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“What are your career aspirations?” is a question that comes up in almost every interview.
At first glance, it might seem easy to answer. You just have to tell them about your future dreams and professional goals, right?
Well, yes and no. Interviewers use this question to get specific information about your potential at their company and whether your skillset will be a valuable addition to the team.
Your answer will help them determine whether you’re a good fit and have a future in their organization.
To help you prepare an answer to this question, let’s take a look at what career aspirations are, how they are different than your personal goals, why interviewers want to know about them, and how to identify your own.
What are your career aspirations?
Your career aspirations are your vision for your future. They are what you hope to achieve in your professional life in the years to come.
Put simply, a career aspiration is a long-term dream that you are pursuing. A career aspiration can even be accompanied by a 5-year plan.
You may not have a concrete plan for achieving your occupational aspirations. Even so, you keep them in mind when making decisions that affect your future.
Career aspirations are not the same as career goals. A goal is usually a more specific, short-term objective with a detailed plan for achieving it.
The difference between the two is subtle but important.
A goal usually has a set time frame in which to achieve it. The time required to achieve an aspiration is variable.
While a goal focuses on achieving a specific, tangible outcome, an aspiration is more general. Aspirations also leave room for different outcomes and results.
For example, a career aspiration for an executive could be to leave your mark on a company. A career goal for the same person could be to receive a promotion in the next three months.
Jon Stewart, a comedian, filmmaker, political commentator, actor, and television host, shares one of his career aspirations:
I want to look back on my career and be proud of the work, and be proud that I tried everything.
Why do interviewers want to know about your career aspirations?
When an interviewer asks you about your career aspirations, they want to know if those aspirations are compatible with the company’s vision for the future and the company's core values.
They want to know whether you can achieve your aspirations within the role and organization.
If so, you’re more likely to stay with them for a long time. If not, they run the risk of you leaving and experiencing employee turnover.
They also want to know what your ambitions are and whether it will be possible for you to achieve them within their company.
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What are some good career aspirations?
Career aspirations are neither good nor bad. However, some are more relevant to your career development than others.
Which aspirations are relevant depends on:
- Your career path
- The type of job you’re applying for
- The company
- What the interviewers are looking for
A 2020 report on teenagers’ career aspirations in the UK showed a disconnect between their goals and the real opportunities available.
For this reason, a good career aspiration aligns your career ambition with the company's vision of the future.
The image below shows the gap between young people’s aspirations and the opportunities available.
How to identify your career aspirations in 3 easy steps
You may already know what your career aspirations are.
However, when you’re preparing for an interview, it’s important to think about which aspirations are most relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Your objective in the interview is to convince the hiring manager that you’re the best candidate for the position. For this reason, you should think about the best way to present your professional aspirations during the interview. Find a way that they align with the goals of the company.
Follow the three steps outlined below to identify the career aspirations that are most relevant to the organization and role you’re applying for. We'll then take a look at a few sample answers to what are your career aspirations are.
1. Gather information on the company and role
The first step in preparing for any interview is to gather as much information as possible about the position’s requirements.
It’s also essential to learn as much as you can about the company culture and the organization’s future plans.
Read the job description and become familiar with the company by reading policy documents, plans, and reports.
2. Select and adjust your professional goals
Identify which of your professional aspirations and goals align with what the interviewers are looking for.
This step is crucial for successfully answering questions about them during your interview.
It’s not always easy to decide which of your aspirations may be relevant to the interviewers. You should adapt your aspirations to emphasize the aspects you think are most pertinent.
3. Keep your career goals and aspirations relevant during the interview
It’s impossible to know exactly what the company’s plans are for the future, no matter how much research you do.
Use your common sense to analyze the information available and make an educated guess about their goals.
At the interview, keep your answers relevant and provide only the necessary information related to the role or company.
Avoid mentioning aspirations that are unrelated to the job, such as your family or hobbies.
Don’t lie in your interview. However, it may be wise to omit details about personal goals that might not fit with the organization’s long-term objectives.
Instead, use this question as an opportunity to highlight your:
- Positive qualities
- Competency for the job position
- Career goals
You have two main objectives when answering the question, “What are your career aspirations?”:
- Demonstrate that your aspirations align with the company’s vision and long-term goals
- Show the interviewer how the role will help you gain the skills and experience necessary to achieve your career aspirations
Below are three example answers to inspire you.
Career aspiration example 1
“As a sound engineering student, I began gaining experience by recording university bands, live.
Now that I have graduated, I would like to transfer my skills and experience to work in a professional recording studio such as yours.
I would like to continue to develop my skills and experience by working with professional recording equipment.
I also want to develop my leadership and organizational skills. This will help me achieve my goal of leading production teams in the future.”
Why it works:
This is a good answer because it highlights the candidate’s relevant skills and experience. It also shows their motivation to develop their career within the organization.
They demonstrate their ambition and self-confidence. This signals to the hiring manager they could be a good investment.
The candidate omits specific details about their career progression, objectives, and personal aspirations.
Career aspiration example 2
“For the last five years, I have been developing my skills and abilities as a project manager within a national construction company.
Now, I’m ready for a new challenge. I want to gain experience in a multinational organization. I would like to manage international projects and globally dispersed teams.
My long-term career goal is to become a program manager and manage several projects at the same time.”
Why it works:
This answer demonstrates that the candidate’s ambitions are in line with those of a multinational organization.
It shows they are not afraid to take on new challenges or responsibilities.
The answer is concise but includes relevant information without unnecessary details.
Career aspiration example 3
“For the last three years, I have been working as a criminal lawyer.
In my spare time, I do pro bono work giving legal assistance to low-income families.
I have always been interested in humanitarian work. This is why I applied for the position of criminal lawyer.
I want to continue to grow in my specialty while helping those in need. In the future, I would like to work abroad, defending the rights of vulnerable people in conflict zones.”
Why it works:
This answer aligns with the values, policy, and culture of the recruiting organization.
It shows the candidate has the qualifications, experience, and aspirations required for the role.
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Prepare to achieve your career aspirations
Preparation can make all the difference in giving a successful answer to the question “what are your career aspirations?”
Don’t let the simplicity of the question fool you — your answer could mark the difference between you and the other candidates. Don't forget: how you follow up after an interview makes a difference.
And if you need help preparing for your next job interview, discover how BetterUp’s career coaching service can help you make that next big career move.
Sr. Insights Manager