How to Answer ‘What Are Your Career Development Goals?’

Illustration of people working in an office on their laptops with a smiling woman standing at the forefront

During an interview, hiring managers will ask a series of questions to learn about your professional plans for the future. One of the most common questions regarding your career aspirations might be ‘What are you looking for in terms of career development?’.

This question can easily throw you off balance. Perhaps you haven’t thought that far ahead, or maybe you don’t know which career goals are appropriate to mention.

If you’re stuck on giving a well-rounded response, read on for some interview tips and samples on how to answer this question.

1. Understand why employers ask this question

The first step to answering this question is to fully understand the hiring manager’s intentions.

Asking about career development gives employers an understanding of the kind of employee you will be and what value you will bring to the company. Are you interested in developing your skills? Will you work hard enough for a promotion? Employers want to hire candidates that are goal-orientated, ambitious and have a vision for their careers. They need an employee who has a plan for their professional future, and objectives that align with the company goals.

This interview question is also asked to find out whether you plan to stay at the company in the long-run or if you are simply there to ‘make quick money’ or because you are desperate. Your response can clarify whether you are a good fit, and if you will be a loyal employee with realistic and attainable career goals.

2. Define your career goals

You should always define your career goals before any interview, regardless of whether this question will be asked or not. Knowing your professional ambitions will not only give you better guidance for your future, but this self-assurance will be relayed to the hiring managers, giving them a good first impression.

To prepare for the interview, jot down a few points on what you want to achieve in the next five years of your career.

Start by asking yourself:

  • What are my current abilities?
  • What skills do I want to develop or learn?
  • What jobs or positions appeal to me the most?
  • What tasks do I enjoy?
  • What is my dream job?
  • What is my ideal company environment?

After answering these questions and laying out some career aims, make a note of actionable steps to complete them.

Having a professional plan in mind can help you answer the career development question like a breeze and have a successful interview.

3. Talk about your journey

Before outlining your career plan, give employers an idea of your journey so far. Explain your current situation or past experiences relevant to the role.

Talk about why you have chosen this career path in particular or any achievements you have made up until now.

Also, mention the skills you have acquired and how they helped you get to where you are today. You then proceed to explain how your skills and experience can be useful in achieving your goals for career development.

For example:

‘At my previous jobs, I worked in and led teams of different sizes. Throughout this time, I learnt a lot of leadership and teamwork skills that eventually led me to want to run a bigger team working on a big project. With this new position, I believe I can encounter these exciting responsibilities, increase my managing skills and achieve my goal of being a manager of a successful team. I believe my duties up until now can certainly help me achieve this.’

This kind of answer will prove you are a goal-setter and someone who’s always striving to move forward.

4. List your short-term and long-term goals

When answering this question, employers want to hear how career development coincides with your long-term goals, such as becoming a manager. Stating your big dream isn’t enough, however, as they want to know what steps you are going to take to achieve that dream. This is done by listing your short-term goals first, such as landing a job with the company you’re interviewing for or participating in an education course.

Whether you want to work towards a senior role or to become an expert in your field (long-term goal), describe the supportive steps (short-term goals) you want to take in order to get there. This will show that you are a person with a plan who takes actionable steps to achieve their aims.

A sample answer might be:

‘At the moment, my short-term goal is to develop my fashion design skills in an assistant role like this one. Eventually, however, I want to progress to a position where I can utilise these skills as a lead designer. I’ll try to achieve this goal by showing initiative in projects, suggesting effective designs, and taking on further responsibilities that can challenge me.’

Outlining your plan for career development will show that you are motivated, logical and analytical – traits that demonstrate you are determined to advance your work life and add value to the company’s growth.

5. Be realistic and professional

We all have big dreams, but when it comes to this interview question, you need to take your head out of the cloud for a little. The hiring manager wants to hear that you have realistic and attainable dreams that are possible within their company.

Telling them your goal is to become CEO could make them view you as competition. Be realistic, and list career development goals that are achievable.

You also want to choose goals that are professional. Avoid objectives like getting a higher salary or making new friends.

Keep your answer strictly employer- or company-related. For instance, you don’t want to divulge that your goal is to start your own business and you should avoid unprofessional answers like ‘I haven’t thought about my career goals yet’.

6. Align your goals with the company’s

When talking about career development, make sure that your goals can be accomplished by working in the company in question. Your goals shouldn’t just result in personal gain, but one that adds value to the company and matches their vision, too. Use an answer that can improve the company’s objectives like increasing sales, for example:

‘Right now, I’m continuing to learn about SEO and develop my digital marketing skills. I want to create powerful SEO strategies for companies and their sites, so they get ranked highly in search engines and increase their web conversions. Working as a digital marketing executive for a company such as yours can help me work on such ambitions while simultaneously bringing great results for the firm as well.’

7. Show loyalty

Remember, employers want candidates who could have a future within their company, not someone who just wants a temporary gig. They like employees who can prosper and bring about change and who will stick with that company in the long-run.

For that reason, it’s important to mention how your goals concerning your career development also demonstrate loyalty to the company. For instance:

‘I dream of working for a company such as yours, which enables me to improve myself on a personal and professional level. The idea of taking on new responsibilities and facing new challenges as the organisation grows excites me as it will help me grow as a professional. Eventually, I’d love to proceed to a long-term management role where I can establish a solid career.’

Employers simply want to determine how their company fits into your career aspirations. By answering the career development question professionally, realistically, and with the company’s objectives in mind, you can be well on your way to landing your dream job.

What other ways can you answer this question about career development? Let us know in the comments below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 28 October 2014.