Career Goals: 4 Tips on How to Define Them (Examples Included)

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ZipJob Team

5 min read

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If you’re like most people,  you’ve found yourself stumped by certain questions asked during the job interview process. One of the most difficult of those questions is that old classic, “Can you describe your career goals for me?” On the surface, it seems like an easy question to answer. After all, you do have career goals in mind, right?

Okay, maybe not.

The fact is that a surprisingly large number of employees and would-be employees really don’t have an easily defined career goal. That means that they probably don’t have a strategy that maps out their career path either. Unfortunately, that lack of goals can put them at a disadvantage when they're competing with applicants who already have clear career goals in mind. To be competitive, you need to understand your own career goals.  Just as important, you must know how to convey them to any potential employer.

What Are Career Goals?

A career goal is just like any other type of goal. It is a statement that is all about your ultimate career destination. It should clearly explain where you want your career to be at different points in the future. For example, is your chosen profession in marketing? If so, you may dream of an executive position with a marketing firm ten or fifteen years down the road – Vice-President of Sales, perhaps. That’s your long-term career goal. You may also have short-term goals designed to help you maintain momentum toward that broader goal. Perhaps your plan involves a managerial position in five years, and a regional supervisory position five years after that.

You cannot just rely on idle hopes, however. Hope is not a strategy. Instead, you need to clearly define these goals, ensuring that:

  • Both long-term and short-term goals are as specific as possible

  • You can track and measure your progress toward those goals

  • You create short-term goals that facilitate the long-term goal

  • Every goal is realistic

Why Do I Need Career Goals?

Most of us begin with entry-level jobs in our chosen professions. Few of us ever start out with a plan to remain at that level throughout our career. That’s exactly what will happen, however, if you don’t have larger goals in mind early in your career. You must establish these short and long-term goals to ensure that you have a dynamic and steady career path that can guide you to your ultimate career objective. As you meet each short-term goal, you’ll also ensure that you have the requisite experience needed to meet the demands of the next position on your career path.

Think of it as life planning – but for your career. You need career goals to ensure that you always know where you are on your career path, where you’re going, and where you’ll be at different points along the way to that ultimate destination.

Why Do Employers Want to Know Your Career Goals?

Employers have valid reasons for wanting to know more about your overall career goals. Some hiring managers simply want to use the question to determine your level of seriousness and self-awareness. Many employers also use questions about career goals to determine whether you might be someone who stays at the company for years to come or are simply interested in using the position as a stepping-stone to your next opportunity.

How to Define Your Own Career Goals

As with most strategic planning, there is a process that needs to be used to identify your career and create a plan to reach it. You should first begin with a destination in mind. What position within your chosen profession do you ultimately hope to reach? Do you envision yourself as the Chief Financial Officer for a Fortune 500 company? Do you want to be a Vice-President for Information Technology? You must identify your dream job so that you can then define the steps needed to obtain that goal.

After you define your long-term goal, you can then list all those things you need to accomplish to reach that objective. This list serves two objectives: it helps to define the path that you’ll take to reach your broader goal, and it serves as a checklist to help you ensure that you develop the right mix of experience and skill sets that you’ll need to do the job when you get there. In a larger sense, this list of career goals is an action plan designed to propel you forward at every stop along your career path.

Career Goals

How to Answer: "What are your Career Goals?"

Once you have identified and clearly defined your career goals, you can develop the statements you need to effectively answer any interviewer who raises the subject. Consider this as you decide how to answer any questions about your career goals:

  • Your answer must be relatable. That means that you need to make sure that it focuses on issues important to your potential employer.

  • Avoid statements that indicate that you view the job as just a stepping-stone on your path to a better job. Again, the hiring manager wants to evaluate whether you can benefit his company – not fulfill your own dreams.

  • Prepare answers to explain your plan for developing the skills and experience needed to advance your career goal.

Above all else, be clear in your answer. That ability to clearly define your own goals while tying them directly to benefits that you can provide for the hiring company can help you to beat the competition and get that job of your dreams!

The answer to this is pretty much the same as the common interview question - "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"

Here is a good example from our top 10 interview questions post:

where in 5years

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Written by

ZipJob Team

The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers and career experts located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.

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