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How to address your career aspirations in a job interview

a person shows how to address career aspirations in an interview

Picture this: You’re interviewing with a hiring manager for an open position. So far, you’ve nailed every single question and are feeling confident that the interview is going well.

Then, the interviewer asks you, “Can you tell me about your career aspirations?” All of a sudden, your mind goes blank. You’re not totally sure what you want to do with your life, but you have a few goals that have rattled around in your brain before. What can you say to answer this interview question? How can you prove to the hiring manager that you’re a good fit for the role while also being honest about your career development, career objective, and what ultimate career success looks like to you?

The career aspirations question is a popular one that job seekers should be prepared to answer in the interview process. Here, we walk you through what career aspirations are, why they come up in job interviews, and how you can wow hiring managers with your response.

What are career aspirations?

To state it simply, career aspirations are long term (that's the crucial word here!) career goals. They're different from your personal aspirations, as career aspirations are dreams and objectives you have specifically for your professional life. Many times, career aspirations are milestones that you work toward achieving over a long period of time and will help determine where you ultimately want to go in your profession.

These aspirations may depend on the career path you’re on or be specific to your interests within your field. For example, career aspirations for people in STEM careers will be different from the professional goals of someone who works in human resources.

Are career aspirations the same as career goals?

While the two work closely together and are often used interchangeably, career aspirations are not quite the same as your career goals.

Career goals are short-term milestones and are often accompanied by a planned timeline for how you will achieve them. On the other hand, career aspirations are more long-term dreams you have for your career and don’t necessarily have a set timeline. Aspirations can be general and have multiple possibilities to accomplish them, whereas goals are more specific and usually have the steps outlined.

For example, a career aspiration could be to start and run your own business. The accompanying career goals for that aspiration could be to create a business plan and a pilot product within six months.

Can I have career aspirations if I haven’t started my career yet?

Absolutely. You can have career aspirations at any and all times in your life—whether you already have work experience or not. You can also have career aspirations that involve an eventual career shift.

Students who are applying for an internship or their first job often struggle with the question about their long-term aspirations, but there are ways you can give a good response. For example, think of career aspirations as what you hope to achieve in the next 5-10 years. You could mention using the next few years to get a variety of different internships or jobs so you can see which positions are most exciting to you. Or, you could talk about finding a company that has a detailed development program to help you grow early in your career.

If you have career aspirations for another career path than the one you’re currently in, that’s okay, too. While it might not be best to tell hiring managers you’re hoping to switch to another career than the position you’re interviewing for, you can talk about your career aspirations that focus more on skills or goals that apply in many fields. Your aspirations could include developing current and new skills (like project management) or growing your network and influence to become a leader within the company.

Why do interviewers ask about career aspirations?

Interviewers like to ask candidates about their career aspirations for a couple of reasons. The biggest one is that the response can shed light on the interviewee’s attitude and overall work ethic. If you don’t have an answer to this question or your best response is “to find a job" (or even worse, "to find a job that requires minimum effort") companies won’t be too impressed with your outlook on work and may be concerned that you aren’t going to put enough elbow grease into your daily duties and the success of the organization.

This question can also shed light on the interviewee’s values and if they align with the company’s mission and values. For example, if you respond to this question that you’re excited to try a variety of positions within the organization, but the hiring manager would prefer to hire someone who’s going to stay in the role for a while, you may find that your values don’t align with what the company is looking for. Talking about your career aspirations in an interview helps both you and the interviewer see if your desires and expectations line up—which helps both of you determine if you’d be a good fit for the role.

How to answer the question, “What are your career aspirations?”

You may have many career aspirations, and that’s great. However, when interviewers ask you this question, they’re looking for responses that can help them get to know you and understand if you’re a good fit for the specific job they’re trying to fill. That’s why it’s important to tailor your answer to this question, depending on the company or the role for which you’re interviewing.

When asked about aspirations in your career, make sure your answer hits on these three points:

  • It’s relevant to the job role
  • It aligns with the organization’s values
  • It’s something you actually aspire to do

If you include the points above in your response, you’ll show the interviewer that you’re a good culture and skill fit, since both your values and skills align with the company and the job duties.

In addition, it’s vital that you share career aspirations that you actually have and avoid making something up to sound more intelligent or interesting. Otherwise, you could be stuck in a job that you don’t enjoy and be set on a career path you’re not excited about. Ideally, the job you’re applying for will fulfill you and set you on the journey to achieve small goals that get you to the long-term goals that you aspire to reach.  

Examples of answers when asked about your career aspirations:

Here are some example answers to help you spark some ideas on how to answer the question, “What are your career aspirations?”

1. “I’d eventually like to move into a management position.”

If you know you’d like to move up the company chain and have a long term goal to manage and oversee people, this is a great aspiration to bring up in an interview. Talk about the experience you have in your field and mention that, in addition to strengthening your technical skills, you’d like to develop your leadership skills, such as managing conflict and better communication. Then, you can bring up how you’d like to gain management experience in the near future and are eager to learn from top company leaders to cultivate an inclusive leadership style that’s in line with the organization’s values.  

2. “I’m interested in pursuing higher education or another degree.”

Additional education can be another great aspiration to bring up in an interview, but it depends on how you frame it. If you’re interested in a higher degree that’s related to the job you’re applying for and you’re considering a part-time track, definitely bring it up and talk about bringing the learnings you gain from the classroom to the roles you hold within the company.

If the education you’re interested in would lead you to become a full-time student or is in a field that isn’t directly related to the job, try to talk about your desire for education in a general sense. For example, “I’m interested in this particular position since it would be a good match for me to bring my existing knowledge of marketing strategies. Plus, it would allow me the opportunity to develop new skills by working with agencies and other vendors. This would be part of my long-term goal of having a more comprehensive view of the business world, which I hope to eventually achieve through additional education in the future.”

3. “I want to be recognized as a thought leader in my field.”

If your aspiration for career success is to become a leader known in your entire industry (and outside of your immediate organization or network), this is another good dream to bring up. This shows the interviewer that you’re passionate about the work you do and might help bring the company some additional credibility if you become a well-regarded industry expert. You can also tie this into the organization’s values of innovation, continuous improvement, or something similar.

4. “I’d like to work abroad.”

Many organizations either serve international markets or have hub offices in different countries around the world. If you aspire to work abroad, share this as a long term goal with the hiring manager in the interview to show your interest in the company and your desire to learn about its different business units. Be sure to emphasize that you’re excited to get started with the job you’re applying for and would like to use the opportunity to develop your skills and establish a foundation of company knowledge.

5. “I’d like to pursue a career that allows me flexibility so I can keep my focus on my family.”

A career aspiration doesn’t have to be about receiving accolades or awards. For many, a job is something that they do to pay the bills and, while they like their work, their other passions in life come first.

When bringing up flexibility as a career aspiration in an interview or later on with a boss, be sure to make the point that you’d love to continue working for the company, but are looking for opportunities to have flexibility in your schedule in order to better manage caregiving responsibilities and work. Then, ask about what options are available or could be available to allow for more flexibility.

Fortunately, many companies are recognizing the need for more flexibility in the workplace for all employees and are offering options that range from a shortened workday to working remotely. As a result, it’s likely your goal for flexible work in the future can come to fruition at your current or future company.

Be authentic and bold in your career aspirations

At some point in your career, someone is likely to ask you about your career aspirations. When the question is posed in an interview, it can be a way for hiring managers or recruiters to get a sense of what you’re about and how your goals align with the company’s mission and values.

While it seems like an easy question on the surface, tailoring your response to the job or the person who asked the question can make the difference in your success both during the interview and in achieving future satisfaction in that job. Focus your responses on aspirations you truly have while highlighting the experience you already possess, and make sure the aspirations are related to the organization’s values.

Just because you tailor your answers for bosses or interviewers doesn’t mean your career aspirations can’t be bold, though. Dream big and let yourself consider all of the possibilities for your career. If you want to publish a book one day, go for it! Or, if you’d like to own your own business in the near future, don’t hold back.

While you’re considering all of your potential career goals, F4S has personal coaching programs that can guide you along the way. Try getting started with the Goal Catcher program to tap into your deepest career aspirations and determine how you can make them a reality.

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