Open-ended interview questions such as "What are your long-term goals?" and "Where do you see yourself in five years?" throw most candidates off balance. Interviewers ask this question to gain insight into your self-awareness and communication skills.
Dan, a staffing manager, is about to interview Phil, Shawna and Marsha, for a project manager position. He is looking for someone with planning skills and long-range vision. He asks each of them, "What are your long-term goals?"
"To be a marketing manager within five years and have a hand-picked team reporting to me," replies Phil. This is a very specific and narrow goal, which may not be an option at this company. The "hand-picked" team reference demonstrates a lack of flexibility. It's best to stay away from too specific a goal.
"I have been so busy with my responsibilities and achieving company goals that I have not focused on personal long-term goals," answers Shawna. While a strong work ethic is certainly desirable, this answer does not demonstrate vision or planning.
Marsha answers the question with: "I plan to return to school to earn my MBA and have my own consulting business one day." While it pays to be honest, this answer could turn the interview in the wrong direction very quickly. The employer is looking for someone to stick around for the long run, not to stop over on the way to a new career.
So how could these candidates provide better answers?
If you are the type of person who prefers an organized way of life, you may find this question a piece of cake to answer. But if you're among the majority of people who let life happen as it comes along, you will probably not have a smooth answer without some forethought.
What are your goals? Think about what you really want. Most successful business people will tell you that a key success factor is the ability to set and achieve goals.
Begin by setting short-term goals. Right now your goal may be to get a job. But what kind of job? And where do you go from there?
Be employer-centered. The employer is looking for someone to come in and solve problems. Since planning is a key factor in this job, think of examples where your planning has affected the results.
After giving some thought as to where you want to go and how you can help the employer achieve results, try scripting your answer. Here's an example:
"I have learned that long-term goals are best achieved when I break them into shorter goals. My short-term goal is to find a position that will put me in a forward-moving company with solid performance and future projections. As part of a team, I want to add value and continue to grow the company. My long-term goal will depend on where the company goes. My plan is to move into a position of responsibility where I can lead a team."
No one can tell you exactly how to answer this question, since your response will come from what is important to you. However, the more focused and employer-centered you can be about your goal, the better your chances will be of steering the interview in the right direction.