How to Answer “What Are Your Career Aspirations?”

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A guide to answering “What are your career aspirations?” in a job interview.

[Featured Image] Two black women interview another black woman who is smiling across the table with hoop earrings and green shirt.

Do you have a job interview coming up? If so, you might be anticipating what questions the hiring manager will ask. It is always a good idea to prepare answers to standard interview questions. 

One of those questions is, “What are your career aspirations?” This comes up pretty frequently in various forms. Assuming you have vague ideas about your true career aspirations, remember that your goal is to land the job.

You should answer in a way that demonstrates your dreams are aligned with the role and the company’s bottom line. Present yourself as the ideal candidate for the job at hand, not someone who will leave in a year to attend grad school or change careers.

Let's take a look at why job recruiters ask this question and explore five examples to get you ready to ace your interview. 

What is a career aspiration?

Career aspirations are long-term hopes and ambitions. People develop them based on their personal experiences, including talents, values, lifestyle, and more. Examples of career aspirations might include:

  • Working in an industry that you’re passionate about

  • Managing or leading successfully

  • Using your talents or skills in a role

  • Starting or owning a business

  • Earning accolades for expertise

In response to this question, you might say that you aspire to become a marketing executive for a wildlife conservation organization in 10 years. Explain why the marketing assistant role you’re interviewing for aligns with that aspiration. It signals a strategic approach to career decisions.

Exercise: What are my career aspirations?

Some soul searching can be helpful in delivering an honest yet astute answer in your interview. Here’s an exercise to try:

1. Reflect on past work and school experiences. What skills or talents did you acquire or refine? Make a list of three to five main job skills.

2. Consider your interests and passions. Could you get a job in this industry? List out three to five interests or passions.

3. Decide whether you will answer with an aspiration of skill, leadership, or industry.

4. Think about how this job role and company supports your aspiration. Write out one or two reasons it is aligned.

5. Practice. Using one of the five examples below, tailor your response to this question.

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Why do interviewers ask about your career aspirations?

Hiring managers ask certain questions to get to know a candidate’s ability to succeed in the job. They want to know how you will perform on the job, which includes evaluating your personality and working style, technical skills, interpersonal skills, and more. 

For the career aspirations question, interviewers especially want to know that you have put thought into your future career and mapped out specific goals to manifest your aspirations. They want to feel confident that you know exactly why you want to work for this company in this specific job role and can explain why you are a good fit for each other. 

Hiring the right candidate can require spending immense amounts of time and resources, so companies want to gauge whether or not you’ll stick around for a while to grow with the company.

You can say that this job you’re applying for aligns with the career you envision 10 years from now and emphasize the transferable skills gained by taking on this job. However, it’s not a good idea to go into too much detail about transferring to a different company or industry in the future.

How to answer: “What are your career aspirations?”

The best way to answer this question is to be clear that you want this job and that it perfectly aligns with your desired career roadmap. 

This question might appear in different forms:

  • Where do you see yourself five years from now?

  • What are you hoping to get out of this role? 

  • Do you think this position aligns with your professional goals? How?

These variations are more specific, so you may want to craft potential responses for each question.

Example 1: Skills application

I have been a server for 10 years, often supplemented by tutoring on the weekends. While I loved the hustle and atmosphere of working in restaurants, I am ready to pivot in my career toward a marketing role. It is my dream to become a marketing manager. I believe that my sales experience in upselling appetizers and cocktails to customers and understanding of the food and beverage industry enables me to succeed in this marketing assistant role at a major chocolate company. 

Example 2: Role and work style alignment

As a trained political scientist, I am very interested in this role working in human rights. It has always been my intention to pursue work that relates to my postgraduate thesis research on undocumented Mexican immigrants working on Pacific Northwest farms. Conducting research on migrants’ rights for this think tank would be fulfilling. Because the researcher role is both collaborative and independent, it also aligns with my preferred working style.

Example 3: Pursuit of passion

For seven years, I have kept a hydroponic garden in my apartment. Although I studied psychology, contributing to the environment by growing my own vegetables and giving the surplus away to friends and food banks has been incredibly rewarding. I love helping others and I am passionate about sustainability, so I would love for this ethos to be a running theme in my career. This role as community manager for a solar panel company feels like a good fit!

Example 4: Opportunities that the job offers

I studied abroad in Ecuador during college, which led me to teach English in Costa Rica for a year after graduation. When I saw that this role requires at least 25% travel, I felt excited that I could integrate my cultural experiences into my career going forward. It’s one of the many reasons I applied for this job. I am near fluent in Spanish, too. Conducting business in Latin America requires a keen understanding of the cultural nuances in each country. I believe I am qualified for this role, and I could see myself doing this for a long time.

Example 5: Leadership potential

One of my career aspirations is definitely to be in a leadership position. In my most recent role as people operations lead at a start-up, I was thrilled to manage three interns. Supporting them as a mentor in their career growth was especially fulfilling. At this company, or elsewhere, I hope to work toward becoming the head of human resources so that I can improve employee well-being. Studies show happiness with internal structures and culture is the key to profitability. I want to lead with empathy while achieving business results.

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