Going to an interview can be nerve-wracking. One sure fire way to manage those nerves is to prepare for an interview as much as you can. There will be questions you can’t predict, when you will need to answer on the hoof, but one commonly asked question that you can prepare for is “what are your career goals?”

Here I take you through how to answer this common question in a way that conveys your suitability for this role, this employer, and showcases your potential.

What are employers looking for?

Employers ask you about your career goals for various reasons. They want to see that you are committed to this job but they also want to know about your potential within the organisation longer-term.  They also want to know that you are specifically interested in a career with them, and not simply using them as a stop-gap or stepping stone. In short, they want to see that your goals are aligned with their goals.

How to answer the question

Firstly, you will need to do some research about the company to frame your goals in such a way as to match those of the business.

Define your goals and split them into shorter term goals and longer term ambitions. Consider how the company and you are matched, especially for the short to medium term goals. Convey your flexibility with regards to your goals, but you can talk about how this career move is a step towards achieving your career goals.

Answering this question is easiest if you have a good grasp of what you really want and you’re applying for this role because it fits into this. For example, does the company’s working practice mirror the type of working pattern that you are looking for? Your goals won’t align if you favour hybrid working or want to be a digital nomad, if the role involves being present on a manufacturing floor or being office-based five days a week.

Prepare for the question by jotting down some key points about how to match your ambitions with the role and the organisation. You can then use these to frame your answers effectively. You can use LinkedIn to research the employer to see what types of roles are offered by the business, so that you can envisage a clearer career path.

Importantly, make clear that you are not dictating expectations. Assert the skills that you have today and how you intend to take ownership of developing the skills you will need to achieve your goals. Steer clear of answering any career goals related questions in terms of anticipated salary or compensation. Instead, it needs to be about the role and challenges afforded.

Make a good impression

As with all interview questions, aim to answer concisely, clearly and without being too specific. It should be a case of whetting their appetite, without appearing inflexible. Nonetheless, ‘what are you career goals?’ is an excellent broad question for showcasing your interest in the company and your likely engagement and commitment. By working on your answer ahead of the interview, you can stand out from the crowd.

Check out more guides to help you navigate the hiring process with the F1rst Commercial Career Advice Centre.