How to Answer, "What Are You Looking For in Terms of Career Development?"

Let’s face it: Job interviews can be scary. In fact, Anxiety News conducted a study that showed 92 percent of American adults feel anxiety over an upcoming interview. Even people who are highly confident of their skills, ability, and experience can worry about potential questions that stray off into the “What if…?” netherworld. One of those questions is “What are you looking for in terms of career development?” That’s actually an easy one – you just have to look at it in terms of what the company is trying to learn about you and how your answer will be perceived by the person across the table.


What they want to know

Recruiters know that skills, abilities, and experience aren’t the only indicators of success. When they ask you about your goals for career development, they’re really trying to delve into some of those less-tangible factors:


  • How long do you plan to be with the company? Do you see it as a “farm team” that you’ll use to get the experience you’ll need to apply with another company? Or do you plan to stick around and contribute?
  • Have you even given it any thought beyond, “find a job”? Do you have goals beyond what to have for dinner tomorrow?
  • Are you realistic? Or do you think you can be CEO by your next performance appraisal?
  • Are you a good fit, or do you have goals that simply aren’t attainable at the company where you’re interviewing?
  • Are you willing to pay your dues? Or are you focused on moving up with no consideration of learning or contributing?


First, the don’ts:

Some answers are clearly a bad idea. With others, it’s not so clear. You have to think about what the recruiter will read into your answer.

  • “I haven’t thought that far ahead.” While this may be true, especially for graduates entering the workforce for the first time, it falls into the realm of things that should not be shared – definitely TMI. It tells the recruiter that you have no goals beyond the here and now. It also says that you lack initiative and will require a lot of guidance and hand-holding. It says that you wait for someone else to tell you what to do and where to go rather than making your own plans.
  • “I want your job.” Another “true, but TMI” answer. You may think it tells the hiring manager that you’re ambitious and will be a hard worker, but what it really says is that you’re a threat. No one’s going to hire someone who’s all but said they’ll be waiting in the wings to pounce on any mistake.”
  • “I want to be running my own company.” While an employee with an entrepreneurial mindset can certainly be an asset, recruiters are more likely to think “short-timer.” They’ll conclude that you’ll only be there as long as it takes to save up the money to start your company. And, depending on the industry, they may worry you’ll try to take some of their business with you when you go.
  • “I want to teach English to tribal communities in the Amazon.” That’s certainly an admirable goal, but the recruiter isn’t going to overcome with awe at your heroism. He’ll be wondering, “So what are you doing here?”


Now, the do’s

The best answers tell the recruiter that you have a plan for your life and that you have a realistic expectation of what it will take to get there. Ideally, those goals will include long-term employment with that company:


  • “I’d eventually like to run my own team and/or project. To that end, I’ll work hard to master this job and progressively earn more responsibilities by showing what I can do.”
  • “My immediate goal is to prove myself in my current role. Going forward, I’d like to learn more about X. What kind of training and development opportunities do you provide to your employees?” (This is an especially good answer because it puts the ball back in the recruiter’s court.)
  • “I’d like to earn my way onto your fast track for promotion. How does your company groom and develop promising employees, and how do you identify those employees?”


Answering questions about career goals isn’t all that hard. As always, you want to be honest, but not too honest. If you want to travel the world as a missionary, keep that information to yourself. Instead, focus on developing an answer that illustrates your desire to excel and your recognition that it takes a lot of hard work to get there.


image: flickr via wang, 2008




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