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Moving on Up
Establishing specific career goals can help you plan your career objectives while you juggle a family and a heavy workload. It can also help you in job interviews when you’re asked the age-old question: “Where do you expect to see yourself in five, 10 or 15 years?” The key is in identifying both what you want to do and the steps you’ll have to take to reach your destination.
What’s Important to You?
Different things are important to different people, and goals and objectives can change over time because of myriad life circumstances. Setting goals doesn’t lock you in to anything concrete; rather, goals should serve as guideposts for you to proactively advance yourself in positive, meaningful ways during the course of your career. Career goals can vary widely and might include anything from having a flexible, rewarding career that gives you a comfortable work-life balance, to owning your own multi-million dollar business. Identifying what’s most important to you is a step toward setting meaningful, achievable goals.
Common Career Goals
While your personal goals will be just that, personal, there are some common themes many people follow when identifying professional objectives.
- Position: Attaining a specific title or professional designation
- Earnings: Taking home a certain salary
- Work-life balance: Feeling like you aren’t torn between work and home
- Making a measurable impact: Seeing a tangible difference as a result of your efforts
Of course, there are likely multiple levels to goals, which are important to identify so you don’t feel as if you’re always struggling for something that’s just out of reach. For example, even if your ultimate goal is to be president of a company, you might set progressive goals leading up to that milestone, such as making it to middle management by a certain age and to vice presidency at another age.
Discussing Career Goals in an Interview
Interviewers often ask this key question because they want to learn how you see your career unfolding. Are you someone who will be happy to work in the same repetitive job for many years, or are you a go-getter who wants to fast-track herself into a management position? Keep the following in mind when crafting your responses:
You want to appear motivated and ambitious, without sounding as though your only objective is to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as possible. Emphasize your willingness to contribute at every level and earn positions of increasing responsibility.
While I would ultimately like to lead a department team, I recognize there’s much to be learned along the way, and I look forward to earning incremental levels of responsibility.
Don’t focus too much on money. Even if earning potential is key for you, employers may be put off by a focus on dollars and cents. Temper your financial ambition by tying it to the success of the company.
I would like to meet some aggressive financial goals for the company, as well as for myself.
Be positive. Your goals shouldn’t be negative or contradict the current trajectory of the company. For example, avoid saying you want to improve the company’s horrible reputation and make it an industry leader. A more effective statement would be:
I want to be instrumental in elevating the company’s image in such a way that it’s a nationally recognized leader.
An employer might ask you how you plan to achieve your goals. So prepare responses that are realistic and achievable. Discuss timelines, educational and training goals, and professional development opportunities you’d like to explore.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.