It is hard to dream in the world we live in today. Climate change, pandemic, inflation. Uncertainty reigns in the world, and one cannot really blame young people when they say that they do not have any ambitions for the future, and do not strive to come up with some. Interviewing for a job, however, or for a place in a study program, you will almost always face at least one question about your career goals or ambitions. And while you certainly can be philosophical, you should also make sure that your aspirations at least somehow make sense in the context in your interview. Let me explain it on a couple of simple examples.
Saying that you’d love to run your own fashion business is a nice career aspiration. It won’t make much impression on the people in the admission committee during pharmacy school interviews though. And saying that you’d love to spearhead a marketing department of a big company one day won’t sound right while you interview for a job of a financial analyst, or a kitchen assistant… You should simply stay realistic, and express career aspirations that at least somehow correspond with the direction you take in your life formally (with your education or with the job you try to get).
Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this intriguing question. I tried to include in my selection a variety of answers (for different job fields and life situations, because a fresh graduate in their twenties certainly has different career aspirations than someone in their late fifties), as well as some rather philosophical answers. Go through the list, pick one or two answers that resonate with you, and then adjust them to your job/study program application or interview.
7 sample answers to “What are your career aspirations?” interview question
- Generally speaking, I aspire to make a great career in sales. I do not know yet what job I’d like to have in five or ten years. But I know that I enjoy professional selling, I am good at it, and also believe that sky is the limit for an excellent salesman or saleswoman. I earned my degree in marketing and believe to understand what it takes to design a great campaign, or to deliver a great sales pitch. Working for your company, and with the variety of clients you have, I hope to hone my skills, and perhaps even walk up the company hierarchy, step after step. Let’s see what’s ahead, but I am excited about the future, and motivated to achieve my goals.
- My career aspirations are pretty simple: To teach at an elementary school, and to become the best teacher I can be, role model for the children. I do not dream of earning huge sums of money, or working as a school principal one day, perhaps. That’s just not me. All I aspire to is becoming a teacher, and doing a great job of it. Of course the first step is earning my degree from a great university, and that’s why I am sitting here with you today.
- My biggest career aspiration is to find a good life-work balance. Because I can see it on almost all my peers, and my parents as well, how overworked they are. There’s more to life than working, at least in my opinion. That’s why I apply for a relatively simple job with you in this retail store, with clear shift patterns, opening and closing hours. No overtime work and one can leave such a shift with a clear mind, ready to enjoy their life outside of work–be it family, friends, hobbies, meditation, whatever. Some people may say that I am not ambitious enough. But money cannot buy happiness, or at least that’s what I think.
- Well, I’m already in my fifties, so not sure whether I should talk about career aspirations, or rather summarize what I’ve done with my life, and achieved. Having said that, I still have couple of years left until retirement. And though I do not have any huge aspirations, I still hope to improve on my weaknesses, and learn something new in life. And I believe one can do it in any job, including the job of a receptionist I try to get here. As long as the guests are happy with my service, and we have good interactions together, I will feel satisfied in my work. At my age that’s perhaps the most I can aspire for.
- Speaking honestly, I haven’t decided about my dream job or occupation yet. I know that I want to work in non-profit, and have some impact with my work. But what field exactly I should specialize in and for what organization I should work is yet to be decided. It is one of the reasons why I opted for studies in business and management, and hope to get a chance to study at your university, because every organization needs good managers. And perhaps I will start my own non-profit one day. Education in business and management will be helpful even in this case. In any case, I am looking forward to the future, and hopefully I can make some difference with my work.
- I have none career aspirations. My philosophy is to live in a present moment. What does it mean? It means that I focus 100% on what I do right now, be it a task at work, or cooking, or talking to a friend. In my opinion, when we take care about the present, the future will take care of itself. What I try to explain is that when I really dedicate myself to work–any type of, the results will certainly come. I may receive a promotion, better salary, I may get this or that as a reward. But it will certainly come, because law of action and reaction cannot be broken. On the contrary, when you focus on your career aspirations, the job you do becomes just a means to an end, and you do it only because you want to achieve X or Y in the future. I can assure you it isn’t a way to be happy in life…
- Being brutally honest with you, I do not see a reason to have any career aspirations at the moment. What’s going on in the world right now is crazy. You have the pandemic, the digitization, the ridiculous restrictions applied by the governments. The inequality between the rich and poor is growing, and I do not see a bright future in front of us. Yet just like everyone else I have bills to pay, and need a job to function in a society. My application with you has nothing to do with my future goals though. I just see this is a job I will enjoy doing–at least to some extent, because at the end of the day everyone works mostly for money, and that’s about it. It has nothing to do with my career aspirations, simply because I do not know what I want to do in the future–if anything.
Philosophical answers can help you stand out
You should not dismiss an idea of coming up with unconventional or even provocative answer (check answers no. 6 or no. 7 as a great example), especially when we talk about competitive interviews. Let me explain… If two people apply for one vacancy, it is wise to avoid rather unconventional answers, because your goal isn’t really to stand out. In such a situation, your goal is to simply show the right attitude with your answers, and motivation to get the job.
If fifty, or one hundred people compete with you, however, for one or a handful of vacancies, the entire dynamic of the interviews change. Now it doesn’t mean that you should present yourself as a weirdo, answering one question after another with thought-provoking out of the box answers. But you certainly have to do something to stand out, and coming up with good but average answers to all of their questions just won’t be enough…
You need to throw in two or three unconventional answers to the mix, to make sure they have something to remember you for at the end of the interviews. In such a competitive scenario, your primary goal is to stand out, because it doesn’t really matter whether you finish third best of 100 candidates or 67th best… Playing it safe just won’t do the trick here, and the question about career aspirations is an excellent opportunity to come up with something special. Make a good use of it…
Not everyone has to dream big
A common misconception of people is that you have to come up with some big vision. Dreaming of becoming the best manager, psychologist, doctor in a country, or to run a multi-billion dollar business one day, or perhaps to be a famous artist. Nothing can be further from the truth, for two reasons.
First one, certain career paths just do not allow such possibilities. Sure, there is always some room for career growth, but this differs a lot from field to field. You cannot climb much the career ladder working as a nurse, or secretary, or an elementary teacher. But it doesn’t mean that these are bad jobs! They just do not offer much possibilities for career growth.
And second reason, in reality just a small fraction of people (think 0.1%) can have those careers I mentioned–professional athletes and popular artists, managers of big corporations, etc. And having such a career does not guarantee happiness in any means (check the suicide rates among artist and rich people and you will quickly understand)… What I try to convey here is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong on having moderate career aspirations, or even focusing more on your goals outside of work, such as starting a family, or becoming a great partner to someone. Do not be afraid to say so in your interviews…
Ready to answer the question about your career aspirations? I hope so! Do not forget to check also sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
- Why did you choose this university?
- What motivates you at work?