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BY Joel Junker

Why Recruiters Ask About Your Short- and Long-Term Goals and How to Answer Effectively

Over the past two weeks, several Junior Military Officers (JMOs) preparing for interviews asked me a version of, “How do I answer the interview question, ‘What are your short- and long-term goals?’ when I am not sure right now what I want to do for a career in business?” Goals

This is a very fair question since the JMOs are non-traditional candidates, meaning they are not coming from an academic institution nor working in industry, but rather working like someone in industry and simultaneously conducting a career search like someone leaving the college campus.  Thus, the JMOs cannot answer the question specifically as well as someone making a direct career change in industry.

In addition to the guidance I wrote in PCS to Corporate America 4th Ed. on pages 179-180, I recommend following the guidance below to answer the question.

First, take a step back to understand why a recruiter asks the question, in other words, “What is the question behind the question, and what does he or she really want to know?”  Often, but not in all cases, at a Cameron-Brooks Career Conference, a recruiter will review the resume and early in the interview make the determination that the JMO candidate can do the job.  So, next, a recruiter turns to the issue of fit.  Is this the right fit for the candidate and the company?  “What are your goals?” is a “fit” question.  The recruiter is really asking the JMO candidate, “What are your short- and long-term goals because I want to know what you want to do and if you can achieve those goals in my organization and be happy?  Are we the right match for one another?”

As in all interview answers, you must give a specific answer; otherwise, the recruiter will think that you are talking around the question or feel like you are telling them what they want to hear.  Both will likely frustrate the recruiter and could rule you out.  However, and this is really important, you cannot be so specific with your goals because you do not know enough about the position and the future ones in the long term, and if you do get too specific, you could talk yourself out of the job.

I recommend you be smart honest.  You likely have a lot of goals, so do not share goals that you cannot or do not know if you can achieve with that organization.  Instead, share ones that you know you can.

Start with defining the short term.  I recommend 5 years or so.  “In the next 5 years or so I want to…..

Next, be a “giver.”  Yes, the company is asking you want you want to do, but make sure what you want to do will benefit the company.

Finally, connect your goals with the open position for which the recruiter is interviewing.

If you were interviewing for a Manufacturing Team Leadership position that described the role as leading 25 to 30 associates manufacturing medical devices utilizing Lean and Six Sigma, the short-term part of your answer could be similar to this:

“In the short term, which for me is the next 5 years, I want to be leading a team in an operational environment and making an impact achieving results like I did as a commander in the military.  This is one of the reasons why I am so interested in the position with your organization.  I also want to use my analytical skills and my Six Sigma Certification to improve systems.  I really liked optimizing operations in the military, and liked seeing that this position will have lots of projects with Lean and Six Sigma.  I also want to learn everything I can.  I want to read 1 professional book a month, find a mentor, and be a student of the business studying customer requirements and also competitors.”

All of those things are likely true.  The answer is specific, helps the recruiter understand what you want to do and also connects to the position.  One caveat:  sometimes candidates will say, “I want to lead a team of people.”  BLAH!!!  Companies dislike that!  It frustrates them.  You want to lead a team of people to do what?  Notice my answer says, “… in an operational environment making an impact (medical devices)…” and I connect it back to when I was a commander in the military.  Be specific.

For the long term, use approximately 10 years.  You do not know the position title, nor responsibility of where you will be in 10 years, so you cannot talk about being a Plant Manager, Director, Vice President, etc.  I had a JMO candidate tell me this week his goal was to be on the Board of Directors of a FORTUNE 500 company in 10 years.  I am glad he has goals, but this one is unrealistic.  I questioned our fit.  Instead talk about growing in responsibility and making a larger impact, which is what you want to do.

The long-term part of your answer could be something like this:  “In 10 years or so, I want to be increasing my responsibility.  This is one of the reasons why I am so excited about business:  the opportunity for growth (notice I am not talking about advancement and looking beyond the initial job) and impacting the performance of a company.  I want to be responsible for increasingly difficult and important issues and projects.  As I mentioned earlier in my short term, I want to find a mentor.  So, at this point in my career, I want to be mentoring others as well.”  Since it is a manufacturing role, you could also add in some place, “I want to be leading even larger groups of people.  Leading other leaders, and having a significant impact on the profitability of the company.”

I do not recommend you talk about getting an MBA during your goals.  Remember, the recruiter is at the Conference with an open position and that position is designed to create value for the company.  They have a problem; this position needs to be filled.  This question is about, “Can you reach your goals starting in this position?”  Most companies are not ready to talk about you taking time away from the immediate problem to pursue an MBA.  While our client companies are supportive and you do want to further your education in business, unless the recruiter brings it up, focus on the recruiter’s immediate problem and the MBA topic can come up later after you have an offer.

As in all cases, these are ideas.  These are my words.  Companies do not want my answer.  They want your answer.  Find your own interview voice.

Joel Junker