Interview question: 'What are your career aspirations?'
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated 5 October 2022
Published 6 August 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
When you're being interviewed for a job, it's very common for an interviewer to ask you about your career aspirations. This allows them to determine your priorities and whether your career plan is compatible with their company. It's easy to forget about this when preparing for an interview, as most of your attention is often devoted to just getting that specific job. In this article, we explain the importance and implications of 'What are your career aspirations?', how to answer it and provide you with some examples.
Why interviewers ask 'What are your career aspirations?'
The interviewer asks you 'What are your career aspirations?' because they want to see how well they align with the goals of the business. Just like individuals, organisations and businesses have goals and priorities. An effective business is good at retaining its best employees and growing them within the organisation. It has certain goals and expectations, and these are important to consider during the hiring process. If you're a good candidate whom they want to retain, the interviewer wants to know if you can pursue your career aspirations within their organisation.
Your answer also tells the interviewer a lot about you as a person. They can determine whether you're ambitious, and willing to learn and grow and how committed you are to your work. It can also indicate why you've applied to their company. If their organisation is incompatible with your career aspirations, then they may conclude (correctly or not) that you just want a job for the short term but are otherwise uninterested in working there. Your answer can also tell the interviewer a lot about what motivates you outside of salary considerations.
How to answer 'What are your career aspirations?'
Depending on the stage you're in regarding your career, you may or may not have a clear idea of what your aspirations are. However, an aspiration doesn't have to be reaching a certain position. Moreover, it's important to answer this question in a way that makes you appear compatible with the business goals and priorities. To develop a compelling answer, follow these steps:
1. Consider why you're applying for the position
Prior to your interview, think about why you were drawn to this particular job. During the process of writing your CV and cover letter, you probably did some research on the company. This is a good time to revisit this information so that you can contextualise your thoughts. Consider the various ways you might learn and grow within that company and the extent to which this aligns with your own personal goals.
2. Find common ground between your goals and the company
Almost any working environment can contribute to the pursuit of your goals in some way. Once you've identified why you applied for this job, you can start determining how much it can contribute to your personal career goals. You can do this with a Venn diagram, which shows the overlap between two different factors. Find out how much overlap there is between the requirements for your goals and the possibilities of working at that company. It could help you develop key skills, expose you to certain working environments or present the opportunity to learn from experts in a certain field.
3. Emphasise your desire to grow
Now that you've identified the ways in which working at the company in question can support your aspirations, you can consolidate this information. Develop a vision of your career aspirations through personal growth, using the possibilities presented by that company to do so. If you wish to become an expert in a technical field, and the company is a leader in this field, you can talk about how you want to learn and grow within a company that excels in that particular sector. Your emphasis is best focused on personal growth and the acquisition of competencies.
Examples of career aspirations
Preparing for this sort of question can also help you determine what your priorities are. If you haven't already done so, this is an opportunity to think about what your aspirations could be. There are different ways of considering this, based on your personal priorities and abilities. Some examples of career aspirations are:
Becoming an expert
For many people, developing in-depth knowledge and competence relating to a particular field or subject is their main priority. This applies to both practical, and technical work and more intellectual pursuits. It's particularly common in academic or scientific fields. You may want to become an expert in a particular field of engineering, medicine, business operations, economics or statistical analysis. This can often relate to being able to perform certain tasks. You may wish to be an expert electrician who's capable of designing and fixing complex electronics or a capable doctor who specialises in heart surgery.
Reaching an executive position
Another common career aspiration is to climb an organisation's hierarchy and reach executive status. An executive has significant status, power and control over a business and its operations. They are instrumental to business success and indicating that this is your aspiration shows the interviewer that you're ambitious and driven.
Related: How to become a CEO in 5 steps
Owning your own business
Many people are drawn to the idea of making their own decisions, being their own manager and living by their ability to judge and take risks. It can also require extensive knowledge of certain markets or industries. However, be careful if this is your aspiration, as it might indicate that you don't intend to stay at the company. Instead, you could say that you aspire to reach an executive or managerial position, allowing you to make decisions and influence the direction a company goes. This allows you to give an honest answer without causing concern for the interviewer.
Earning recognition and prestige
It's natural to desire recognition for your achievements and abilities. Within your field, there may be specific prizes, awards or ways of recognising particularly talented or influential individuals. Perhaps you want to win the Nobel Prize for chemistry or receive a knighthood for contributions to your field. Much like the desire to reach executive status, wanting to earn recognition and prestige can show an interviewer that you're very ambitious and goal-oriented.
Example answers to career aspiration questions
When you give your answer, you want it to be clear and concise and aligned with the possibilities offered by the interviewer's organisation wherever possible. Below are some examples of answers based on different career aspirations:
Example 1: Becoming an expert
'Ever since I finished my electrical engineering degree, I've wanted to become an expert in the field. Even before my studies, I grew up watching documentaries about notable engineers, which inspired me to become an electrical engineer. At this point in my career, I want to be involved in the design process and see how electrical devices are built and tested by experts. I want to increase my technical knowledge and be able to develop my own solutions and improvements.
In the long term, I hope to make a significant contribution to the development of battery technology for electric vehicles, which I know your company helps design and build. I want to be able to look at an everyday device that improves lives and know that I was instrumental to its development.'
Example 2: Reaching an executive position
'I have a deep passion for working with other people and solving problems. I believe I can look at the bigger goal and make effective decisions that are good for all involved. However, I also know that I need to develop and cultivate these skills in an environment that challenges me. Within five years, I hope to have reached a managerial position, allowing me to hone and develop my decision-making and leadership skills.
Before the age of 40, I hope to have reached executive status. I want to grow within an organisation until my familiarity with it is unparalleled so that I can then have an active and important role in steering it to future success.'
Example 3: Earning recognition and prestige
'As somebody who's been immersed in artistic pursuits since a young age, it's always been my life's ambition to win an international design award. I constantly immerse myself in the works of great artists to raise my standards and expectations of myself. I hope to achieve this by working somewhere that values and rewards creativity and innovation and to work among other talented artists from all fields in an environment that is both stimulating and artistically liberating.'
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