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

We all have goals — are you ready to share yours with potential employers?

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Interview scene answering ‘What Are Your Career Development Goals?' question

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.

Why hiring managers ask this question

There are many reasons why a hiring manager might ask you this particular question. It basically gives them information about two key things: how long you plan to work for them and what motivates you at work.

It goes hand in hand with “Why do you want to work for us?” but, ultimately, it gives them more detail about you as a person, which is what an interview is all about.

Not only does having career goals benefit you as an individual, but it also benefits the company you’re interviewing for. Hiring managers need to know what your long-term intentions are so they know if you’re worth the cost they’re going to incur to train you up — about $4,000 per new hire, FYI.

Are you interested in developing your skills? Will you work hard enough for a promotion? Employers want to hire candidates who 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.

How to answer this question

Now that you understand why you might be asked this question, it’s time to learn how to actually answer the question when you’re under pressure. Here are a few tips to help you.

Step 1: Define your career goals

You should always define your career goals before any interview, regardless whether this question will be asked or not. Knowing your professional ambitions won’t only give you better guidance for your future, but this self-assurance will also 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.

Step 2: 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 can then proceed with explaining how your skills and experience can be useful in achieving your goals for career development. This will prove you are a goal-setter and someone who’s always striving to move forward.

Step 3: List your short- 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’re 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’re a person with a plan who takes actionable steps to achieve their aims.

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

Step 4: 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 clouds for a little while. The hiring manager wants to hear that you have realistic and attainable dreams that are possible within their company.

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.

Step 5: Align your goals with those of the company

When talking about career development, make sure that your goals can be accomplished by working in the company in question. Your goal 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.

Step 6: 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.

Step 7: Keep it short

The key to this is to make sure you fully answer the question without going on and on. Your answer should be short and succinct while still showing the interviewer that you’ve truly thought about your goals and where you’d like your career to go in the future. If you end up waffling, it will just show the interviewer that you haven’t thought about your future and are just bumbling your way through your answer.

Step 8: Highlight your skills

While answering this interview question, try to slip in the skills you have already that will help you achieve your career goals in the future. This will reiterate to the hiring manager that you’re already skilled in the areas that matter to them the most while showing them that you want to advance those particular skills to benefit them (and yourself).

Step 9: Practice answering before your interview

A common job interview mistake that people make is not practicing their answers before the big day. If you’ve read this far, you clearly want to nail this question, so my advice would be to practice, practice and practice some more. If you’re more comfortable speaking to yourself in a mirror to practice your answer, that’s fine — but it might be more beneficial to ask a family member or friend so you can get some feedback.

Example answers

Here are a few example answers to give you some inspiration when it comes to preparing your own. Remember: tailor your answer to the company’s mission and values.

Moving up the career ladder

If your goal is to move up the career ladder into a management position, here’s how you could answer:

“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 organization 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.”

Highlighting your skills

To highlight your existing skills and show how they can help the company you’re interviewing for, here’s how you could answer:

“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.”

Revealing short and long-term goals

When talking about your short- and long-term goals, you could say something like this:

“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 use 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.”

What not to say

So, you’ve got more of an idea of what you should say, but what about what you shouldn’t? Here are a few interview don’ts.

  • “I have no goals”: If you say “I haven’t thought about career goals yet”, you’ll seem like you’re lacking any ambition or drive.
  • “I want a higher salary”: Don’t talk about salary at an interview — big mistake! If you want to earn X amount by the time that you’re 30, then find a relevant career path with those earnings and say you want to be in that role by then instead.
  • “I want to become king of the world”: Make sure any career development goals you talk about are achievable and not unrealistic. While you might want to become the CEO in two years, that’s not realistic.
  • “I want to start my own business”: This might very well be true, but it’s not something you should discuss in an interview for a position at a company. They want to know you’re reliable and intending on staying for the foreseeable future.

Key takeaways

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.

To summarize, here are the key steps to answering this question:

  • Work out your short- and long-term goals: To answer this question properly, you need to think about your goals. When you’ve worked out what you want from your career, you can begin crafting an answer.
  • Align your goals: Do some company research to find out the goals and aims of the company so you can align your goals in a way that will benefit the company you’re interviewing for.
  • Practice your answer: Remember to practice answering the question out loud so you can answer it with confidence when the time comes.
  • Don’t overdo it: Make sure the goal you decide on isn’t too ambitious. You need it to be something achievable and believable.

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

Originally published on 28 October 2014. Updated by Hayley Ramsey.