Here's the long and short on this timeworn interview question.

The key to job interview success is preparation; it's as necessary as preparing for a race or other sporting event. In this article, we'll discuss how to prepare and answer one of the most common interview questions, “What are your short-term and long-term goals?” to ensure you supply a winning answer.

What is the employer testing?

When asked “What are your short- and long-term career goals?” in an interview, employers are on the lookout for three main things: your understanding of the role, your loyalty and commitment to the employer, and your ambition.

When it comes to your understanding of the job position, employers want to double check that you have measured the role realistically against your own career goals. In short, they want to make sure your understanding actually matches what the position entails. Any disconnect between your short-term career goals and what the employer is offering will typically come out in this question and will help the employer decide if you're the best fit.

Employers also want to gauge whether you will be committed to the role and the company. A hiring process can be a lengthy one, so recruiters want to make sure that a new hire isn't going to leave after a month or two. It's worth noting that employers don't expect you to stick around for the rest of your life — this isn't a marriage proposal, after all — but they are expecting some kind of commitment to the company, perhaps two to three years depending on your work experience.

Finally, this question is testing your ambition. Plenty of roles out there require motivated self-starters, so this question will reveal if you fit the bill. Remember that interviews aren't just about showing your professional skills — employers have already seen them on your resume. Interviews are also about getting to know you and what kind of person you are, and this question will reveal just that.

This interview question may also be phrased in the following ways:

  • What do you plan to accomplish in the next year?

  • Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

  • What are your near-term goals?

Related: How to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years” in an Interview

How to answer the interview question

As with every interview question, the best way to answer “What are your short-term and long-term goals?” is by breaking it down using the STAR method. Here's how to do it:

Situation: Describe the situation you are in regarding your career. You may choose to describe where you are now in your career and how you got there.

Task: In this next part, tell the interviewer the short-term or long-term goal you're now working towards. This is your task in hand.

Action: This section will be the bulk of your response. Explain how you're going to achieve your career goals, the processes you'll take, and why. Ensure your job skills and abilities are highlighted here, especially in relation to the job you're interviewing for.

Result: To round off your response, you must describe what you hope the outcome of your actions will be. This will link heavily to the Task section of your answer.

Tips for job interview success

1. Be prepared for this interview question

In order to provide a sound answer to the question, you need to make sure you prepare appropriately. It's likely you'll have a fairly good idea of your short- and long-term career goals, which is great! However, you need to make sure you know how to explain why they're your goals and how you imagine yourself achieving them.

Before the interview, make sure you write out some mock answers using the STAR method and try to memorize them. Remember that there's more than one way of asking “What are your short-term and long-term goals?”, so it's best to have a couple of versions in case you need to adapt.

2. Refer to the job description

It's all very well and good knowing what your career goals are and how you're going to achieve them, but if you want to impress the interviewer, you need to tie them to the job description.

Go through the job description and pair key responsibilities and skills required with your own abilities and goals. From this, highlight the natural progression you'd expect in this role given the responsibilities and tie this in with your aims.

3. Don't be a suck-up

When answering this question, be aware that the employer is seeing whether you will be committed to the job position. However, play this up too much and you may convince the employer that it's all a façade.

Instead of guaranteeing that you'll spend at least the next 10 years with the company, explain how the role matches your short-term goals. Employers don't expect you to stick around forever, especially if you're only just starting your career — they know as well as you do that goals change and new experiences are necessary.

4. Don't be afraid to show uncertainty

Remember that it's okay if you're not 100 percent sure of your long-term career goals. Goals change all the time due to your experiences and needs in and outside of the workplace. Therefore, as long as you have a general aim that correlates with your short-term goals,  that's enough for now.

Just remember that your short- and long-term goals should match. For example, it wouldn't make sense to apply for a chef position because you want to be a chef right now, but later in life, you want to work in sales — that will raise alarm bells with the employer.

Answering “What are your short-term and long-term career goals?” is just like answering any other interview question. Do your research, follow the STAR method, prepare mock answers and you will land jobs in no time.

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