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Answering: “What Are Your Career Goals?”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By Brad Karsh, President, JobBound

The old, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question certainly ranks up there as one of the most vexing probes an interviewer can ask.

Like many interview questions, it’s less important what you say and more important how you say it.

Students often think there’s a “right” answer to this one – something like, “I’d of course like to be the VP of Sales at this company in ten years, and then COO by the time I’m 33, and naturally President of your organization in the year 2037.

The good news is that no interviewer is looking for a response like that. Instead, they are just trying to get a sense of your overall goals and aspirations and see if those may fit into what the company can offer. They don’t expect that you’ll be working at the company for the next 35 years, but they also don’t want to hear that you are planning to “give it a shot” for three months.

In fact, in my more than 1,000 interviews, I heard some pretty bad responses to this question. Here’s what you DO NOT want to say:

  • I’d like to work here for a little while, get some experience, and then go make some real money.
  • I just need to get some experience on my resume before I go to grad school next year.
  • Heck, I barely know what I want to do tomorrow, let alone what I’d like to do in the long term.

The way to properly deal with this question is to think about it in broad terms. What are your goals? What do you want out of your career? Even if you have no idea what you want to do, you probably have a sense for the type of work environment you like. Then take some of those thoughts, tie them in with a few strengths you have, and speak generally. Here’s a good response:

I love working with people and I consider myself a fairly competitive person. That’s why this job in sales appeals to me. At some point in my career, I’d like to be in a manager role since I’ve had success in college as a leader. Ultimately, it would be wonderful to be running a company, but that will be quite a ways down the road. As long as the company feels like I’m contributing and as long as I continue to develop and grow, I can see myself in a career like this one for a while.

You haven’t made any commitments to them, and you also haven’t said you’re planning to walk out the door in a year. What you have done is shown them that you’ve thought about your future and that you could be a good match for their company.


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