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Congrats! After all of those resumés that you’ve sent out, you’ve finally landed an interview!
You’ve passed the first test, and you only have one more chance to really stand out from the crowd. But how?
Nailing a job interview can be the deciding factor between getting an offer and going back to the drawing board. Even if you aren’t the most qualified candidate, you can show that you will be a great fit with their team and you have a lot of potential to grow with the company–which are two things that all employers are looking for in a good candidate.
In this article, we are going to help you nail your next job interview by looking at how you can answer the common question: “What are your career aspirations?” But first, let’s take a look at why the interview component of your job search is so critical to your success.
The interview is when the potential employer gathers information about you that they can’t get from simply reading your resumé. This personal interaction offers employers an opportunity to watch how you respond to the high-stress situation of an interview, analyze your presence and communication skills, and determine if you could be a good fit with their company’s culture and needs.
Interviewers may make the conclusion that if you’re poised and confident throughout your interview, that will translate to your being able to gracefully handle challenges on the job as well. So if you don’t have all of the qualifications for a job, this is your opportunity to show how your experience can translate to the position at hand.
The interview is the best time to impress employers with your insightful answers and ask some thoughtful questions in return to show that you are the candidate that the CEO should meet. And, because human resource managers are typically working with a deadline to fill a position, they often rely on how well interviewees express themselves in the interview to make their final decision.
However, this does not mean that you are expected to rush into a decision as well. Just as the interview is a good time for the employer to get to know you, it’s an equally important time for you to get acquainted with the company’s culture and values and determine if the position is clearly related to your life’s purpose.
According to a report done by the National Academy, if you work full time from college graduation to a typical retirement age, you will work for about 45 years of your life. And even if you limit your work weeks to 40 hours, that still comprises a huge portion of your life. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 90% of workers report they would be willing to take a pay cut in return for an opportunity to work in a position that felt more purposeful.
Understanding the company’s values and how they align with yours is a key factor in job satisfaction. You should ultimately have a mutually beneficial relationship with your employer, meaning that you help the company work toward their goals, but they also help you work toward yours.
At its core, your purpose answers the question of, “Why?” In your professional life, what is the reason behind everything on your to-do list? How do those tasks relate to the bigger picture of your role on your corporate team? And in turn, how does your function as an employee fulfill your innate need for a feeling of purpose in your life?
When your job falls in line with your life’s bigger purpose, you’ll feel an intrinsic sense of motivation to succeed at work. And when you feel like your work matters, it translates into more engagement and higher levels of satisfaction. In this sense, both you as an employee and your employer benefit from your work–you feel fulfilled and therefore are motivated to put effort into your job, which then helps the company that you’re working for succeed in achieving their own goals.
But let’s go back to where it all starts: the interview. Employers don’t want to hire someone who is going to just get the job done. They want to hire people whose career aspirations will really motivate the employee to succeed in the position. They want to hire someone who is dedicated and believes they’re getting more than just a paycheck in return–someone who sees this job as being an opportunity to reach their bigger goals.
To determine who fits the bill for this, interviewers ask candidates about their career aspirations. But while this question is easy to ask, it can certainly be intimidating to answer. You need to have an answer on hand that not only accurately describes your career aspirations, but also lets the interviewer know how you can achieve your goals–or make progress toward your goals–within that specific role and organization. After all, they don’t want to invest in hiring you just for you to leave after a few months. In order for a company to make progress, they need to avoid wasting time and money on hiring and training short-term staff.
It’s key to come prepared for your interview with a comprehensive answer to this question in mind. Not only will this help you nail the interview, crafting your answer will also benefit you in general.
First, let’s look at how you can start to formulate your answer to this question.
It can be difficult to talk about your career goals, especially if you honestly aren’t quite sure yet.
Here are several steps you can take when crafting your answer to this question:
First, do some self-reflection in preparation for this question by taking the time to consider what you perceive to be your primary purpose at this point in your life. Doing this will not only help steer your job search, it will also help you to generally align your everyday actions appropriately.
Then, do some research on the position and the future plans of the organization so you can analyze how your values line up or fit into their culture. Then ask yourself:
Doing this will help you come up with a thorough answer that shows prospective employers that you cared enough about the interview to look into the company’s values and the specific duties of the job.
Let’s take a look at some examples that you can personalize to fit your unique situation.
Example #1: Establish your dedication to your career.
“I have always excelled in positions that have a component of friendly competition, which is why sales has been a great fit for me as a career. I’m interested in this position in particular because it would offer me an opportunity to employ my competitive side while still developing and nurturing relationships with new and current clients. My goal is to become a sales team lead and to be recognized as an expert in this specific sector of sales, which I could see myself doing in this organization.”
Here you’ve established your dedication to sales as a career, communicated that friendly competition is a source of intrinsic motivation for you, and explained how you want to grow–not only within the company, but also at an industry level–by being regarded as an expert in the product.
Example #2: Lay out how you want to help the company.
“With my experience in marketing and my interest in human behavior, I aspire to work with consumers directly through research to help companies like yours discover where the gaps are in the market and what customers want. This way, I can help you move forward strategically. A career in market research requires a specific skill set that aligns with my track record of achievements. Lastly, I would like to stay with one company for the long-term to monitor and assess consumer behavior patterns over time.”
This answer tells the employer that you’ve found a profession that combines your experience with your passion. It also lets the employer know why you want to stay with one company for a long time, which can boost your credibility with the claim that you’ll stick around. By mentioning that you want to help the company in a strategic manner moving forward, the interviewer will see that they will benefit from your work.
Example #3: Say you’ll stay.
“I hope to grow into a managerial position at this company so I can use my leadership skills to mentor new employees or employees who need additional guidance. I am a quick learner, so even though I’m coming in at an entry level, I believe I will be able to prove myself quickly in order to be considered for a leadership position when an appropriate one becomes available.”
If you’re new to the workforce, employers may be nervous that you’re a flight risk for a quick turnover. Companies often hire management positions by promoting from within the company, so showing that you’re already thinking about a leadership position suggests that you’re planning to invest some time in the company. This answer also demonstrates confidence in your abilities as a learner, mentor, and leader.
Example #4: Show your willingness to learn beyond your specialization.
“After practicing HR on a generalist level, I’ve determined that I am most passionate about recruitment. However, I don’t want to limit myself to this sector of HR and miss out on opportunities to be involved with policymaking and ensuring current employee satisfaction. Due to the size of your HR department and the components of the full job description, I’m confident that as a recruiter I would still have opportunities to contribute in a more comprehensive manner than I would if I pursued a position at a recruiting agency.”
This answer shows that you want to continue to use and perfect your skills in other areas of HR aside from your speciality, and you would be willing to be a team player and jump in to help wherever the department needs additional support. It also demonstrates that you want to grow within the organization by becoming involved in larger issues such as employee retention and satisfaction.
Example #5: Finish your answer with a question.
“I would like to take my ten years of management experience and transition into a role like this one that offers a new challenge while still allowing me to thrive with my strengths. Historically, I’ve excelled in roles involving cross-functional team leadership because I am able to consider how small details fit into the bigger picture of things. I noticed this was mentioned on the job description as being part of this role. I would love to hear more about that aspect of the job, what does that look like?”
Finishing up your answer with a question directed back at the interviewer is an effective way to turn the interview into a two-way street. Doing this will also help you to appear confident in your answer and give you a small sense of control over the interaction. This particular answer is strengths-based and offers a specific way you can add value to the company.
After reading this article, you should feel more prepared to answer this question in your next job interview. Remember, prospective employers want to see what will make you motivated to do well in the position they’re trying to fill. So consider the “mutually beneficial” aspect of the hiring process and fit the pieces of your strengths and experience to fit the company’s staffing need.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.