Interview Questions: How to Answer “What Are Your Career Aspirations?”

You’re applying for a job, and it’s time for the dreaded interview. The hiring manager looks you in the eye, and asks:

“What are your career aspirations?”

Silence.

If you froze the first time this question was asked of you, you are not alone. Job interviews can be stressful. Chances are, you are applying for a job because you are good at your speciality – which is not “master of job interviews.”

Trying to figure out the best career aspirations answers can be challenging, especially if you are new to job hunting. But even “old-timers” can get hung up on this very common question.

Now, this question may come up in slightly different versions or variations. These might include:

What are your long-term career goals?

Where do you see yourself five or ten years down the line?

What do you envision for yourself in the future?

But, regardless of how it is worded, the question about “career aspirations” is likely to come up. This is true around the globe. Whether you are looking for a job in Hong Kong or Singapore or anywhere else, you need to be prepared to answer the question “what are your career aspirations?”

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What Is a Career Aspiration?

A career aspiration typically refers to a long-term career goal, plan, or dream that is far away in the future, instead of short-term and in the present.

A career aspiration is different than a career goal. An aspiration is a “hope” or an “ambition.” A goal, on the other hand, is more specific – it is a “desired result.”

The difference between career goals and career aspirations can be subtle. What the interviewer thinks an aspiration is will also depend on who is asking the question.

In general, aspiration is a bit fuzzier and longer-term than a more defined, specific career goal. For example:

Example of a career aspiration:

To make a lasting impact in your field as a thought leader.

Example of a career goal:

To be promoted to vice president within two years.

Some delineate the difference between career aspirations and goals in terms of time. A career goal might be something that you are targeting in the next five years, whereas a career aspiration might go forward as much as ten or twenty years.

Why Interviewers Want to Know What Are Your Career Aspirations

What exactly are hiring managers looking for when they ask the question: “What are your career aspirations?”

The main reason a potential employer might ask the career aspiration question is to simply find out if you are a “good fit” with the company or organisation. What a “good fit” means depends on the company, its leadership, and its overall mission. Companies want to see if you fit into their “culture.” Are you passionate about transforming the world through AI? Do you value productivity?

Companies also want to know whether you are going to be reasonably loyal to them. While 30-year stints at the same company are a thing of the past, an organisation will still prefer a candidate who wants to stay with them for a little while vs. job-hopping to a new outside opportunity in less than a year.

The other thing a hiring manager might be looking for is a person with ambition, who sets goals, and has some sort of vision for their future. These are all attractive qualities that can set you apart from other candidates.

How to Identify Your Career Aspirations

You may be wondering, “How do I identify my career aspirations?”

While we don’t want to sound completely Machiavellian about this, when you are preparing for an interview, you need to give the answer that the employer is looking for – within reason.

You want to give an answer that speaks more to what the company might want, than what you might want personally.

This isn’t to suggest that you lie.

However, you should focus on an answer that matches up to your personal aspirations with what the company is potentially looking for in a candidate.

Thus, while it is a great idea to have a very clear picture of your present and future goals, you don’t need to have all that sorted out prior to a job interview – at least, not in great detail. In fact, it’s not always the best idea to share every detail of your personal goals with a potential employer anyway.

For example, if your genuine “career aspiration” is to learn from the company so you can go out and start a competing business someday, that would be the wrong thing to share with a potential employer.

You could truthfully say that your career aspiration is to learn and grow with an exciting company in order to contribute your talents in a way that is satisfying and meaningful.

Yes, that is a little bit of “PR speak,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’ll discuss more specifics about how to answer the question in the next section.

For now, think about what your general career goals might be. Do you see yourself in a management role? Or do you prefer to contribute in a creative manner? Do want to make an impact? If so, how? 

Are there specific skills you would like to learn? Are there new technology trends you want to be a part of?

How to Answer the Question: “What Are Your Career Aspirations?” In an Interview

Here are a few tips on answering the career aspiration question in an interview with some dos and don’ts.

Remember: You Are Your Own PR Person

The first tip to remember is that you are your own PR person here. This is the time to show your positive qualities. If the interviewer asks something negative, always reframe it to the positive.

Make Sure Your Career Aspirations Line Up with the Company Mission

This might be most easily explained first with a not-for-profit organization. To oversimplify – let’s say a non-profit has a mission to save an endangered species of tiger, and you were applying for a job as an administrative assistant there. If you told them your long-term career aspiration was to be the top big game hunter in the world, that might not go over too well.

However, if you told them that you wanted to play an instrumental role in reversing the trend of animal extinction, that would go over much better. (Once again, don’t outright lie. If you really enjoy big game hunting, maybe you need to find a better fit for your personality.)

Play to the Company Culture

All companies have a culture, so speak to that. Consider the company you are applying for and what they may be looking for in a potential candidate. Are they a boutique creative firm looking to be the best at innovating trends? Are they a staid, old-fashioned financial company looking for longevity?

Let’s say you were applying to the boutique creative firm, and you told them your career aspiration was to find a reliable job where you could have some stability and security to support your family.

That might not be a terrible answer that puts you out of the running. However, the person who comes in and says, “My aspiration is to be a creative leader and set trends through my innovative ideas,” probably has a better chance of getting the gig.

Remember: The best career aspirations answers are still truthful, while positioning yourself in a positive light. The answers don’t have to be long, but should focus on what value you bring to the company while expressing a larger vision of your life.

Links International is a top recruitment agency in Singapore. Whether you are a recruiter looking for talents to fill your vancacy or someone looking for a job and want to know how best to answer tricky interview questions, contact us. We can help.