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  1. Career Advice
  2. Interviewing
  3. Be prepared for the question: What are your career aspirations?
Be prepared for the question: What are your career aspirations?
Profile Jennifer Inglis

Jennifer Inglis

Be prepared for the question: What are your career aspirations?

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • What are your career aspirations?
  • Why do interviewers ask about your career aspirations?
  • How can you define your career aspirations?
  • 5 Steps for answering the question: What are your career aspirations?
  • What not to say about your career aspirations
  • 3 Sample answers to questions about career aspirations 
  • Key takeaways

What do you aspire to be? What is your Mount Everest in terms of reaching the pinnacle of your career? How can you impress a hiring manager with your long-term career goals? Follow our step-by-step guide to defining your career aspirations.

If you've got an upcoming interview, you're probably taking the time to prepare answers to common interview questions. One interview question that is often asked is "What are your career aspirations?" This seems like an easy question (although your answer definitely shouldn't be, "I aspire to pay my rent.") and you might think it's one you can answer on the fly, as you can just give a few talking points about your future career plans and professional goals. While that’s what you want to discuss, you want to have something prepared ahead of time. Before you can craft your answer, you need to understand why the interviewer is asking about your career aspirations so you can ensure you present an answer that will demonstrate your value in the position.

In this article, we will explore the meaning of “career aspirations,” including:

  • What are your career aspirations?

  • Why do interviewers ask about your career aspirations?

  • How to define your career aspirations

  • How to answer, ‘What are your career aspirations?

  • Sample career aspirations answers to impress a hiring manager

What are your career aspirations?

Career aspirations are how you envision your future, including what you hope to achieve in your profession down the road. Often framed as a "five-year plan,” a career aspiration is your hopes and dreams in terms of the career path you wish to pursue. Essentially, the meaning of career aspirations is where you see yourself in the future in terms of your professional life. But remember, while it’s good to have a plan, you need to be flexible, as you never know what curveballs life might throw at you.

It’s important not to confuse career aspirations with career goals. While these share some similarities, they are different. 

  • Your career goals are specific, short-term objectives that have a set time frame and are focused on achieving a specific, tangible outcome, such as securing a promotion within six months. 

  • Your career aspirations are more generic, long-term objectives that may change in terms of outcomes and results as you navigate your career. Examples might be becoming an expert in your field, reaching a leadership position, winning a prestigious award, earning a degree or certification, or even making a career switch. 

Why do interviewers ask about your career aspirations?

Hiring managers ask about your career aspirations because they’re trying to get a sense of what you’re seeking to gain from your career and want to determine how your response aligns with the company’s needs and the parameters of the position itself. Basically, they want to know if you’re going to stick around for a while and grow with the company. For example, if you tell the interviewer that one of your career aspirations is to become a senior-level graphic designer who works exclusively on one big, important client, but the position you’re interviewing for is one where you would be working on a team servicing several small clients, the interviewer might determine that you’re not planning on being with the company long-term. They might also be put off if you say you want to run a data analysis firm but you’re interviewing for a position as a sales director at a food and beverage company. 

The hiring manager doesn't expect you to stay with the company for your entire career, but they do want to know if you'll be there for a reasonable amount of time. And remember — be truthful. It's best for you and your career if the position aligns with your aspirations, because that will lead to career advancement and greater job fulfillment.

While the majority of hiring managers will ask about your career aspirations in some way during the interview, they may not come out and use the word “aspirations” specifically. The question might be phased as:

  • 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? 

How can you define your career aspirations?

Career aspirations can be impacted by many factors, such as your talents, values, or lifestyle. Homing in on what is important to you and what you are good at will enable you to better understand your career aspirations. You can then create a plan to achieve these objectives.

Start by exploring your strengths, focusing on where you excel and what you enjoy doing. If you can find a role that blends both of these factors, it’s a winner! 

Also, reflect on your values. Determining what exactly you care about can help you identify what motivates you. If you’re not sure, take the opportunity for some self-reflection. Make a list of what is important to you both in your life and in your career. Maybe it’s flexibility and trustworthiness that you value in your personal friendships as well as your colleagues. Make note of any time these values intersect.

Here are some sample questions to help you pinpoint your unique career aspirations:

  • What are your talents?

  • Which tasks do you enjoy doing? What tasks do you find unbearable?

  • Which industry do you think you would perform well in?

  • Would you like to manage a team?

  • Do you prefer to work autonomously or in a team-focused environment?

  • How would you measure success in terms of your career?

  • Is there someone you admire in terms of his or her success and career achievements?

  • What fulfills you — power, money, continual learning, innovation, helping people, or recognition?

Once you have explored these areas, perform some research on job positions and companies that are aligned with your answers. For example, if you are smart, compassionate, organized, and have great judgment skills, maybe you can aspire to be a human rights attorney.

If you’re having challenges determining your career aspirations, you might meet with a career coach or mentor. An objective third party can help you uncover your aspirations if you are finding the process difficult.

5 Steps for answering the question: What are your career aspirations?

While you may already know what your aspirations are, it’s important to make sure that they complement the job you’re applying for. To help you, follow this five-step process to prepare your response to ‘What are your career aspirations?’

  • Research the company culture and what the organization is currently working on in terms of short- and long-term plans

  • Be honest, but try as much as possible to align your professional goals with the role. Review the job description so you can link tasks to your career goals and aspirations

  • Focus on talking about your strengths in relation to the job skills required 

  • Explain how your long-term interests, career plans, and aspirations tie in with the job’s key functions

  • Highlight your commitment to staying and growing with the company. Gone are the days when an employee stays with a company for a lifetime, but if an employer is investing time and resources in you, they will want some commitment in return.

What not to say about your career aspirations

Sometimes, knowing what not to say is just as important as what you do say. Here are three common pitfalls to avoid when answering questions about your career aspirations.

“I want to make more money.”

Look, everyone knows you want to make a good living with your career. But you shouldn’t put it front and center during an interview. Additionally, it doesn't let the interviewer know how the job you’re interviewing for connects to your long-term career goals. Don’t discuss salary unless the hiring manager asks you about it specifically.

"I'm eager about joining your company, and I aspire to work as a design director within six months. Can you tell me what I need to do to get to that position?"

This answer doesn’t tell the hiring manager anything about how you can succeed in the role you’re actually applying for. It’s okay to have advancement goals, but you want to keep the conversation focused on how the job you’re interviewing for will help you develop relevant skills, rather than simply implying that you’re using the current position as a stepping stone for another.

“I don’t know.”

If you're just starting out, you might not know what you're looking for just yet. But you don't want to go into an interview unprepared. Take the time to reflect on your strengths and values, and craft an honest answer that demonstrates you've thought farther ahead than just next weekend. It's okay to say, "I’m just starting out in my career, and I have more of a short-term focus. But I’m really interested in “X” position, and to build my skills and learn from my supervisors and colleagues.”

Expert Tip

Having a prepared answer about your career aspirations demonstrates to the hiring manager that you are thinking analytically about your professional future. For example, if you plan to gain additional professional certifications, frame it in a way that aligns with the position and enhances your value to the company.

3 Sample answers to questions about career aspirations 

It’s challenging to create a response to questions about your career aspirations, but it’s not impossible. The key message you need to get across is that both you and the potential employer will benefit from your career aspirations and that you’re the best fit for the position.

Here are three career aspiration example answers to help you get started and tailor according to your personal scenario.


“Recognition is a key factor for me. From an early age, my passion has been in the field of design, and I aspire to win an international award in the future. I am curious and passionate, and love challenges, constantly surrounding myself with great work to continually improve my standards. Your company appealed to me due to your focus on creativity and innovation, which is something I would like to be rewarded for. I am committed to contributing to your vision and goals, while also being excited to join a team of talented graphic designers.”

This answer shows that recognition is an important aspirational goal. In the creative field, for example, the desire to create award-winning material and raise standards is something an employer will really value. The candidate also makes it clear why they are interested in joining the company and their commitment in terms of staying and growing with the organization.

Career Advancement

“I am extremely goal-oriented, love working with clients, and enjoy providing customers with solutions to their problems, which is why I knew my career path was in sales. I have secured valuable sales experience over the past few years, with success in attracting and retaining key clients, negotiating competitive contracts, and delivering excellent service. My goal is to secure a sales leadership role, and I am really inspired by your company’s mission, vision, and objectives. If given the opportunity, I am confident I would quickly excel in the role of Sales Associate and prove myself worthy of leadership opportunities.”

In this answer, the candidate is clear in terms of their strengths and career path as well as the aspirations they have for securing leadership roles. However, this person shows a strong interest in the role they’re interviewing for and what they would bring to the job now, as well as demonstrating a commitment to contributing to the success of the business over time.

Industry Expert

“Having just completed my bachelor’s degree in computer science, I am excited to secure a position in software development. I have worked part-time for the university to support my studies, with responsibility for a portfolio of web application development projects. My education and work experience have not only enhanced my technical capabilities but also my communication, organization, and problem-solving skills. In this position, I would look to build upon these skills and experiences to make a positive contribution to the company in both the short and long term. Over time, I want to be regarded as an expert in my field, who contributes to the industry and creates innovative products that benefit society.”

Here, the candidate is looking to become an industry expert in their field and utilize this knowledge to benefit both the company and society at large. This information, combined with the candidate’s work experience and transferable skills, would be major “selling points” to a hiring manager.

If you want to take your interviewing skills to the next level, consider utilizing our interview prep services.

Key takeaways

  1. Define your career aspirations to secure a job you love! Link your current skills and expertise with your interests and passions, underpinned by what people will pay you for.

  2. Take time to prepare a convincing answer to the question, ‘What are your career aspirations?’ Research the company and role, and then align your aspirations to the position.

  3. Practice answering the question using the examples provided. Keep your answer relevant to the company and role, be honest, and avoid mentioning personal goals.

Profile Jennifer Inglis

Jennifer Inglis

Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator. A former public school teacher, she has expertise with English literature, writing, and public speaking, as well as an extensive professional background in advertising and media analysis. Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in Theater and a master’s degree in Education, and is the author of two published novels.

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