What are your career goals?

Unrealistic goals and expectations are never a good thing, but that doesn't mean you should avoid setting goals altogether. Resolutions and goals are fantastic ways to get yourself motivated to achieve your dreams, and there's no better time than now. After all, if you don't make changes, nothing changes, right?

This is especially true for job seekers. It's always a good time to start planning and achieving your goals. In doing so, you'll also prepare yourself for the common “What are your career goals?” job-interview question because you'll actually have goals established!

With the right preparation, you can greatly increase your likelihood of achieving your resolutions. The first and most important step in this process is to define your career goals.

What is a career goal, and why it so important to define it?

A career goal is a specific statement that explains what profession you want to pursue throughout your career. It is critical to clearly define your career goal so you can develop an effective action plan.

To build an effective career goal and establish an effective answer to “What are your career goals?”, start with your long-term vision. In other words, where do you ultimately want to end up in five, 10, or even 15 years from now? If you're unsure of your long-term career goals, give these exercises a try.

For example, you may realize that you want to combine your passion for cutting-edge technology with your desire to take on a senior leadership role that involves strategic planning and has a significant impact on an organization's profit and loss. As a result, you may determine your long-term career goal to be the Chief Operating Officer for an innovative hi-tech company.

Knowing your ultimate goal allows you to clarify your short-term goals. When defining your short- and long-term career goals, remember that they  should be SMART:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Action-oriented

  • Realistic with Timelines

Your goals need to take into account where you are now, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get from Point A to Point B.

Hiring managers look for a combination of education, practical experience, and cultural fit when hiring, so once you know your ultimate goal, you can do your homework on what it takes to be considered a prime candidate. From there, it's a matter of setting and meeting your SMART goals.

For example, if you know you need extensive management experience to be considered a COO candidate and you don't have any, your short-term goals should include obtaining a management position where you can begin to develop your management skill set.

It is good to have overarching — even aggressive — career goals, provided you are diligent in putting together an action plan and following it through. Once you have clarified your short-term goals, you can begin to tailor your resume and job-search efforts to land the right opportunity. If you are very clear on what you want, it makes it easier for your network to help you, and for hiring managers to hire you.

Related: Set Goals That Really Matter for Your Career

How to answer “What are your career goals?”

The first step to properly answering “What are your career goals?” in an interview is, obviously, first having goals. Next is learning to effectively communicate them to the hiring manager in an interview.

To start, make sure you have a clear and succinct description of your career goals. This description needs to be phrased in a way that outsiders (hiring managers, people outside your existing career) can relate to and understand. Always remember to frame your career goals in a way that is relevant to the company for which you're applying — the hiring manager wants to see if you have a future there and if you envision yourself there.

Next, be prepared to elaborate on how you plan to accomplish (or at least work towards) your career goals. Many hiring managers are trained to dig deeper in interviews, and after stating your career goals, this may be a follow-up question to help the hiring manager learn more about you and your vision for yourself.

Your career goals should be clear on your resume as well. Make sure they are with a free resume review.

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