How to Answer: “What Are Your Career Goals?” 

This is a fun topic to explore! Let’s start with WHY in the world would an interviewer even ask that question. What do you think the answer is? Multiple choice possible answers offered below: 

“Because the interviewer is…” 

  1. Genuinely interested in your personal life and career development and wants the best for you? 
  1. Deeply knowledgeable about what career goals should look like and wants to ensure yours are the best they could be? 
  1. Trying to figure out how you applying for the job at hand fits with your overall career goals? 
  1. Hoping to stump you and make sure you mess up this interview? 

Hopefully you answered “3”. But unfortunately, and not altogether unsurprisingly, some of the people I’ve counseled over the years actually thought the other three answers were fairly legitimate. Here’s why those answers are not correct.   

  1. While the interviewer may actually be genuinely interested in you as a person and want the best for you, his / her goal isn’t to figure out how to match up what’s best for you in your career development. 
  1. The interviewer may have some competence in this area (they all will certainly have an opinion), to help ensure your career goals are the best they could be is not the objective of him / her asking this question. 
  1. Correct answer. The interviewer is simply trying to understand the linkage of your applying for this position in relation to what your overall career goals appear to be. 
  1. Contrary to what many interviewees think on many fronts, not just this question, the interviewer is NOT trying to stump you. He / she is trying to figure out if what you do best is what they need most for this position.   

There is not a “right silver bullet” answer for this question as each person is unique, and we all have different aspirations, goals, and objectives. BUT, there is a right way to answer this question. Let’s dive in. 

Interviewers are trying to find the best person who fits the qualifications for the job. Most of the time, that’s the only objective. Sometimes there may be some succession planning in mind, but for 99% of the interviews taking place, the interviewer desperately just wants the “right” candidate for the job. 

Obviously, the “right” candidate for the role will have aspirations, goals, and objectives that at least in some way tie to the position being applied for because the interviewer wants to have a long-term fit. That way the company goals can be accomplished, and they don’t have to interview for this role again any time soon. That would be ideal.    

Defining ‘Career Goals’

So, let’s define for ourselves what ‘career goals’ might mean. Simply put, career goals are what you would like to achieve professionally. For example, you may want to become a CPA, a machinist, a teacher, or an executive assistant. Those are examples of end destinations. Other examples include what you might want to accomplish along the way like learning a new language, learning to lead and manage people, or learning new software. Others could include improving your competency in systemic thinking cost accounting, the AS32 drill press, or middle school geography curriculum.    

Hopefully through those quick examples, you could see what an interviewer is NOT looking for in response to the question, “What are your career goals?”: 

  • A stammering, wandering answer to nowhere. 
  • Goals that seem to have no relevance to the position being applied for. 
  • A mishmash of goals that don’t seem to hang together with any logic. 

The goals you articulate don’t have to be the “end all” for your career, but they should span a reasonable period of time. They should also be logical from your track record thus far in your career. One job seeker, who had been in one sales role for the past 18 years, with no growth in responsibilities or leadership, said he wanted to become a divisional President of a large manufacturing company. He MAY have an ambition and ability for a goal like that, but it doesn’t sound credible to a potential employer, and may not be perceived as a good fit for the role at hand. 

Career Goals Can Change Over Time

When I was asked this question coming out of college with an accounting degree, my answer included passing the CPA exam, working 2 years in public accounting to become certified, and then becoming proficient enough with auditing to become a senior auditor. For the interviewer and me, that time span was about three years.   

Later in my career, after having accomplished those goals, my career goals shifted dramatically as I learned enough about myself to realize I didn’t like auditing at all! 🙂 I wanted to get out of the job I was in because I didn’t feel fulfilled at all in what I was doing. My goals then became deepening my skills in managing people, working as a business generalist (as opposed to an audit specialist), and to be in a role that created financial results vs. auditing someone else’s financial results. That led me to a new role within Arthur Andersen operations and gave me a wonderful introduction to what became my lifelong career pursuits to help people and organizations achieve their aspirations. 

Of course, as mentioned earlier, every person will have different and unique career goals, but they should align, link to, or support the job you’re pursuing. While an organization typically wants to hire someone with growth potential, they need someone to do the job at hand for a while as well. 

Aligning Career Goals with Scripture

As with everything in life, the Bible has a few things to say about this topic. First and foremost, career goals are not the primary targets Scripture sets out for us to achieve as Christ followers.  Our career choices should take a back seat to (or line up to support) Jesus’ foundational commission and command to us – – to make disciples and to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves (in the proper way). Our sanctification is a lifelong journey, and the career choices we make along the way are minor compared to our character development, service to others, and deepening relationships in community with others. 

That said, here are a few verses / passages:  

  • Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” The principle here is to actively involve God in our planning and goal setting. 
  • Proverbs 6:6-8: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.”  The principle shown here is that of hard work and results. We are all to work, and that work should have a positive outcome. 
  • Proverbs 15:22 further states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” The principle of getting advice for your goal setting is fairly clear here. 

Ultimately, God gave each of us many gifts, skills, abilities, passions, and experiences, and we are to use those for the advancement of His Kingdom. Let’s follow His Word and thoughtfully discern setting out career goals to pursue – – not for ourselves, but for His glory! Blessings! 

Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.

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