How to Answer 'What Are Your Career Aspirations?'

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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 anticipate the 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 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, not someone who will leave in a year to attend graduate school or change careers.

Let's examine why job recruiters ask this question and explore five examples to get you ready to succeed in your interview. 

What is a career aspiration?

Career aspirations are long-term hopes and ambitions. People develop them based on their 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 organisation 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 help deliver an honest, 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 support 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.


Why do interviewers ask about your career aspirations?

Hiring managers ask certain questions to determine a candidate’s ability to succeed. 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 organised 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 particular 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 the job you’re applying for aligns with the career you envision 10 years from now and emphasise 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 weekend tutoring. While I loved the hustle and atmosphere of working in restaurants, I am ready to pivot my career toward a marketing role. It is my dream to become a marketing manager. My sales experience in upselling appetisers and cocktails to customers and my understanding of the food and beverage industry enable 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. I have always intended to pursue work related to my postgraduate thesis research on the rights and development of the denotified and nomadic tribes of India. Conducting research on tribal rights for this think tank would be fulfilling. Because the researcher's 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 vegetables and giving the surplus to friends and food banks has been incredibly rewarding. I love helping others and 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 is a good fit!

Example 4: Opportunities that the job offers

I studied abroad in Canada during university, which led me to teach English in China for a year after graduation. When I saw that this role requires at least 25 percent travel, I felt excited that I could integrate my cultural experiences into my career in the future. It’s one of the many reasons I applied for this job. I am nearly fluent in Mandarin, too. Conducting business in China requires a keen understanding of the cultural nuances in each country. I am qualified for this role and 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. I was thrilled to manage three interns in my most recent role as people operations lead at a start-up. Supporting them as a mentor in their career growth was especially fulfilling. At this company or elsewhere, I aim to become the head of human resources to 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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