Almost every successful person in the world will tell you that they set goals. And not just random goals, trying to achieve average results. Successful people dare to dream, aim high, and step out of their comfort zone. They enjoy setting challenging goals, targets other consider impossible, or at least improbable to meet. Yet they often succeed against all odds. And if they do not, they at least achieve something. As the saying goes, “Better to aim for stars and reach the Moon, than to aim low and hit your target”. Hiring managers in corporations want to hire ambitious people, people who aim for the best. That’s the main reason why they ask the question. But what should you say? And how does the situation change in school admission interviews?

Let’s start with 7 sample answers. You will find on my list answers for experienced people, fresh graduates, but also for people who lack any previous working experience and students. I hope at least one will resonate with you and with the message you hope to convey in the interviews. Do not forget to check also the text below the list of sample answers, for additional hints on how to make a right impression with your answer to this question, in a job interview or in a school admission interview. Enjoy!


7 sample answers to “What is the most challenging goal you’ve set your yourself?” interview question

  1. In my last job of a sales manager I set a challenging goal of doubling the sales volume of the entire department within two years. I knew it was hard, and the result did not depend on myself only. The question was whether I’d be able to motivate and lead the sales reps to such extraordinary results, with the help of both extra work and better sales technique. And of course I also wanted to generate decent sales volume myself. So I went for it, tried my best, hired two new people to the team, worked extra hours, went by example, motivated the people financially and also personally… I simply did whatever I could. Eventually the sales grew by 50% annually. I missed my goal, but I still feel we achieved something great with my team, and I enjoyed the process.
  2. I am trying to achieve that one right now–getting to your university. Everyone knows how hard it is to get here. Great grades are not enough. And though I did all I could to prepare, including interview coaching, working on my essay with a counselor, and trying to learn as much as I could about this place, it still isn’t guaranteed I will succeed. It is a challenging goal, but I know why I want to study here, and I believe I did my best to succeed in the admission process. Hence I can go to sleep with a clear conscience that I didn’t underestimate anything, and gave my challenging goal the best shot. And that’s not a bad feeling to have.
  3. The most challenging goal I set to myself was to drop 30 pounds in a year. I was overweight, and I knew it impacted me in all spheres of my life. Personal life, job, but most importantly it had a negative impact on my health. I decided to change my diet and lifestyle. As you can imagine, such goal is super challenging when you are in your mid forties already, and accustomed to your daily routines. But I didn’t give up. I suffered at the beginning, felt craving for unhealthy foods, didn’t enjoy my walks and jogs. Little by little though, I got rid of my eating addictions, and formed many healthy habits. As you can see now, I achieved my goal, and actually lost 35 pounds in a year. I am proud on myself and it motivates me to set other challenging goals, including goals at work.
  4. The most challenging one was to overcome my fear from public speaking. I was so afraid of it, could barely talk to a group of friends, let alone in front of some strangers, or colleagues at work. But I realized it was an essential ability for my managerial career. And hence I started to work with a psychologist, and step by step I stared to speak to strangers and in front of other people. Building my confidence, I eventually reached a level when I do not mind talking in front of twenty or fifty other people. And I know it made me a better manager, and I am grateful for it. Now I feel like setting other difficult goal, so perhaps I’ll have a chance to do so in your company.
  5. To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to set such a goal yet. Still at high school, my biggest goal is to graduate and eventually get to a nursing school. Is that a challenging goal? I would not say so, because many people study and graduate from nursing each year. That’s why I think that my time to set big goals, goals that are hard to achieve, has not arrived yet. But I want to assure you that I want to achieve great things in my life, and would not hesitate to pursue a goal that’s outside of my comfort zone.
  6. I am trying to achieve such a goal right now: to finally attain inner harmony and balance in my life. I’ve been to a lot of difficulties. Since my childhood things haven’t been easy. I suffered a lot in my family, and I still carry within the trauma. This is hard to overcome, and working with a psychologist is just a part of the puzzle one has to solve. But I do what I can, trying to build healthy relationships with people, finding good work-life balance, and now also a meaningful job–that’s why I am here with you today. I know I am far from done, but I believe that regardless of everything I’ve been through in my life, I will eventually find the balance I am seeking.
  7. It was probably my goal to become a firefighter. I knew I didn’t have the stamina and physique, and that it is hard to get in. But I trained hard for a year, in a swimming pool, on a running track, in the gym. I also worked on my knowledge of the field, and tried to prepare for possible interview questions. Eventually I failed in the swimming test, and didn’t reach my goal. But I left the place completely satisfied, because I knew I gave it my best shot. Not everyone has the body and endurance to become a firefighter. I tried my best, and came to a conclusion that it simply isn’t my thing. Now I am here with you, applying for a job in which I do not need such level of physical abilities…


Effort matters more than the eventual result, in both job and school admission interviews

I have noticed that many people decide to not talk about a certain ambitious goal they once had, for a simple reason–they failed to achieve it. They opt for some smaller goal instead, one they attained. This is a mistake though. What the hiring managers and school admission officers are looking for here is courage, and ambition. Just think about it for a while. Countless good junior tennis players dream of becoming world no. 1 one day, or at least reach the top 10 of ATP or WTA rankings. Yet just a small fraction of them do reach the pinnacle of the sport. That’s just how it goes with all really challenging goals.

What I try to say here is that your courage, ambition, and effort matters the most for the interviewers. Whether you eventually reached the goal or fell short doesn’t matter much. As long as you dared to dream, and did what you could to pursue your ambitious goal–and explain so in an interview, they will be satisfied with your answer. Because you have the kind of personality they are looking for. Keep it on your mind, and be brave enough to talk about your most challenging goal, regardless of whether you’ve reached it, or perhaps will reach it in the future.

Personal goals work great in the interviews

Life isn’t only work, and there are actually more important things than work--good health (the most important of all), inner harmony, your family… Maybe you are young and haven’t pursued any big goal yet at work. Fair enough, you can talk about goals you pursued in your private life, such as finding a great partner, losing weight, regaining inner balance after you’ve lost it, etc.

We should not forget that people in the hiring committee are humans from flesh and bones, just like you. They also have their battles in life, and no doubt had their share of problems. Talking about something from your private life, you can connect with them on a personal level (should they experience the same issues), and such a connection is priceless in every interview….

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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