Career Goals

Where do you want to be two years from now? It's a question that relates specifically to your career goals, and you should make sure that your answer coincides with the typical career path you are about to embark on. If you are interviewing for the position of front desk clerk, for example, you should not tell the interviewer that in two years you hope to be running the company. Keep your goals realistic, and always make sure that—within the given time period you are asked about—they are attainable.

Q: How do you want your career to progress in the next few years?

YES: Over the next few years, I would like to be at the point where I have bottom-line budget responsibility and charge of a production unit in which I have labor-relations, quality-control, design, and manufacturing responsibilities. I believe this job will go a long way toward helping me meet my career goals.

NO: I hope that in the next few years, my talents will really be recognized and that I will be rewarded accordingly.

Avoid the temptation to suggest job titles; this makes you seem unbending and unrealistic since you don't know or control the system of promotion. Likewise, you don't know how long it might have taken your interviewer to reach certain levels, and you wouldn't want to offend her. On the other hand, you don't want to be too general, either. The best way to answer this question is to discuss the new experiences you would like to have in the next few years and the responsibilities you would like to acquire.

Q: What are your long-term career plans?

YES: My long-term career goals are to become known as an industry expert and to have earned a respectable management position with responsibility for a major piece of the business. I'd like to think I'll have experience in many parts of the business over time.

NO: In the end, I would like to be able to retire by the age of forty-five.

You don't want to spout off various job titles or a specific position. You never know what kinds of duties and jobs will be obsolete by the time you reach the end of your career, especially in fields that are always changing (such as computer technology). Instead, focus on the experiences you would like to have in your career, and the things you would like to be responsible for. Even though this question does ask about your long-term goals, be sure to stay realistic and keep your goals along the same career path.

Q: Since this will be your first job, how do you know you'll like the career path?

YES: Although it's true that I've never worked in this industry, I've talked to many friends and alums at my school who've been successful here. I always ask them what the job's greatest challenges are and what is most rewarding about the job. From the information I've gained, I'm confident that I'll be able to adapt quickly to your culture and will find the next few years rewarding, based on my goals and values.

NO: Based on what I know about the industry, I'm confident I will like it here. Even so, I'm flexible in my career path. It's become more common to switch jobs more frequently, so I can't rule that out.

Unless you've done your research and/or are really familiar with the industry, this can be a difficult question to answer. Before going into an interview, be sure you know what kind of job—or even job title—you would be next in line for. By taking the position you are applying for, what would be the next logical step, according to your industry's general career path? If you have had any experience in the field—an internship, for example—make sure to mention that. You should also feel free to discuss the conversations you had with professionals within the industry and how you gained a better understanding of the job and the career path through those people. Point out why you are interested in this career, how you've learned more about the industry, and how you are able to keep current with the industry trends.

Q: What makes you think that this job is right for you at this point in your career?

YES: Though I have never had the title of manager, I think that my past experiences up until now could have only led me in this direction. I have spent the past five years working as a corporate trainer for two separate Fortune 500 companies. My job required that I learn the functions and responsibilities of each of the companies’ departments well enough that I could teach others how to do the job. More than learning the business basics of just about every department in a major corporation—from sales and marketing to accounting—I have also learned how to deal with people effectively in an authoritative position. I still get phone calls from people I have trained in the past asking me questions and telling me about their own promotions. I think that if you ask any of these people, they would agree that I would make a great manager.

NO: I figure that I've had enough experience in so many areas of business that I'd be a good match for pretty much any position. I chose this one because I like the idea of doing a lot of traveling and using my sales background.

In addition to addressing your applicable skills, and the logical progression that brought you to apply for this job, address your desire to work for this company in this position. Showcase the knowledge you have of this company and what the specific job entails. Describe the experiences you want to pursue that build on your current skills and interests. Be as specific as you can, based on what you know about the current or future direction of the position and the department. Demonstrate why this position fits with your personal career goals. Talk about how you can create job growth for yourself.

Essential

Once the interview begins, your focus must be on interacting well with the interviewer. If you prepared for the interview well, your conduct and responses will create the image you want to project to the interviewer—that you're interested in the job and absolutely capable of doing it.

Q: What new challenges would you enjoy taking on?

YES: I've worked in various positions in the hospitality industry for more than eight years and have progressively worked in larger, more prestigious hotels. I've learned both the food and beverage side of the business as well as the hotel management side. Armed with that background, I now believe I'm ready to take part in the convention and conference area.

NO: I would enjoy taking on all of the challenges this position would have to offer me.

Based on the skills you have learned and enjoyed using in your current position, describe the new challenges that you would like to take on and that you feel capable of handling. Be as specific as you can, considering what you know about the current or future direction of the position, department, and company as a whole. Think about the duties of the job at hand and which ones might provide you with a bit of a challenge.

Q: If you could start all over again, which direction would you take?

YES: I've always enjoyed consumer sales as I've moved up in my career. Looking back, I wish I'd gotten a bit more experience in market research earlier in my career because it's important to understand the types of quantitative models and technical research techniques that a regional sales manager now needs to know.

NO: I'm not certain I would be in this industry. I haven't found the career satisfaction I expected when I first graduated.

The interviewer is trying to figure out if the career path you have chosen to take (including this interview) is ideal for you. Is it this industry alone that you are passionate about, or does your heart lie somewhere else? In answering this question, offer some insight as to why your goals may have changed a bit, given the information you have now. The best way to answer this question is to think of a separate but related task that you enjoy and to talk about how you may have chosen to do something with that. Be honest and insightful, but reassure the interviewer that the only place you want to be is with this company.

Essential

Employers like job candidates who have real interests and a clear direction. They know that if you're interested in a particular industry, company, or job, you're more likely to enjoy the position, perform well, and stay with the company. Employers don't like to hear that you aren't at all discriminating—that you'll take whatever job they have available.

Q: How long do you think you'd continue to grow in this job?

YES: I define job growth as the process of acquiring new skills, new knowledge, and new insight into the industry. That said, as long as I can manage this type of growth, I consider myself successful. I'm a believer in stretching a job by reaching out to learn more about other areas peripheral to my job.

NO: I think that one year would be about the limit, given the position and its responsibilities.

This is a variation on the question of where you want to be in five years. Again, when answering, be as specific as you can based on all you know about the position. Make sure that any goals or time frames you state are realistic and well thought out. Don't mention a job title you'd want next, or the interviewer will wonder if you're already preoccupied with moving on.

Q: What career path interests you within the company?

YES: I'd like to work toward becoming a senior project manager within your commercial real estate firm. My background includes several areas within commercial real estate, including working in architectural design, with governmental departments and agencies, with banks in the finance area, and, finally, in sales and leasing. I'd like to pull all this background together in the next few years and eventually have project management responsibility.

NO: If I were hired for this position, what would be the next normal promotion?

In addition to demonstrating your knowledge of the company, or the typical career path within the industry, the interviewer is interested in how realistic you are. Use the knowledge you have of this industry in general and this company in particular to talk about the path you are interested in following. If you're unfamiliar with the typical career path, it's okay to ask a question such as, “What's the typical career path for someone with my skills?” Focus principally on businesses or divisions of the company that interest you as well as skills and challenges you hope to master in the next few years.

Q: How does this job compare to the other positions you are pursuing?

YES: Since I've narrowed my job search to only those large securities firms within the finance industry, this job is very close to the other types of positions I am currently interviewing for. The basic skills necessary with all of these firms are similar: strong quantitative and analytical abilities, the ability to make decisions quickly, and good interpersonal skills to react to customer needs.

NO: Right now I am pursuing opportunities in a few different fields. In addition to marketing opportunities, I have looked into sales, public relations, editorial, and recruiting jobs. While some of these jobs require similar skills—strong writing skills, good interpersonal skills, and attention to detail—they are all very different industries.

While the interviewer may not want to hear all about your most recent interviews with the company's biggest competitors, he does want to be assured that you are settled on a career path. He wants to make sure that you are not picking job titles and/or companies out of a hat. Some consistency or thread of commonality among your other prospects is important here. Your choices must reflect your career aspirations. Talk about the common skills that are clearly needed in all the jobs you're pursuing.

Q: Have you progressed in your career as you expected?

YES: My six years with a major gas company have included solid experience in price analysis, capital budgets, and financial planning. I now believe I'm ready to take on departmental responsibility for the entire finance function within a finance company.

NO: When I originally got into the publishing industry more than a year ago, I had hoped I would not still be an editorial assistant at this point. I guess you could say I have been a bit disappointed in my progress.

Think about your past career experiences. Have you accomplished as much as you had hoped to at this point? If not, why do you think that is? Talk about the many learning experiences you've had and what these have taught you about the industry. Be realistic in admitting the areas where you need more experience. Honesty—without demonstrating either pessimism or unrealistic expectations—is important when answering this question.

Q: Have you ever taken a position that didn't fit into your long-term plan?

YES: Though I had always been drawn to a high-tech career, I was offered a very lucrative position in real estate several years back. Though I knew that real estate was not my life work, I decided to take the job for financial security. Before long, I realized that the work wasn't fulfilling or challenging enough to keep me happy. I stayed with the company for two years, but I remained close to many of my original contacts in the high-tech industry and I was lucky enough to pick up where I'd left off. I've since moved up in the ranks, and my long-term plans include staying in the industry and assuming greater responsibility in the area of computer programming and networking.

NO: Yes.

Don't be afraid to answer no to this question. Many members of the work force have been lucky enough to develop a strong and compatible career path right off the bat, and stick to it throughout their careers. If this is the case with you, don't be afraid to tell the interviewer so. If you have taken a job that didn't quite fit in with what you hoped to accomplish, talk about the reasons that led to this acceptance. The interviewer is trying to determine how wisely you can pick jobs to match your interests and aspirations. If you've been sidetracked by some job, you'll probably have to convince the recruiter that you are on the right track pursuing this position.

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