Interview Question: "What Are Your Future Career Goals?"

Updated July 12, 2023

Sometimes during a job interview, the hiring manager will ask about your future career goals. Knowing how to answer this question will help you make a good impression during your interview.

In this article, we discuss why employers ask about your future career goals and review sample answers to help guide you in creating your own response.

Key takeaways:

  • Interviewers ask this question to determine whether your career goals align with the role and company.

  • Answer honestly and explain how the role fits into your long-term goals and aspirations.

  • Offer only professional aspirations such as leadership roles, expertise or business ownership.

Why do employers ask about your future career goals?

Along with your qualifications, background and professional experience, an interviewer will want to know your plans for the future. Employers may ask this question in different ways. Some of these include:

  • What are your future goals?

  • What are your career goals?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • What are your future plans if you get this job?

Your response to this kind of question will help recruiters and hiring managers to know you better and understand if your professional goals and expectations of the role match what they can provide. If things go well, this context enables them to put together an exciting job offer for you.

Tip: While promotions or salary can also relate to your career goals, avoid including these in your answer and focus on the skills, abilities or experience you want to achieve.

Related: Interview Question: "Do You Have Any Questions?"

How to answer "What are your future goals?"

The way you answer this question may vary depending on the company and position, but there are a few things you can consider as you decide how to respond in any situation:

1. Define your career goals

An essential practice for this interview question is to assess what you want in the next five years of your career. You can even plan further, thinking about the next decade, too. This is just one of a few key questions you should ask yourself before an interview. Set some time aside to write down your short-term and long-term career goals.

Robert Preston, an experienced journalist, shared this advice about discussing your career goals in an interview:

Consider including both short and long-term goals. A person applying to an entry-level position, for example, may benefit from discussing both goals in the near future, such as learning and developing within their applied role, and long-term future goals, such as progressing into leadership or management roles within the organization.

Robert Preston

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What are you good at?

  • What do you want to be good at?

  • What do you enjoy most about your current job?

  • What work are you most proud of?

  • What jobs or projects look appealing to you?

  • What skills or opportunities will be available in the next few years or even decades?

Once you've identified your answers to the above questions, here are examples of more tangible goals that may emerge for you:

  • Managerial or leadership experience

  • Industry expertise

  • End-to-end project management

  • Project conception or leadership

  • Developing and streamlining new processes

  • Having solid relationships with clients

  • Providing excellent service or care

  • Becoming expert level at one specific skill or a set of skills

Related: The Importance of Long-Term Career Goals: A Definitive Guide

2. Research the company and position you're interviewing for

Your response to this question should focus on how your long-term career goals match this company's growth and the opportunities this job provides. In your research, look for information about company structure, mission, expansion, focuses or new initiatives.

It can be beneficial to research your potential employer prior to your interview and use this information to guide your response here. Understanding key information like what a company does, how it's structured and company growth plans can help you place your goals within the larger goals of the organization.

Robert Preston

Visit their company website, read recent news stories or go to sites with company reviews like Indeed Company Pages. You can also see if you know anyone who works there or can connect you with an employee for a more intimate look into the company's development and goals.

Tip: Make sure to relate the future goals you discuss with the job or company you're hoping to get hired for. 

3. Develop an answer with relevant, career-focused goals

Often, our career goals are just one part of our personal aspirations. For this answer, focus on just your career goals. If some of your personal goals align with attributes that will make you a stronger candidate (like being a better writer or learning a new language), you can also include those. Setting SMART goals allows you to realistically evaluate what you are trying to achieve by assessing what actions to take to reach your goal.

Image description

The image shows a breakdown of SMART Goals, which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. The left side of the image shows a large letter, the word the letter represents, and a brief description of each.

S | Specific | Make your goals specific and narrow for more effective planning.

M | Measurable | Define what evidence will prove you're making progress and reevaluate when necessary.

A | Attainable | Make sure you can reasonably accomplish your goal within a certain timeframe.

R | Relevant | Your goals should align with your values and long-term objectives.

T | Time-based | Set a realistic, ambitious end-date for task prioritization and motivation.

Related: Interview Question: "Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?"

4. Give a broad but focused answer

Though there can be many details to your future plans, keep your answer short and at a high level. Making your goals too specific might limit you to certain opportunities or make you appear less well-rounded than other candidates. As in all interview questions, be conscious of how much time you take to answer the question and avoid rambling.

Tip: Don't forget to ask the interviewer questions. A good follow-up question to "What are your future goals?" could be "What is a typical career path for someone hired for this position?"

Related: Interview Question: "What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?"

Example answers to "What are your future career goals?"

Understanding what you want out of your career in the future will help potential employers see your ambition, your competence and how you will help their company grow. As you define what your professional goals are, use the following examples of career goals as a guide:

Example 1

"In five years, I'd love to be a true apparel industry expert with successful end-to-end project management experience under my belt as I look to grow into a more senior market analyst role. It's exciting that your company has a strong focus on hands-on experience and continued learning opportunities."

Example 2

"A few of my future goals include leading a finance team in some capacity. I'm excited about the prospect of working with teams like legal and procurement on developing streamlined processes—this is a natural fit with my business administration background. This job stood out to me because it calls for a candidate with organizational expertise. I've had inspirational managers that I admired, and I would love to manage my own team in a few years."

Example 3

"In the short term, one of my goals is to continue developing my writing skills. I want to help brands become world-class publishers. In addition, I've been raising my hand for more public speaking assignments since I know that written and verbal communication skills often work together. I would love to apply this skill set to establish your company as a thought leader in this industry."

Related: 18 Interview Questions About Your Career Goals (With Answers)

What not to say when asked about your future career goals

Not planning ahead and saying the wrong thing in response to this question can be a recipe for a missed career opportunity. Here are examples of not being prepared and what not to say:

  • Don't answer with "I'm not sure" or "I don't know."

  • Don't talk about money—leave direct talk about salary and benefits off the table.

  • Don't wander into excess specificity—some details are best left unsaid.

  • Don't set and express unreachable goals.

  • Don't offer personal information not relevant to the question.

  • Don't offer cliches—be yourself with an authentic vision of the future.

Related: 20 Career Goals Examples (And Tips for Setting Them)

Recommended reading:

  • How To Set and Achieve Career Goals (With Examples)

  • Interview Question: "How Does This Position Fit Your Career Goals?"

  • Top 20 Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

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