If you’re interviewing for a new job, it could be because you see it as a useful stepping stone in advancing your career. Or, a new job may be a way to maintain your resume and pay the bills. You might be seeking a career change, looking for a way out of a toxic work environment, or dead set on a spot in the C-suite.
So how honest should you be about your career goals when asked about them in an interview? Does your answer have to be relevant to the position? Will providing the answer you think recruiters are looking for come off as disingenuous?
Here’s how to prepare to address your career goals during the interview process—and how to perfect your answer when the position isn’t a perfect fit.
Preparing your career goals
At the end of the day, hiring managers want to see that you’ve put some thought into your future. They also want to know you won’t get bored or quickly move on from a position at the company. Answers that are well-thought-out and goal-oriented are preferred. In fact, according to career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Guide to Survival, Roy Cohen, it’s crucial for interviewees to demonstrate that their career goals align with how they typically unfold in the company.
Additionally, hiring managers don’t want to invest in a new employee who won’t be similarly invested in the company, so to a certain extent, your career goals should be relevant to the position or the company. For example, if you’re more interested in other divisions of the company and know there’s potential for a transfer division, you could mention your interest and willingness to dive into other fields, while emphasizing your interest in the company in general.
A general rule of thumb is to start by explaining what you’ve accomplished thus far, touch on what you hope to accomplish in the next two or three years, and then finish by addressing how the position you’ve applied for lends itself to those goals. If your career goals aren’t closely associated with the position, that’s okay—there are still honest ways to address your goals without coming off as disingenuous.
Do your career goals have to include being at the company?
Don’t lie. If your career goals don’t include being at the company in ten years, then don’t say that’s what they are. You’re not required to suck up to the interviewer, and it’s best if you don’t.
How to answer: What are your career goals?
When the position is a good fit
Since I recently graduated with my degree in sign language interpretation, I’m eager to gain experience that would lend itself to a long-term career in this field. Working with students is a great place for me to start because working one-on-one with members of the deaf community is foundational to being successful in this field, especially as a hearing individual.
When the company in general is a good fit, but the position isn’t forever
I’d like to expand on my foundation in social media marketing, but I’d also be interested in branching into sales once I’ve got more professional experience under my belt. I know the company recently expanded their sales division and encourages internal promotions and collaboration, so at some point in the future I’d be interested in exploring other divisions. And in this position, I can work on expanding my skill set.
When the position isn’t a perfect fit, but it’s good experience for your career
I hope to be a content strategist one day. I’m currently a copywriter, I feel that I’m ready to take on more responsibility and leadership, and this role as marketing manager is a great step between the two. It will give me the opportunity to learn marketing campaigns from start to finish, which is absolutely essential if I hope to direct content from a higher level one day.