted interview. Now what? During the interview, you have a relatively short amount of time to impress your interviewer and convince them that you are a great fit for the job. Your interviewer will be prepared with questions to try to determine this. Each question they ask, including ones about your goals, has a very deliberate purpose.

When asking about your career aspirations, first, interviewers want to know if you are goal-oriented and have long-term objectives for your career. They are looking for someone who is motivated to succeed, improve, and grow. If a person doesn’t have any goals, it’s a red flag that they might not be motivated.

Second, they want to make sure your goals and objectives align with both the position and the company. They don’t want to hire someone who sees the position as short-term or just a stop-gap. An ideal candidate will be someone they can see at the company for the long-term, growing with the position as they advance in their career.

The way you answer the question “what are your career aspirations?” gives the interviewer a lot of insight into whether you fit the above description. Don’t worry – no interviewer expects you to predict exactly where you’ll be in five years. But they do want to make sure you’ve at least thought about it. Whether or not your career follows that path is ultimately up to you, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a plan.

How to prepare for the interview question, “What are your career aspirations?”

It’s so important to prepare for an interview ahead of time. Among all the things to plan for, you need to be prepared to answer questions about your career aspirations. Here, we’re going to go through some tips on how to define your career aspirations before your interview so you can best answer the question during it.

1. Brainstorm

The most important step in preparing to answer a question about your career aspirations is to brainstorm ahead of time. Take some time to write down possible short-term and long-term career aspirations. These questions can help get the juices flowing:

  • What are your best skills?
  • What are you good at?
  • In what types of environments do you thrive?
  • What skills do you want to improve?
  • What do you like most about your current job or past jobs?
  • When it comes to actual work, what types of projects light you up the most?
  • What new skills would you like to learn?
  • What type of opportunities are you looking for?
  • Who do you like to work with and for?

Once you’ve listed out answers to the questions above (and any others that come to mind), it’s time to turn those into tangible career aspirations. For example, if you thrive in working with a large team, one of your career aspirations might be to lead a team of twenty salespeople one day. Here are some career aspirations examples to give you some inspiration:

  • Becoming an expert in your chosen field
  • Managing a large team of employees
  • Heading a department
  • Earning an advanced degree or certification in your field
  • Landing your own clients
  • Managing your own book of business
  • Getting recognized by industry leaders
  • Winning an industry-wide award
  • Becoming a mentor to junior employees
  • Developing your public speaking skills

2. Do your research

Once you’ve sat down and thought about your career aspirations, you want to make sure they fit with the company and the role you’re applying for. To figure this out, educate yourself on the company and the position because you want your goals to be aligned with theirs. Check out the company’s website and LinkedIn page. By reading their about page and their other positions, you can get a good picture of the company and how your role would fit into the larger structure.

Once you understand the company’s structure and what roles it offers, you can make sure your career aspirations are ones you can actually accomplish there.

3. Prepare your answer

Lastly, take the information from your brainstorming session and choose which goals align with the position you are applying for. Then, sit down to write out an answer. The best answers incorporate both short-term and long-term goals. This will showcase how you will bring value to the table right away as well as in the future. (Don’t worry if you are a little unsure of what a good answer is – we’ll go over some examples below.)

Is there anything you shouldn’t talk about when answering this question?

Before we dive into career aspirations examples, let’s go over a couple of things that you shouldn’t talk about. It turns out, there is such a thing as a wrong answer to this question. When you are asked about your career aspirations in an interview, there are two topics in particular to avoid.

First, avoid talking about personal or family goals. While family goals (e.g., you want to have a child within the next two years) often influence your career goals, don’t talk about them during your interview. Keep your conversation about business. In fact, it is illegal for your interviewer to ask you questions about, or make a hiring decision based on, your marital or family status. You, too, should steer clear of these topics.

Second, don’t talk about career aspirations that don’t have anything to do with the job or the company that you’re interviewing for. If you dream to one day work for a fashion house, but the job you are interviewing for is in a chain restaurant’s marketing department, don’t mention your fashion aspirations. Likewise, if you hope to start a side-hustle and eventually leave your 9-5 for full-time entrepreneurship, keep that to yourself.

Your interviewer is looking for a candidate who they think will have a future at the company. If they believe you are viewing this job as temporary or something to do until something better comes along, they’ll likely pass on you. Keep your dreams alive, but keep them to yourself (at least during the interview). 

Career aspirations examples

You’ve brainstormed your goals, you’ve researched the company, and you’ve pinned down your career aspirations. Now, how should you put those into words that will go over well in an interview? To help you craft your own answer, here are some examples of answers to the question “what are your career aspirations?” that will get you one step closer to landing the job:

IT Project Manager

“I have always been passionate about computer science. Since completing my Master’s Degree in project management, I became interested in combining my love of computer science with project management. In the short-term, I plan to develop my knowledge of the software, systems, and databases commonly used in IT project management. After spending a couple of years mastering the basics, I hope to move into a leadership position in the IT department. I have always thrived when working on teams and can’t wait to lead a team of my own once I have the foundational knowledge to do so. I’d love the opportunity to mentor younger team members and influence the next generations of IT project managers.”

Human Resources Generalist

“I recently graduated with a degree in human resources and am excited to put my degree to use. In the short-term, I hope to learn from the best in the industry and in various specialized areas, such as recruiting, training and development, compensation and benefits, and employee relations. I’d love to then become an expert in one specific field of HR. I know that building a good foundation is the best way to do that. And so, I view this job as the perfect chance to be exposed to many areas within HR. I hope to advance within the department and ultimately lead a division.”

Account Manager

“Sales is my passion. I have five years of experience as a sales associate and look forward to using the skills I’ve developed over the years in this position as an account manager. In the short term, I plan to create long-term relationships with customers and serve as the primary point-of-contact for the company’s major suppliers. Eventually, I would like to move from the direct customer-facing side of the business to a regional manager role. After developing my customer-facing skills, I plan to take what I’ve learned and developed there to influence decisions from the inside.”

Conclusion

You can’t prepare for every question an interviewer will ask you. But you can prepare for the most common ones, and that includes questions about your future career aspirations. If you go into an interview with a well thought out answer to this question, you’ll show your interviewer that you are an excellent fit for the job. You’ll come across as interested, ambitious, motivated, and someone who will be an asset to the company for many years to come. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?

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